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Alan Le/Staff Photographer

Irvine — one of the safest cities in the United States — and often times, claimed to be one of the most boring too.

Though it may lack the exhilarating nightlife Los Angeles offers, Irvine by no means falls short in beauty. Distributed throughout Orange County are small pockets of undiscovered paradise.

A short hike or drive veering off of our neatly paved sidewalks and roads can quickly bring you to stunning viewpoints.

The most commonly known sight and my personal favorite is Turtle Rock.  Its location within a residential neighborhood only a street away from UCI makes it easily accessible and safe.

The first half of the hike follows a concrete pathway. The man-made path is nestled within a canyon and leads you to a delightful view, making for a relaxing stroll and a perfect option if you’re not in proper outdoor attire.

In contrast, the second half requires a bit more of a “figure it out as you go” attitude.  A good pair of shoes and comfortable clothes are also a must with this stretch.  When the concrete pathway abruptly ends, at that point, you are faced with nothing but nature and the choice of pursuing on or turning back.

If you choose to go with the former, I must tell you that enduring the rock climb, various and unidentifiable animal sounds, and random movements in the dense shrubbery is well worth it when you finally climb over the last rock. The beautiful image almost slams you in the face with its sudden appearance and breathtaking sight.

Standing there, 700 feet above the houses and passing cars of Irvine, it feels as if you are looking into the world from the outside — cars are driving through the roads, lights turn on and off within houses, planes take off and land at nearby airports. Look up, and if the skies are clear at night, you will see the stars and moon at their brightest.

Though the view is fabulous, it is, surprisingly, not my favorite feature of Turtle Rock. What I love most about this mountaintop is its atmosphere.

The moments and memories that fill this place are almost suffocating. Rocks sit atop the mountain like seats, and if you look close enough, you can see the various attempts to carve initials and figures into them. The lack of plant growth surrounding these rocks is evidence of the vast numbers of people who stood there trying to do so.

I love to sit atop these worn rocks and wonder what stories they can tell.  How many lives had changed in that exact spot?

Had a girl ever brought a boy to this spot, prepared to tell him that she had fallen in love with him? Had she spent all her life running away from love and was terrified but excited to finally admit and accept it?

I wonder where exactly she stood when she began rambling and mumbling about a random assortment of things — a mix of “why I like yous” interrupted with irrelevant nervous laughter.  I’m curious to know exactly how many minutes passed until the boy, well aware of what was coming, adoringly asked her what she was trying to say. Or how much courage it took her to look up into his eyes and say “I love you.”

I ponder at how vulnerable she must have felt at that point, but how safe she must have felt when he took her hand and looked out over the entire city and told her that this was their city. That this was the place where their lives had come together and became one, and would forever remain that way.

I speculate over whether he took a rock and etched into the boulder a heart with their initials. Most of all, I wonder whether or not they are still together and if they ever returned back to the spot their love began. Though I have visited many other beautiful areas of Irvine, Turtle Rock remains my favorite.

This is because whenever I go, I know exactly where that girl stood when she went on for six minutes about nothing before she told him how she felt, and that it took a courage that she could only find within him.

I know that her fears were erased the minute he took her hand in his.  I can recognize exactly which rock he drew the heart into. And finally, I know that they did return, but with both of them knowing that it was the last time they would do so together.

The heart is gone. He is gone. But that moment lives on forever there. So what I am left wondering is actually how many other people’s moments have been frozen into that small patch of land.

How many of them will return and attempt to capture a fragment of their past?  And most of all, how many of you will create memories to add to the Turtle Rock legacy?

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