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Click the trail you want to follow:

1. Trail of Toro and Santa Rosa Peaks  

2. Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountain, (near Julian, CA)

3. Oakzanita Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (near Julian CA) 

4. Photo Gallery- Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, Lake Poway, San Diego County 

5. Trail of Palomar Mountain, San Diego County
6. Trail of the Grand Loop- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, East of San Diego 

7 . Trail of San Jacinto Peak  Palm Springs

8.  Kayaking South Shore of Mono Lake near Mammoth Lakes

9.  Hiking the Mammoth Crest from Lake George near Mammoth Lakes

10. Trail of the Inyo Craters and Deer Mountain- near Mammoth Lakes 

11.  Hiking with the Ancients in the White Mountains of Inyo National Forest  

12. Cross Country Skiing Tamarack Lodge, Mammoth Lakes 

Trail of Toro and Santa Rosa Peaks

Drive up Santa Rosa Mountain Road, Short hike to Santa Rosa Peak and Mountain Bike ride down mountain
Return trip to hike bench below Toro Peak  

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 “California Muffuleta” 

     Can mountain peaks be shapeshifters, tricksters playing with travelers attempting to venture too high? On our first attempt to reach the tallest peak in the Santa Rosa range in April, a freak storm had dumped snow in rivers of white down deep ravines. At 7,000 feet, deep ruts in the snow on the steep road turned us back. This hot September day finds us under blue skies trying again to reach Toro Peak’s 8,716 foot mysterious heights.

    Winding by car 19 ½ miles up the Palm to Pines Highway 74 from Palm Desert,  T.M. and I reach its junction with the Santa Rosa Mountain road marked with a large red wooden sign. Mom and Dad have decided to forego this bumpy twisty ride up a dirt road. 

     On the Trail of Toro and Santa Rosa Peaks, the road takes us into a land of ribbonwood and manzanita. Only a painter could do justice to the melding of brilliant colors.

     The first mile is the worst; ruts and potholes wrench the gut. By mile 6, the life zone gives way to a bower of weathered oaks and by mile 9, tall Jeffrey pines mingle with firs on shaded slopes. Epithets are scrawled on the rocks and written on the trees. “Rocks don’t burn but trees and man will.” Dire warnings from the  erstwhile Arkansas preacher we had read about? Certainly not the usual Forest Service sign.

     After an hour of bumping along the rutted rocky path cut into the mountain in the 1940s, at mile 10, we limp to the side of the road with a flat tire. Santa Rosa  calling the shots again?

    As T.M. fiddles with the jack, I begin a unexpected leisurely roadside study of the forest. Crushing pine needles between my fingers releases an aroma of lemon and vanilla. The Jeffrey pines stand guard; a wild flower daisy with a delicate face the size of a quarter cheers me up. Perfection so small can easily be overlooked against the immensity of the pines. Blooming rabbit brush stains the open woodland with yellow. Hunters with bow and arrows but no deer across the hood of their Jeep stop to ask if we are OK.

     The valley near Pinyon Flat swirls below in a smoky hazy brew. Up here at 8,000 feet, this is the coolest place in Southern California to have a flat. The unforeseen incident has caused us to forego a cross-country hike to Toro Peak for a saunter up the road to her near twin, 8,070 foot Santa Rosa Peak.

Santa Rosa Peak

     At a three-way fork in the road, we ramble to the right. The woods silent except for our footsteps crunching, our setting is idyllic. Then the piercing sounds of a radio and distant voices tell us we are no longer in isolation. Campers claim the peak.

     The flat beds of two old pickups hold several campers lying on mattresses. Four dogs bark at us. T.M. explains we have come to see Desert Steve’s cabin. The friendly camper asks if we know him? We laugh to ourselves knowing Desert Steve Ragsdale came to the Santa Rosas in the 1930s, died in 1970 at the age of 87. In a way we feel we do know him from his roadside warnings and the story of his cabin on 560 acres of mountaintop.

     This individualist and pioneer of the desert hailed from Arkansas. An itinerant preacher with a feel for the future, he opened a gas station and lunch counter in the Chuckwalla Valley in the early 1920s, offering free water to the few and far between travelers. When the road to Desert Center was paved, Interstate 10 ran right through his now thriving enterprise. Desert Center later became the gateway for the southern entrance of Joshua Tree National Monument, now a National Park.

        “All that is left is the two story chimney,” the camper points out. “The cabin burned down 4 months ago.” Heedlessly, he talks of the fire they built just last night here and we wonder if the cabin burned because of another camper’s carelessness. We had read Steve posted signs at the cabin: “Decent folks welcome” and “enjoy but don’t destroy.”

     Disappointed that the pioneer’s landmark cabin has disappeared despite Desert Steve’s dire warnings, we walk cross-country away from the blackened chimney, climbing ridges and rocks to a private picnic haven. Here, we loaf on the rocks of Steve’s lush green peak high above the somber palette of the brown desert below. Toro Peak, about a 1 ½ mile away  rises toward the east then drops precipitously to the canyons below.

     Mountains are cradles of myth and legend. According to Patencio, the Cahuilla called Santa Rosa mountain “Weal um mo.” Yellow Body, an Indian cultural hero, sat down here to extract a troublesome cholla cactus spine from his foot. He threw the spine on top of a stone and it blossomed into a mountain. Weal um mo.

     Toro Peak, from which we have been turned back twice, was taboo; a place of evil spirits. Today, it is owned by the Indians and the summit is leased to the Marine Corps.

     T. M finds a hawk feather and we joke saying our trip up the mountain could be a feather in his cap.  A lone hawk, possible owner of the feather, soars, drafting off the air currents. A small gray bird swoops down and catches a black and yellow butterfly in his beak. Purple flower clusters lift their blossoms to the sun on finely branched Santa Rosa sage. Wind blows in the tree tops.

     Our long resting at its end, I am the lucky one who gets to vibrate, bounce and plummet on my mountain bike down the road while T.M. tails in the car. I go down past the pines out of the shadows quickly into the sunlit chaparral.  Plumes of ribbonwood flowers have turned champagne gold and rust, tinges of fall. Thunderheads of afternoon clouds cause black silhouettes to play hide and seek on the green hills. Bike and car finish at the same time;10 miles of bone-shaking road fun in 51 minutes. Later inquiry at the Idyllwild Ranger Station tells us that Desert Steve’s cabin fire is still an unsolved mystery.

