March 20, 2010

Laguna Meadows - The mountainous edge between the Coast and Desert

Located in a narrow bowl at 5,000-6,000 feet elevation are the beautiful Laguna Meadows. This stretch of mountains in southern San Diego county rises quickly from the Pacific Ocean and then suddenly drops precipitously down to the Anza-Borrego desert on the other side. But, within this bowl, you would have no idea you are almost in Mexico with the desert or ocean nearby.

Beautiful alpine meadows are lined with massive and ancient Jeffrey pines, riddled with woodpecker holes filled with acorns. Also mixed in are the largest California black oaks we've seen yet. Small vernal lakes dot the meadow floor.

This loop I'll describe probably runs about 6-7 miles, but since my GPS batteries died along the way, I am not completely sure. Hilina set an all-time record for hiking during this hike by covering 2.0-2.5 miles. We usually hike close to he nap time. We start with her walking until she feels tired. Then we put her in the pack to nap for an hour or so while we trek quickly to cover some mileage. Then, when we wakes up, we stop for snack and drink and then let her walk the rest of the way (at least what she can).

Since we stop every 10 feet or so for Hilina to examine ants, beetles, lichens, mosses, or whatever catches her eyes, the last stretch is often slow going, but an valuable learning experience for her. I am not sure how many two year olds can identify the differences between granite, mica, and sandstone already. She also corrected me yesterday when I said "Look at the lichens" and she replied correctly "No, those are mosses" to the ones I didn't notice.

This hike starts at the Laguna campground. It passes the small vernal pond called Little Laguna Lake, then gets on the Big Laguna Trail until it drops in the Laguna Meadows and along Big Laguna Lake. The trail splits north and south. If you turn north, you can follow the lake and then up to the edge of the meadows passing huge pines and black oaks. At the northern edge of the meadows, you will meet the Sunset Trail which will turn due south and climb to low ridgeline above you.

As the ridgeline is more sun exposed, the vegetation changes to open scrub oak and ceonothus chaparral and views open up to the west to include Cuyamaca Peak, the San Diego foothills, and the Pacific Ocean. To the south, you can look at the hills in Baja and see the smog plume of Tijuana.

The trail then descends down into the meadows again and to the small Water of the Woods pool. Following the Big Laguna Trail east, you cross the meadows again and find yourself back at Big Laguna Lake and shortly thereafter back to the campground.

Hilina examining some leeches we pulled out of one of the ponds. She was fascinated by the idea that they swim and suck your blood. But, she didn't try it out.

Hilina examining the red bark of a Manzantia

By the way, we'll have to start watching her more closely once the poison oak and ticks start coming out. But, it is fine line between discouraging her interest in exploration and safety. But, she is actually very good about not touching things we tell her are dangerous.

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