I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my twelve-year-old son is into photography and cameras—so much so that he goes by the name of CameraKid online. Since my photos of the Wilderness Gardens Preserve aren’t nearly as good as his, I thought I would dedicate a post to his photos from our hike.
If you’ve driven through Pala on Highway 76 (in north east San Diego County), you may have seen signs for the Wilderness Gardens Preserve. The signs don’t look like they would lead to anything special; all I ever saw was the side of the road.
A couple of weeks ago, we decided to drive the ten minutes or so from our house to see what the place was all about. I’m glad we did.
The Wilderness Gardens Preserve is a surprisingly beautiful area. The reason I could never see the preserve from the road is because it is tucked away, in a tree-covered stretch of land to the west of the highway.
According to San Diego County Parks and Recreation, the Wilderness Gardens Preserve was acquired in 1973 and is the oldest County Parks and Recreation open space preserve. Its 737 acres offers four miles of trails, ranging from easy to moderate. It looked to me as though most of the trails would fall into the “easy” category. The trail that we took, the Upper Meadow Trail, might be considered moderate by some, but I’m willing to bet most hikers would find it easy to traverse.
The views from the Upper Meadow Trail are nice. From near the top, we were able to see much of the Pala area and the San Luis Rey River corridor. Palomar Mountain and the Boucher Hill Fire Tower are visible in the east.
My favorite part of the Upper Meadow Trail was flora. Everything was green, thanks to the large amount of rain we’ve been getting this season. The ferns were thriving, moss clung to the rocks in the shade, and lichen had settled onto the trunks of many of the oak trees along the trail. Parts of it reminded me of being in the Pacific Northwest.
After cresting the trail, we looped down toward the pond, where we connected with a wide trail that forked off in three directions. I have to admit that the road-like trail took away from the whole hiking atmosphere. It looks like it might be there solely for the use of the rangers’ utility vehicles.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover some history in the park. Not too far from the pond, and off of the rangers’ trail sits the remnants of an old grist mill. The sign at the site tells the story of the Sickler brothers, who came from Kansas in 1868 and built a state-of-the-art grist mill.
The mill was the first in north San Diego County. Local farmers brought their grains to the mill then camped out on the land while they waited for their grains to be ground. This could take a couple of weeks, so the families who congregated at the mill used the time to socialize and trade goods.
It was designated a county historical site in 2006. Visit the links below to learn more about the Sickler brothers, the mill, and the history of the area.
I will visit the Wilderness Gardens Preserve again. My son and I tried to explore the river bed, which was dry while we were there. We didn’t get far because we had to leave. I want to look for the grinding rocks made by the Luiseño Indians that can supposedly be found in the park.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to visit the preserve … it costs three dollars to park (at the time of this post), the park is closed in the month of August because of the heat, and it’s not open every day of the week. Check the San Diego County Parks and Recreation website for details.
I know, I know … how does anyone get lost anymore? I do have navigation on my phone, but two things were working against me. First, once I hit the back roads, my cell connection gets pretty sketchy. Second, Kanaka Flat is within the Santa Ysabel Wilderness Preserve; it’s not its own preserve. I was looking for “Kanaka Flat Something Something Preserve.” It’s hard to find something that doesn’t exist.
I read about Kanaka Flat on Modern Hiker’s website, and by read, I really mean skimmed over the important stuff … important stuff like how to find the hike.
It was late in the afternoon so rather than spend more time looking for the elusive “Kanaka Flat Preserve,” we parked at the entrance to Volcan Mountain and decided to give it a try. My hiking partner for the day was my twelve-year-old son, CameraKid. I call him CameraKid because he’s been into cameras since he was seven and he’s freakishly good at photography.
Parking was easy to find along the road that leads to the preserve. For being Martin Luther King Day, the area wasn’t crowded. We passed a few hikers as they returned to their cars and a handful on the trail, but other than that, it was very quiet.
The hike started off easy as it followed a wide path up the first part of the mountain. Before long we came across a set of stone steps to the right of the path. This is where the Five Oaks Trail begins. I couldn’t resist the pretty steps, nor could I not take a trail that has “oaks” in its name. So this was the path we chose.
The Five Oaks Trail is a nice little hike. The sign behind me in this picture describes it as a 1.2-mile “hikers only” trail that was built in 2003. As you might expect, there are oak trees along the path. But there are also beautiful Manzanitas and plenty of chaparral.
The views alone are worth hiking Five Oaks Trail. To the south, hikers can see the Cuyamaca and the Laguna Mountains. To the northwest, Palomar Mountain lies in the distance … and beyond that, the San Jacinto mountains. Furthermore, the recent rains have turned the hillsides and meadows a beautiful Irish green, making the spectacular even more so.