     Were we led astray by mountain vagaries? Does Toro Peak twist the plot or was it just fate turning us in a direction we had not planned and did not resist. Perhaps we will find out when we test the upper reaches of  “Weal um mo” once more.

Excerpt from Peaks, Palms and Picnics Day Journeys in the Mountains & Deserts of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley of Southern California  © Linda Pyle 1999


On Memorial Day we once more drove up Santa Rosa Spring Road  wondering if today would be the day. The deep marine layer the coast was experiencing filled in the valleys to the west with white clouds but the mountain was all sunshine. Our Tundra truck gave us a soft rocking ride up the rough road like being on a horse or in a stagecoach. 

     After about an hour of driving, we passed the area where we had the flat. As we jumped out of the truck we were warmly greeted by violet green swallows swooping over our head.  Instead of climbing to the top of Toro Peak with its intrusive microwave tower,  we chose to follow a lower cross country trail which provided spectacular overlooks to Anza Borrego. 

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    The wind was cool and pine-scented. A woodpecker made a tat-a-tat-tat sound on the Jeffery pine. Our hiking shoes crunched on the fragile soil. Blue butterflies lit on blue penstemons.  

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    We remarked the show of wildflowers to be the most spectacular we have seen.  We picnicked on rocks surrounded by Indian Paintbrush and odd looking plant called Bladder Sage. 

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It was possible we were walking an Ancient Indian trail used by the Cahuilla Indians moving back and forth between desert and mountain. 


 Travel Notes:

     Driving up the mountain requires a high clearance vehicle. Snow may be encountered in winter, early spring and late fall. From Palm Springs take Highway 111 and turn right on Highway 74 (the Palm to Pines Highway) in Palm Desert.  Proceed up Highway 74, 18.9 miles to Santa Rosa Spring Road marked with a large wooden sign. Drive up the road and at mile 10, park and walk or continue driving the one mile up to Santa Rosa Peak.

    To reach Toro Peak, pass the turn off to Santa Rosa summit to a locked gate 1 mile past Stump Springs. This will be a total of  12 ¼ miles from Highway 74. Park and proceed on foot past the gate 1¼  miles going right at two forks to the summit. There is communication equipment installed here.   

    Fires are allowed at the Toro Camp and Santa Rosa Springs with permit. CDF permit can be obtained by mail from the Cleveland National Forest office: 619-673-6180

     You will need a National Forest Adventure Pass to park vehicles in the Forest for recreation purposes. You do not need a Pass to travel through and not stop. Information: 909-620-6208. Daily pass: $5.00, annual pass: $30.00.  They are available for purchase at local Sport Chalet’s or REI Coop retail stores. 

California Muffuleta 


1/2 cup pitted and chopped oil preserved black olives

2/3 cup green olives, chopped

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

½ pound Provolone cheese, sliced 

½ pound ham or turkey ham, sliced  

½ pound Genoa salami, sliced  

6 large bakery buns or crusty baguette


     Mix together black and green olives, cilantro, capers, garlic and marjoram.

If desired brush bread halves with olive oil. Spread olive mixture on one half of each bun. Top with cheese and meats. Press down slightly.

     To make day ahead, use crusty baguette, scoop out soft bread, layer filling and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Serves 6.




Weekend in Julian

Mountain Biking Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountain, Cleveland National Forest
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Bundled up in fleece jackets, we wheeled down Big Laguna trail. Fallen oak leaves crunched and acorns popped under our tires. We had ridden the Grand Loop in Rancho Cuyamaca the day before. Still saddle sore, we agreed to a moderate, short ride today. Parking at the Pioneer Mail trailhead thinking it was Penny Pines, we made a mistake which caused us to cross the Sunrise Highway and slip down the road looking for the trail. Something was wrong. We doubled back, checked and rechecked the map. “This must be it?” Still unsure, we pedaled back down Rattlesnake Valley. Being a little lost didn’t subdue the joy of four friends sharing the cool, crisp November wind and blue sky of Laguna Mountain.

San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park

Our annual Julian weekend had begun at a place where the bloodiest battle of the Mexican-American War took place. For years we had zoomed past the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park, (east of Escondido) and each time vowed to return one day to explore. Today, we had finally allotted time to stop on our way to Julian. Unfortunately the Visitor Center was closed on Friday, so we wandered up the hiking trail overlooking San Pasqual Valley. Solemnly, we stood to read the plaque mounted on a huge boulder:

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The State of California Honors with this monument the American soldiers who under the leadership of Brig-Gen Stephen W. Kearny, Captain Abraham R. Johnston, Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Edward F. Beale, U.S.N. and Kit Carson, the Scout gave their lives in the battles of San Pasquale between the Americans and Mexicans December 6-10, 1846.

The U.S. and Californio armies clashed here. After it was all over, both Generals Stephen Kearny and Andres Pico claimed victory. This peaceful valley seemed an unlikely battlefield where fixed bayonets slashed and shots rang out, leaving 21 Americans dead. The soldiers had no trees for cover, just the broad green paddles of tangles of prickly pear cactus and low brush. The trail wound up over the high ground where we could view the battleground below us and in the other direction, the Wild Animal Park boundary.

At the end of the short trail, the details of the battle still a mystery to us, near the visitor center we found another plaque that said it had been originally mounted under a large sycamore tree on Camp Pendleton. This tweaked a memory from several years ago that tied into the planning of this battle by the Californios. My nephew was married at a chapel on Camp Pendleton Marine Base to the northeast.  Camp Pendleton once was Rancho Santa Margarita Y Las Flores, a Mexican land grant to Californios Pio and Andres Pico. As we had waited for the wedding to start, we had wandered outside the chapel to a grove of old sycamore trees where a sign read: Under this tree Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipas planned the battle of San Pasqual in 1846. The sign here today explained: that as officers in Andres Pico’s command, these men were interested in the recapture of San Diego. As the battle at San Pasqual was unplanned up until several hours before it happened, it is more likely that Cota and Alipas were planning the recapture of San Diego or the capture of Captain Archibald Gillespie and his California Riflemen and sailors.

