There are big backyards, and there are humongous backyards. For those who fancy the latter for hiking, riding mountain bikes and horses, or just watching golden eagles and prairie falcons take off and land, Horsethief Canyon Ranch may be the ticket.
The west Riverside County neighborhood abuts the ultimate local wilderness address: the 460,000-acre Cleveland National Forest.
Horsethief Canyon Ranch, which is part of the Temescal Valley, sprang to life between 1858 and 1861, when the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. brought the first wave of settlers there.
Legend has it that Horsethief Canyon got its name in 1860 from -- you guessed it -- equine larceny. The canyon was perfectly suited to its namesake activity. Atop the Santa Ana Mountains, thieves could easily keep an eye on those who might catch them in the act.
What it's about
The hilly neighborhood, a master-planned community, is just west of the 15 Freeway and a few minutes' drive from the Glen Ivy Hot Springs spa. The tight-knit community of about 8,000 relishes its relative isolation from nearby Corona and Lake Elsinore, even though that means driving eight miles or so for groceries. For now, that is. A shopping center anchored by a Vons market is set to open there in October.
Much of the community activity centers around the Horsethief Canyon Ranch Clubhouse, which hosts a New Year's Eve party and other events. The neighborhood also has four parks, two communal swimming pools and several sports fields for baseball, volleyball and soccer. Little League is popular among families with children.
Inactivity is popular too.
"I just sit in my backyard, where I hear no traffic, just birds," said Janet Muzio, a 41-year-old dispatcher for a Corona van-line company, who confesses that her fear of the "snakes and wild animals" that inhabit the national forest keep her close to home.
She and her husband, Randy Medina, 44, have lived in the canyon for six years and own a three-bedroom house with a saltwater pool and spa.
Affordable homes always have been a draw to Horsethief Canyon Ranch, which opened in 1989. Cheryl and Robert Elefante moved to HCR, as it's commonly called, in 1990; they purchased their second home -- with four bedrooms and a pool -- in 2000, for $238,000.
But the main attraction for the Elefantes and many other residents is the towering Cleveland National Forest, where locals and others can backpack and camp, among other activities.
Although shopping requires quite a schlep to Corona or farther, haircutting, nail polishing, chiropractic sessions and other services are right at hand.
Many locals who eschew their friends' long commutes to jobs in Orange County ply their trades from home.
There are about 1,964 single-family homes in Horsethief Canyon Ranch.
Recently, 68 were listed for sale, including a 1,002-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for $199,900 and a 2,176-square-foot house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms for $565,000.
About 27 of those homes listed were short sales, to head off foreclosure.
A couple of months ago, about 115 homes were listed for sale, according to Nelson Rodriguez, a Re/Max Partners agent in Corona, and 50 of them were foreclosures.
However, the housing situation is "looking a bit better now," the agent said. Report card
Students attend Lake Elsinore Unified School District's Luiseno Elementary, Terra Cotta Middle and Temescal High schools, which scored 830, 729 and 712, respectively, on the 2007 Academic Performance Index Growth Report.
Year... Median Price
* 2008... $307,500
*Year to date
Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; www.cde.ca.gov; www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland/
about/; www.horsethiefcanyonranch.org/html; Prudential California Realty agent Ann Nugent.