This photo shows part of the view looking north. CameraKid tells me I need to use a real camera, not just my cell phone. Seeing how this photo does no justice for the real-life view, I think he might be right. He’s offered to teach me how to take good pictures and I’m going to take him up on it. He’s also giving me his “old” Nikon D5000. Did I mention he collects cameras? Birthdays and Christmases have been good to him.
Anyway, back to the hike. The trail gets pretty steep in a few places, but it’s well-maintained, making the going pretty smooth—unless you’re like me and had a few too many eggnog lattes and pieces of fudge over Christmas. I didn’t realize how out-of-shape my two weeks off of work and exercise made me until I found myself having to stop to catch my breath more times than I care to admit.
I’m not sure if we hiked the whole 1.2 miles of the Five Oaks Trail. It sure felt like it, but if there was any indication that it had ended, I missed it. We could have kept going and would have eventually reached the top of Volcan Mountain, but we didn’t. We turned around at about the halfway mark because we didn’t want to get stuck in the preserve after dusk, when it closes … and all the mountain lions come out to make supper of stranded hikers.
At least that’s what I told CameraKid. But he’s smart enough to know that I couldn’t have dragged my butt another 100 feet up that trail.
The hike down was just as beautiful. The clouds were building in the south of the county and it started to get chilly. Camera Kid and I had just enough daylight and energy left to stop and take advantage of a climb-ready oak tree off the side of the main trail.
In spite of my out-of-shape lungs and sore butt the next day, I would do this hike again. Next time, however, I want to give myself enough time to get to the top of the mountain.
Side note: With Volcan Mountain Preserve being so close to Julian, of course we had to make a detour to get some apple pie. It’s practically a crime to not stop for fresh-made Dutch apple pie … especially after a beautiful hike on a gorgeous day.
Here are a few more pictures from our hike.
Manzanitas grace the Five Oaks Trail along with oaks, chaparral, and amazing views.
Nearly seventy feet above the highest peak on Palomar Mountain sits a 13 x 13-foot structure. With six flights of stairs in a switch-back design leading to the top, reaching this small space—the cab, as it’s called—isn’t easy. The 6,140-foot elevation at which High Point Lookout Tower’s base resides is a contributing factor to the oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-breathe experience that accompanies the climb.
But once the climb is over (and you catch your breath), it’s worth it. The 360-degree view overlooking forests, valleys, faraway mountain ranges, and desert communities is one that few get to experience.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I am a forest fire lookout volunteer with the Forest Fire Lookout Association, San Diego-Riverside Chapter. The breath-taking views, fresh air, and solitude of the tower are perks of the job; and that’s all they are—perks. Being a forest fire lookout is more than sitting at the top of a tower, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and waiting for a fire to start somewhere. It’s about vigilance, dedication, professionalism, and partnering with local agencies to keep the area safe from wildfires.
Before I started my training, I had my own ideas as to what I would be doing as a volunteer lookout. I envisioned sitting at a small table, my laptop plugged into the nearest outlet, and using the solitude to work on my sure-to-be bestselling novel. Of course I would need to look up from time to time to make sure the county wasn’t burning down, but how hard could that be? You see smoke, you call 9-1-1, right?
My romantic visions of being a weekend J.D. Salinger were quelled during the orientation meeting. It was then that I learned I would be responsible for weather recording and reporting, learning landmarks, and how to use the azimuth/Osborne Fire Finder.
Most importantly, I would be expected to report any smoke I see—along with its location, distance away, and nearest landmarks. Being a forest fire lookout is a lot of work! And that’s fine by me. I like a challenge and this one is rewarding for so many reasons! The hours I’ve spent training so far have confirmed that this is my kind of “job.”
It is probably one of the most iconic photos in U.S. history– the photo of the sailor kissing the “nurse” after the surrender of the Japanese on August 14, 1945. I have always been in love with that photograph. You can read an account of the kisser and the kissee in the photo on the NY Post Blog Site. It is an interesting story, but is not what this post is about.
This post, in a round-about way, leads me to my beautiful home town of San Diego, CA. The actual kiss took place in Times Square, so what does that have to do with San Diego? If you ever visit the place often referred to as “America’s Finest City”, you may find yourself at the port of San Diego, looking up at a twenty-five foot statue portraying the kissing couple.
San Diego has an extensive Naval history, of which I am very proud. The sculpture is located near another amazing tourist attraction, the USS Midway. The USS Midway Museum is a must-see for all who visit the area.
I love San Diego and am proud of its military presence. Sure, we have an awesome zoo, beautiful weather, lovely beaches, Sea World, Balboa Park, Coronado Island, Legoland, lots of great independent breweries, and so much more! If you do make it out here, make sure you see it all– including the city’s more military-focused attractions. You won’t regret it!