Santa Ysabel

Planning to return in December to witness the re-enactment of the Battle of San Pasqual and learn the hard-to-come-by details of this fight, we slipped back along the winding pastoral road to Julian. T.M, usually in a hurry, surprised us by stopping the car in Santa Ysabel; a small hamlet nestled at the elbow of Highway 78 and 79. At the Apple Country Restaurant we enjoyed a superb lunch and trotted across the street to meander through the books and art at the General Store. The shopkeeper’s dogs mugged for the camera. 

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Back across Highway 78, the Santa Ysabel Art Gallery Halloween exhibit had us laughing at ghoulish, outlandish art. An original oil painting in the very back of the gallery revealed a lone black oak tree in yellow fall splendor against a cerulean blue sky. The painting foreshadowed the scenery that was to unfold to us while riding the Grand Loop through Cuyamaca Rancho Park and Laguna Mountain in the days to follow.

In Julian, we stocked up on mountain berry and an apple crumb pies before the weekend crowds descended on the tiny town. Pies in hand, we headed for “The Palace.”

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The Pines Palace

Always searching for the perfect secluded cabin accommodations, just two weeks earlier I had cancelled a reservation, which upon inspection was found to be part of a dense cluster of crowded cabins. At the last minute, I located a cabin on the Internet and booked it sight unseen. My companions were skeptical. Why was this place still available at the height of the apple season and why did we have to bring our own linens? 

Upon first inspection, the upstairs of this tri-level cabin in the pines was pleasant, sunny and warm. A loveseat and couch invited lounging near a great fireplace. A lovely deck with table and chairs overlooked towering fragrant pines. Nestled on a ridge of pines, the secluded location was a ten. The last rays of the setting sun drenched the ridges viewed from the living room. “Ah, it is a palace you see!” I said feeling vindicated. 

But further examination revealed flaws: a kitchen on the middle level that was sunless and drab, suspect old food particles clinging to each dish and utensil pulled out of the cabinets, requiring washing before use. The 2nd of two promised bathrooms, (really a ½ bath) off the kitchen had an unusual appliance, a microwave installed in it. The toilet came with a permanent “do not use until plumber can fix” sign on it. The full bath sported a squishy, soaking wet furry bath rug. (The source of the leaking water was never discovered.) The bedrooms, dark cave-like chambers where one might imagine mushrooms sprouting, chilled to the bone.

T.M. and I opted to sleep on the loveseat and couch by the fire while our friends slept in the bottom full-sized bunk bed, happy to have brought their own linens. The 1960’s vintage TV received two fuzzy stations. “What about the football games?” After a lot of grousing and recriminations from T.M. for booking this place, we settled in with a sense of humor about the Pines Palace. After all we were here to mountain bike!     

Pine Hills Lodge Dinner Theatre

That evening we escaped to Radio Gals, a musical comedy at the Pine Hills Lodge and Dinner Theatre. Set in the late 1920’s, the play has enterprising Hazel Hunt of Cedar Ridge, Arkansas broadcasting on the local airwaves then coming under the scrutiny of Herbert Hoover. “Toe tapping, rib tickling array of novelty songs that set hearts a- thumpin,” our program read. It did deliver all that and some local top-notch musical talent.

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On Sunday we packed up the Toyota Tundra, then locked up, bid goodbye to the Pines Palace and drove to the Laguna Mountain Recreation area. The Pioneer Mail trailhead sign at the parking area made for good picture taking.  So there was no doubt as to where we were. The only problem was the Big Laguna Trail started at the Penny Pines area not Pioneer Mail. We followed a jeep trail south through Rattlesnake Valley two miles enjoying moderate, rolling terrain. So it gave way to plenty of hike-a-bike and plenty of grumbling. Arriving at the first trail signs, we soon discovered we had earlier started at the wrong place. We had ended up on Indian Creek Trail and turned left up to Noble Canyon Trail. We calculated now to complete the Big Laguna Loop would mean biking 20 miles today. This daunting mileage dashed high hopes fed by blue-sky optimism and we retreated. Finally after several miles and about an hour of pedaling, we dropped down to the Penny Pines parking area where we should have started.  It now crawled with hikers and bikers. We sped down Sunrise Highway back to the solitude of the Pioneer Mail trailhead picnic grounds.  

Seated at a picnic table, we wolfed down sandwiches. Surrounded by a ring of many ancient black oak trees and soaring pines, the dappled sunlight filtered through golden leaves burning like hot yellow suns.  I leaned back to take in the royal splendor of the spreading crown of oak trees that formed a rooftop canopy over us.

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“This is it!” I said with a mouthful. “This is how the story ends! The palace setting we’d been searching for all weekend is here! The true Palace is this clearing in the forest at Pioneer Mail and we weren’t even supposed to be here!”

My companions kept eating without responding to my revelation. I pulled out a small red notebook and jotted down so I wouldn’t forget: The true Pines Palace is the clearing at Pioneer Mail. The other was a fake. There are no flaws here.   

Then the wind blew through the Palace chilling us. We packed up the last bits of food, secured the bikes to the rack and headed home leaving the picnic grounds empty. Snow would fall on the Palace that same week.

I checked Webster’s dictionary on the definition of a “palace.” It said: the official residence of an exalted personage: a large and stately mansion: a building and a large and usually ornate place for entertainment. I’ll add to that a personal definition:  “a clearing in a forest of black oak and pine trees."

 Travel Notes:

San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park Operating hours: open Saturday, Sunday and holidays 10-5   Located adjacent to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 15808 San Pasqual Valley Road, 8 miles south of Escondido on Highway 78. 1-619-220-5430  Free

Santa Ysabel Art Gallery 30352 Highway 78 at Highway 79. Santa Ysabel, CA 92070 760-1676

The Apple Country Restaurant  30270 Highway 78, Santa Ysabel, Ca 92070 1-760-765-3495

Pine Hills Lodge and Dinner Theatre 2960 La Posada Way, Julian California 760-765-1100 Call for current productions and calendar of events


Laguna Mountain Recreation Area

From Julian: Drive south on Highway 79 for about 6 miles to the Sunrise Highway (S1) turnoff. Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Cleveland National Forest is about 7.5 miles 

From Interstate 8:  About 45 miles east of downtown San Diego, take the Sunrise Highway exit and head north about 5 miles.
PLEASE NOTE: To park must display the Adventure Pass. Can be obtained at the Visitor Information center open Friday –Sunday.

 Big Laguna Trail  
Follow directions above and park at the Penny Pines Parking area between mile marker 27 and 27.5. Maps available at visitor center. Display Adventure Pass.

Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area  
On the Sunrise Highway at mile marker 29. Maps available at visitor center. Display Adventure Pass.  

Copyright © All rights reserved 2000 Linda McMillin Pyle


Oakzanita Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (near Julian)

"Curses!! Foiled Again!"  The villain, Desmond Delancy, a giant of a man wearing a black stovepipe hat, twirls his handlebar moustache then draws his black cape over his face as he exits the stage.  Boooo!!! Hiss!!!! The audience taunts. Sweet Amanda is in danger of being lured away from the hero, Archibald Gimlet.  "Don't go with him, don't get into the carriage!" We shout warnings to her. She doesn't listen and takes Mr. Delancy's arm. If Archibald doesn't return to save her what will happen to his fiancée up on the mountain? And what will happen to the miners of Cuyamaca?    

Is this The Young and the Restless? No. It's Friday night in Julian. After a delicious dinner at Romano's, we are seated in the back of the Julian town hall. While out strolling the dark street we heard the hoopla and caught the last act of the Stalwart Surveyor, this year's annual Triangle Club's play. 

The Stalwart Surveyor

It is opening night and the cast, the play and first night bloopers have us laughing all the way to the end. Very funny and professional! Bravo, we tell the cast waiting outside to greet us. "You are a great villain, Mr. Delancy."

"Why yes," he says. "Everyone of us has some villain in them!" 

The streets roll up. Back at the 100 year old Julian Lodge we go to get a good nights rest before biking the Oakzanita trail. The next morning after an expanded continental breakfast in the antique-filled lobby, we buy a cherry/apple pie at Mom's and hit the trail before the mob of tourists arrive.  

Oakzanita Trail 

We park at the East Mesa Road trailhead. Early morning breezes and a  gradual uphill ride keeps us cool and pedaling easily up the road. I am always struck by the nostalgia of a bower-covered road. A simple passage, so civilized and lovely. I have a series of pictures of my beloved bike on the road in the foreground with oak trees in the background. When I turn around to make another such image,  I notice a marine layer, dark and thick smothering the coast like a black pillow.  I'm glad to be up here breathing the pine-scented air in the sun. 

Soon we come to a junction where a right turn takes a single track trail to the summit of Oakzanita Peak. We continue straight ahead through a flat area and come to rest at a favorite oak tree which might take 4 or more people to encircle with clasped hands. We've ridden about 50 minutes but this will be our turn around spot. We munch on snacks sitting beneath the oak's sprawling umbrella of leaves. 

"Meet you at the car," T.M. speeds away from me. The sweet reward of the downhill is made sweeter by Bob Dylan's song,  It's All Over Now, Baby Blue playing over and over in my head.           

Travel Notes: 

For further information: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 12551 Highway 79, Descanso, CA 91916 Park Headquarters: 619-765-0755 

Directions to Julian/ Lake Cuyamaca-
From Los Angeles if you are south of the Garden Grove Freeway (22) take I-5 south to I-805 south to I-8 east to State Highway 79 north until you come to Lake Cuyamaca. (It is approximately 2 hours from Santa Ana.)  Others take the 91 or the 60 or the I-10 east to I-15 south to State Highway 79 south at Temecula. (Once you leave the freeway you are about 1 hour away.) 
From downtown San Diego take I-8 east to State Highway 79 north. ( about 15 minutes after you leave the freeway.)

Oakzanita Trail is accessed from the East Mesa trailhead of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Maps available at the visitor center. Moderate climb. The singletrack to the peak is more technical. Watch for hikers and horses.

Julian Lodge Built in 1885 it is one block off the main street of Julian.  1-800-542-1420

Julian Melodrama Stalwart Surveyor at the townhall October weekends of 6-29. Tickets: $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children 4-12. Performances: 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday; 1;30 pm Saturday and Sunday. Well worth going! 

         Photo Gallery of Blue Sky Ecological Reserve 

Blue Sky is located on Espola Road about 1/2 mile north of Lake Poway Road in Poway, San Diego.  The 700 acres of hilly terrain covered with coastal sage scrub and fragrant chaparral also includes cool shady hollows bowered by coast live oak, willow and sycamore trees. We hiked 3 miles to reach the dam and Lake Ramona. Fishing is allowed at the lake. The reserve has guided nature walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9:00 am.  

Click on pictures for large photos

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Trail of Palomar Mountain 

Hellish Mountain Biking up the Nate Harrison 

Grade Road  

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Emerging from thick coastal fog near the intersection of Interstate 15 and Highway 76, we drove 12.8 miles farther along pastoral Highway
76. Turning the car up the Nate Harrison Grade Road lined with 
citrus groves, we  parked our cars on the side of the road and began 
our attack up the southwestern flank of Palomar Mountain.

Steve was the reason my husband and I were there. Though we had never 
met Steve, he had met our biking companion at a party and they had set 
a date to do this  ride. We were invited to tag along. Steve was a no-show 
that morning which should have been our first clue as to what was in store 
for us---4100 vertical feet of climbing.

We spread out  single-file, like a chain gang, and pedaled steadily up.
The climbing paid off immediately with views to the coast where fog 
still shrouded the landforms and of Mexico in the deep distance. We climbed 
out of the sizzling Pauma Valley.  The hot benevolent sun beat down 
on the neat rows of citrus trees cultivated on the hillsides. Motorcycles 
shifting gears whined shrilly as if the Indy 500 race was taking place 
along the roads below us.  

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At mile 5, I found my red-faced husband sitting on the side of the road 
near a black oak tree munching his sandwich—bonking big time. After 
food, rest and some mutual encouragement, we mounted our bikes and 
resumed climbing. Old trucks filled with ranch hands drove past us 
waving, flashing sympathetic smiles. Stiff-kneed and saddle sore, we 
pushed on and on and on.  

Finally, after several hours, we reached an altitude where 
trees cast deep shadows over the road. The shady lane  
renewed our spirits for a brief moment before bugs swarmed us 
as if we were cattle. Plagued by gnats, we steered with one hand and 
used the other to flutter our bandannas in front of us to keep them at bay. 
We rode. We walked. We rode some more. Still the endless climbing 
did not stop or offer any respite. A small voice in my head urged me to 
call it quits. My head pounded. We rode on. After all if Steve had done 
it, couldn't we?    

We urged each other on until finally a sign on the road read  "Palomar 
State Park, headquarters 1.7 miles." With  4100 feet of vertical conquered, 
for the first time in over 3 hours I was able to shift out of my granny gear. 
Flat, smooth pavement never felt so good! My husband muttered, "Thank
heaven for small favors!"

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At the Silvercrest Picnic area at 5000 feet it seemed the trees welcomed 
our arrival. The gnats were gone and we sat in a lovely picnic area 
surrounded by thick-trunked incense cedar trees. Their fragrant scent
revived us. After resting and filling our camel backs with fresh cold 
water, we buttoned down for the chilly downhill ride.   

Usually freefalling downhill is a great joy but after this punishing climb, 
each rut jarred stiff necks, bumps taxed tired legs and speed blurred the vision.
Finishing the 18 mile ride in 4 1/2 hours, including our time at the top, 
my husband remarked with sarcasm, "The only smart one today was Steve!"

But as with all difficult rides, on the way home, we forgot the pain 
in the tired glow of accomplishment. Steve was the catalyst that 
pushed us beyond our limits to reach a pinnacle called Palomar.  Thank 
you, Steve, whoever you are!  

Travel Notes:

From the Intersection of Interstate 15 and State Highway 76, proceed approximately 
12.8 miles and turn left on the Nate Harrison Grade Road. About 3 miles up, park off the road. Stay off private property and citrus groves. It is 18 miles out and back. Bring plenty of water. Water available from a spigot in the Silvercrest Picnic area.

Copyright 1999© Linda McMillin Pyle


Trail of the Grand Loop 

Mountain Biking Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, 
near Julian in San Diego County

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My mountain biking friend and I are Libras, our birthdays two days apart in October. Our tradition is to celebrate by treating ourselves to a weekend 
mountain biking trip to Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. Just forty miles 
east of San Diego, this well-kept secret haven features over one hundred
miles of riding and hiking trails winding through rolling oak 
woodlands and climbing into forests of white fir, incense cedar
and four different kinds of pine trees.

My husband and I met our friends for lunch at the Julian Café in Julian, California. This trip we were introducing a new mountain biker to the 
Grand Loop trail. 

Once a gold mining town, that day Julian was filled with car-rally drivers and tourists. After a delicious lunch and a quick stroll along the falsefront store
facades, we purchased our apple pies, another tradition---one crumb-style from Apple Alley and one regular crust from Mom’s---and the crowds were left behind. Instead of staying near Julian, we headed south 9 miles to Lake 
Cuyamaca and an A frame cottage called Hansen’s Hideaway. 

Hansen's Hideaway

Stepping into the cabin zapped us back into the 1970s---a snapshot frozen 
in time of classic yellow and brown color theme accented with pictures, 
furniture and doodads we all recognized from our own family homes.
We soon forgot about the decor while gazing from the living room 
and wrap-around decks at an idyllic scene, the wind rippling 
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The quiet location satisfied our need to get away from asphalt, concrete and the fast pace of the city. While we unpacked, Scott, yelled for us to come down stairs right away! “Look---two foxes outside the window near the apple tree! There! Right outside the picture window!” That was why we had come here!  

Later that night, a confusing array of stars shimmered against the dark sky. 
At home, we rarely bothered to look up. Here, after some searching, I found 
the Summer Triangle, three bright stars, Vega, Altair and Deneb. I’d come to 
know this formation while stargazing on our last trip here.   

 The Grand Loop

The next morning, lunches packed, we headed out with great anticipation 
to ride the Grand Loop.  Instead of the usual cool fall weather,
Santa Ana winds blew hot and dry. At our altitude of nearly 4000 feet the 
morning sun foretold of a hot afternoon. We spun up the dirt road into the
familiar territory of the Soapstone Grade Road.

We rolled along the now dry woodland meadow dotted with slow-growing, long-lived California black oaks. Their broad rounded crowns provided 
shade. The wind whispered in the crackling leaves of the stout spreading 
branches. It whooshed in my ears as I pedaled faster. The dry grasses flowed 
over the graceful curves of the hills like spilled golden-yellow paint.  A 
blueberry-purple stained the mountains.

After a moderate, steady climb, the descent was a steep fun-filled 
rock-strewn drop. At the bottom we collected our thoughts on the 
cool oak-shaded lane. The trail now followed the Sweetwater River. 

As we flew down Upper Green Valley Road, I half expected to 
see a horse-drawn carriage trotting along the bowered road. In fact, the 
San Antonio stage line did run through the Park, then called Green Valley, 
on its way to the coast.                                                

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After riding  8 easy miles in 80 minutes, lunch was devoured 
under the oaks at the headquarters for the Park near the stone building. Once the family home of the Park’s benefactors, 
this haven exists because in 1933, the generous Dyar family 
sold their Green Valley estate to the state of California for 
one half
of its appraised value! Prior to their ownership, James 
Lassator had bought the land from the Indians in 1855 and lived peaceably near them. The Julian gold rush of the 1860s 
brought hundreds of prospectors. The Kumeya’ay Indians who walked these 
trails for at least 7000 years before the coming of the Spanish were then forced
onto a reservation.

wpeB.jpg (57054 bytes)Inside the inviting brown stone home, a ranger told us we 
were lucky to have spotted those gray foxes at the cabin. 
Seems now they are quite rare. Back outside, a raven perched stories above scolded warnings down on us. Perhaps he knew of what deception my husband was hatching for us. Here, our new biker called it a day, wanting to be rested enough to ride again tomorrow. 

We bid him goodbye and  followed my husband along the 
Grand Loop riding Highway 79 for a section. Then back on the 
dirt trail the earnest climbing began along Japacha fire road. Heads, 
necks and backs strained forward---up and up. 

My birthday friend, eleven years younger than I, disappeared into the bliss of climbing, her forte and passion. We lagged behind. I cursed the hot weather and swore at the gnats swarming around my sweaty head. Around Fern Flat fire 
road, rebelliously,  I finally came to a halt. Standing, inhaling the pungent scent of pine needles, my gratefulness for the strength to master this ascent sparked a smile. 

With a refreshed attitude my tired legs pumped up the road. We 
passed the intersection with the Cuyamaca Peak trail. If followed, the peak 
rises to 6512 feet. At the top looking south is Mexico, to the west the Pacific 
Ocean and to the east the Salton Sea.  We continued on the Azalea Spring fire 
road and abruptly the climbing stopped.

More suddenly than expected we were booming down the finish on Milk Ranch 
Road, slowing only for uphill hikers and downhill horses. At the car, Scott was 
evasive about our mileage for the day. Later, he confessed he had shortened our route by cutting off three quarters of Japacha Road by starting on its north end.  He had failed to inform us in case we insisted on the full grueling climb. We would
have! We completed the shortened loop of 15.6 miles.

wpe2.jpg (40852 bytes)  Back in the time-warp kitchen, my friend and I sat with empty pie plates, drinking our second pot of English Breakfast tea while the guys watched football. With heavy eyelids, deeply relaxed, I wondered how I 
could take home the camaraderie of the trail, the connection to the earth. Then it came to me. You can’t. That is why we return every fall to celebrate another year rolling along the Grand Loop.

Travel Notes:  

For further information: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 12551 Highway 79, Descanso, CA 91916 Park Headquarters: 619-765-0755 

Directions to Lake Cuyamaca-
From Los Angeles if you are south of the Garden Grove Freeway (22) take I-5 south to I-805 south to I-8 east to State Highway 79 north until you come to Lake Cuyamaca. (It is approximately 2 hours from Santa Ana.)  Others take the 91 or the 60 or the I-10 east to I-15 south to State Highway 79 south at Temecula. (Once you leave the freeway you are about 1 hour away.) 
From downtown San Diego take I-8 east to State Highway 79 north. ( about 15 minutes after you leave the freeway.)

The Grand Loop can be ridden starting at several different parking areas. We began at the dirt parking area across from the Boy Scout camp. Purchase a trail map and free list of mountain bike rides from the Park Headquarters.  Yield to hikers and horseback riders.   

Hansen's  Hideaway is located at 34585 Navajo Road in the Cuyamaca mountains.
 click here to visit their  http://www.hansenshideaway.com 

Julian is 60 miles northeast of San Diego along Highway 78. 

© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999 All rights reserved 


(The Tramway has new state-of-the-art Swiss cars equipped with floors that rotate as the cars ascend and descend. 

Trail of San Jacinto Peak

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ride to

Long Valley, easy Desert View walk or challenging hike to top of San Jacinto

"Omar’s Bread"

"Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:

And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught

The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light"

Edward Fitzgerald-translation

The first quatrain of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the eleventh century astronomer-poet of the Persian desert, echoes on a high country trail in the San Jacinto wilderness on an early morning hike. The magnificent granite turret, Mount San Jacinto peak, with the boldest escarpment in North America, is the spire upon which the sun rises and sets so compellingly in this our Colorado Desert. Forming a backdrop of incredible soaring heights for Palm Springs, now in summer the bald peak rises smoke gray. In spring, fingers of white gleam in rivers of snow. Winter brings a pinnacle of alabaster white lending a sense of grandeur to all the surrounding land.

On our Trail of the San Jacinto Peak, we are drawn up into the sky on this ageless mountain with its forever vistas of wilderness and endless desert. But first we must begin at the station.

Chino Valley Station

At the north edge of Palm Springs, Mom, Dad, my husband Scott and I follow Tramway Road climbing the alluvial fan to the Chino Canyon Valley Station at an elevation of 2,643 feet. Imposing sheer rock faces press down as we drive into an awesome canyon.

This canyon was once summer home to the Cahuilla Indians. Chief Francisco Patencio, a respected desert Cahuilla Indian, often quoted on the history of the Coachella Valley, was born in Chino Canyon in the 1840s and died at about 100 years of age. He recalled the flat lands high in the canyon were good for fields and gardens but also in great peril during floods. He said his ancestors could take refuge here from the exploring Spaniards passing through the lower valley and later from the Californios, people born in California of Hispanic ancestry in the 19th century. Chino Canyon was hidden from the desert floor.

These early explorers were using an ancient Indian trade route which ran through the San Gorgonio Pass. Trade routes were important to the Cahuilla as luxury items such as food, shells, animal and mineral products were exchanged with Chumash and Gabrielino coastal tribes. Travelers carried important messages; they were the newspapers of the people. Like them, we have traveled from the coast not to trade goods but to trade moist ocean air for warm dry air of the desert.

Palm Springs Aerial Tram

A 14 minute vertical tram ride past five supporting towers whisks us up, up and away, ski lift fashion, past life zones not often seen stacked together horizontally. Enthralled, we stand at the rear window of the enclosed 80 passenger tram reveling in the exhilarating rise of the red car. Others with less affection for heights stand in the middle, eyes averted, concealing their trepidation.

Leaving the creosote and brittlebush of the desert, the tram travels past five geological life zones ranging from Sonoran to Arctic fringe and stops at the 8,516 foot mountain station with its gift shop, restaurant, snack bar and observation areas. A 22 minute movie on the history of the tram plays in the theater.

Stepping from the station into the cool forest, the scent of pines envelops us. The dry breeze blows now a comfortable 40 degrees cooler than on the valley floor.

Long Valley

Before entering the wilderness, we fill out day-use permits at the ranger station box at Long Valley, a short walk from the tram station. Long Valley with a short nature trail and a desert view trail invites with picnic tables and barbecue grills. Here, we part ways with Mom and Dad. Concerned about altitude changes, they will meander toward Round Valley staying in the flat of the valley. Scott, my husband and Trail Master, nicknamed T.M. and I are on a mission: lunch at the top of the Turret.

In the past, a hike into the high country for us was from the other side of the mountain. Then, bedraggled from a night in the tent and dusty from the trail, we met Palm Springs tram hikers, in spotless white clothes and sandals, with jaundiced eye. They seemed to be cheaters. Now, delivered by the same tram, fresh and ready to meet the challenge, it didn’t seem so much like cheating as we still had an 11 ½ mile round trip to hike. Plus, Mom and Dad would be able to share the high country forest experience.

Round Valley

A march of two miles to Round Valley begins our ascent. T.M., always alert to signs of animals, spots several bushy-tailed coyotes. Eyes glowing in the dark forest, observing curiously, they remind that this is their wilderness too.

Once these forests were the habitat of the most dangerous animal the Indians encountered, the grizzly bear. Like the bald eagle, the bear was sacred and not hunted. With difficulty and foreboding the Cahuilla men would ascend into the mountains with bows made of mesquite or desert willow; then descend, deer slung over shoulders, down through the steep cactus and chaparral infested slopes. This may have been a fearful task for them as the mountain top was also the realm of the ubiquitous evil spirit, Tahquitz. With a penchant for stealing souls and concealing himself as solid rock, he could also appear in angry thunder and lightning and travel in frightful whirling dust devils.

No thunder claps or lightening strikes as we reach a stream, our last chance to filter water. A trip to the outhouse is fast as spiders and bees have claimed it as their own. From Round Valley, we climb the trail past the sign marked "San Jacinto Peak."

San Jacinto Peak Trail

Our pace picks up after resting in the shade of lodgepole pines at Wellmans Divide, the junction of the Saddle Junction Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail. The San Jacinto Peak Trail turns right. Soon we find ourselves out of the stately pine forest and into the bright sun on dry slopes switchbacking through an elfin forest of manzanita bushes. Branches and berries crown this large evergreen with its reddish-brown twisted trunks. Manzanita means "little apple" in Spanish and the mealy berries are eaten by wildlife and were made into a cider by the Indians.

Soon we meet the Summit Trail and other hikers with the same destination. Pressing on, closer to the top of the mountain, a stone shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s provides emergency shelter.

A scramble up boulders advances us another 300 yards to the "top of the world." No peaked pinnacle to inspire or awe, but rather a conglomeration of gigantic granite boulders balancing one atop the other creates this "summit of the exalted mountain."

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the bough,                                                                               

  A flask of Wine, a book of Verse -- and Thou                                                                             

  Beside me singing in the Wilderness --                                                                                  

  And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

From this elevated place, the pale purple horizon circumscribes the wilderness and our paradise. Our wine is thirst-quenching water, our bread is eaten next to a windswept limber pine tree and a travel journal is our book of verse.

An eagle’s vista, a wide panning view, spots the mighty San Gorgonio peak, old "Greyback," the highest peak in Southern California. The 10,000 foot precipitous drop of a perpendicular escarpment falls away into thin air before us. This, the northeast face of San Jacinto Peak, is recognized as the most severe escarpment in North America.

Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley cities string out below on the tawny floor of the Colorado Desert. Disappearing in a haze, the Colorado Desert reaches eastward almost 250 miles to Phoenix and southward slips past the blue Salton Sea into northern Baja California and the Mexican state of Sonora.

In the deep western distance, the Pacific Ocean gleams only on a rare clear day. The Little San Bernardino Mountains to the northeast rise dim blue with a gilding of gold. Hidden behind them are the Mohave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. The Santa Rosa Mountains to the south and southeast with windswept ridges stand out in sharp relief.

Our vistas and visions of the desert and mountains along many of the trails of the Coachella Valley would have belonged to Cahuilla Indian, Spanish explorer, Californio or American pioneer. These paths, worn by the feet of many travelers, mark places where visitors can not now remain; a patchwork of Indian reservations, National Forests, State and Federal Wilderness, BLM land and Santa Rosa National Scenic Area has insured this. Perhaps, someday in the future development will string all the way to Arizona but foresight and cooperation will have preserved some of this unique Western landscape.

The sudden rise to a high altitude and the hike begins to blur the senses and returning down the trail, legs straining, toes jamming, the last mile seems endless. Exhausted, collapsed on the waiting room floor at the mountain station, we are thankful the tram will keep us from having to descend another 6,000 feet on foot. I describe this hike as long, long and arduous, T.M. as a piece of cake. We are anxious to know how Mom and Dad fared in their ramblings.

Desert View Trail

They are not worn out but have a story to tell. Starting confidently up the Round Valley Trail behind us, talking and laughing, they proceeded until Mom spied six or seven coyotes slinking along on their own trail. With an abrupt about face with fearless leader Mom leading the retreat, they exchanged their scant knowledge of what to do when facing a coyote pack --- stand tall and not run? Or was that for mountain lions? They weren’t exactly running but when they chanced upon a ranger and described their encounter, he had smiled. Seems the coyotes here are looked upon as merely part of the scenery.

Heartened by this news, they headed out again, this time on the 1 ½ mile Desert View Trail, an easy loop, pleasant with a slight rise to the brink of an escarpment dropping abruptly to the desert floor. After scenery gazing and resting among giant boulders, they proceeded close to the rim to another lookout with a similar spectacular viewpoint and then back down the easy slope to the picnic table area of Long Valley. Their adventures on the mountain and ours tell us that whether you are 40 or 75 years old, time is fleeting.

Take Heed! Time Fleets Fast Away                                                                                       

  Forty or Seventy, Dark Shadowed Forests beckon Stay                                                       

Share Together the Mystifying Mountain Air                                                                      

 Soon the Fall shuts Another Day

Travel Notes:

The Valley Station is located in north Palm Springs. From Highway 111 turn up Tramway Road and proceed 3½ miles to station. Cars depart year-round at least every half hour from 10 a.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. weekends and holiday periods. Fees are $17.65 for adults, $14.65 for seniors, $11.65 for children ages 5-12 and children under 5 ride free. Be sure to check time of last car down mountain. Call 760-325-4227 for any changes or closures due to weather or maintenance. Internet address: www.pstramway.com

Wear comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots and bring plenty of water for longer hike to top. Be prepared for 40 degree temperature change from the desert floor. Day hikers should fill out a day pass at the Long Valley Ranger Station before starting the wilderness trails. Maps available in Long Valley and there is a picnic area with barbecue stoves and picnic tables.

Omar’s Bread

1 package fast rise yeast

3 ½ - 4 cups flour

1 ¼ cup lukewarm water, divided

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup olive oil

Pinch of sugar


Dissolve salt and sugar in ¼ cup lukewarm water. Place 3 cups flour on bread board. Make 6 inch well in center leaving some flour on bottom. Add yeast to sugar and salt water.

Pour olive oil and yeast mixture into well. Start working flour into well gradually adding remaining 1 cup lukewarm water. Continue working flour toward center until a soft dough forms. Add more or less additional flour to form a ball.

Knead dough 20 minutes on very lightly floured board picking up edges and folding to center, pushing dough away from you with heels of hands. Rotate dough ¼ turn and continue kneading until ball is smooth and elastic.

Place in large greased bowl turning dough to grease all sides. Cover bowl with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place such as an oven. To warm oven, heat at 200 degrees for 3-4 minutes and turn OFF. Allow to rise until double in bulk.

Punch dough down with fist. Form into 4 balls. Place balls in greased bowl and return to oven allowing dough to rise 30 minutes.

Lightly sprinkle cornmeal on two ungreased heavy baking sheets. On a lightly floured board, roll balls with rolling pin into 8 x 1/8 inch rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets 2-3 inches apart. Cover with cloth and let rest 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake one pan at a time on lower rack for 3 minutes until loaf rises. Transfer to rack 3-4 inches higher. Continue baking 3 minutes more until light brown. Remove from oven. Immediately seal bread in aluminum foil wrapping tightly. Let rest 10 minutes. Serves 8.

Serve warm or at room temperature. For the trail, pack cheese, peanut butter and jelly or fruit.


© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999 Excerpt from Peaks, Palms and Picnics, Day Journeys in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley of Southern California



Kayaking the South Shore of Mono Lake

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In the classic western movie, High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood battled the bad guys in a red clapboard town built on the South Shore of Mono Lake. On the same shore we struggled not with good nor evil but with gear and nervous anticipation of our first kayak trip. Clad, not in Western hats and chaps but in quick drying nylon clothes and sunglasses we made ready to challenge the Lake.

Navy Beach

At 8:30 a.m. our motley group assembled in the parking lot. Sue, our guide from Caldera Kayaks, handed out red and blue lifejackets and dry bags while directing us to adjust the pedals of the rudders for steering. Unruffled by our chaos, she was as calm as Mono Lake. After a brief paddling lesson on land, the bow of our yellow double kayak slid into the beckoning water of the ancient sea. The sun burned unusually hot for August. The lake mirrored the clear blue Sierra sky.

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Trepidation overcome, I soon found the paddling easier than expected. Unlike a canoe paddle with just one end stroking, a kayak paddle has a blade on each end allowing a natural one-two motion dipping left, then right. "Pull! Pull from your toes," Sue and my husband, Scott, coached and exhorted.


South Shore of Mono Lake

A miniature high rise cityscape sculpted in white rose mysteriously from the South Shore. At our first stop along the guided tour, we peered down into the clear water to where a spring bubbled up from the lake bottom. Here, a white tufa tower formed underwater before our eyes. The chemical reaction resulting from calcium in the spring water and carbonate in the Lake water, deposited calcium carbonate on a framework of tiny algae; the start of a new ghostly white tufa which may one day rise out of the water like an upside down icicle, revealed by a lowering of the water level. Next we paddled silently through a narrow slot of water between more tall lacy tufa formations. Two Great Horned owls nested high in the tower, eyes wide, witness to our silent passage.

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Mono Lake Success Story

Instructing us to gather together, forming a raft with our kayaks, our guide proudly explained the lake has risen 9 feet since 1994. Diversion of water from streams that feed the lake at one time dropped the Lake level 45 feet. Legal battles won by the Mono Lake Committee provided that less water be diverted from the streams for Los Angeles consumption. The Lake is expected to rise another 5 feet. During the ice age glaciers fed this 1000 foot deep Lake and the ancient shore line can be seen etched on the surrounding mountain to the west.

As we paddled on, graceful eared grebes dove into the glassy water and California gulls wheeled overhead. This lake is a vital nesting and resting ground for these birds. Thousands of adult alkali flies (Ephydra) swarmed in the air and the water was filled with the pupae and larvae of the flies. It is this fly that bestowed on the Lake its name. The local Paiutes once scooped the fly pupae from the Lake, calling it cu-za-vi. They dried this food staple, an oily kernel, and traded it with their neighboring Tribe, the Yokut. The Yokut called the people from the Lake, fly people. "Mono" in their language.

Negit and Paoha Islands

Staying along the calm South Shore, we turned our attention to Negit and Paoha, two islands that lie to the west. Sue pointed out that 85% of California gulls breed on the volcanic islands. At one time the lake dropped so low a land bridge formed providing access to coyotes which wreaked havoc on the breeding birds. But with increased lake levels, the land bridge disappeared. The trillions of tiny brine shrimp (Artemia) in the water, which the birds feed upon, look like pieces of dissolving thread. A closer look reveals tiny heads and tails.

As the blades of our paddles synchronized, our voyage led to the place where Rush Creek flows into the Lake. When fresh water mixes with saltier water it looks slick, like vinegar and oil combining. With no outlet, evaporation concentrates the minerals and the Lake is 80%  saltier than the ocean. The water left a white powdery film on our gloved hands.

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Lunchtime found us beached on a stony shore where fractured pumice and black obsidian stones lay like jig saw puzzles; evidence of volcanic activity. The swaying sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata and yellow blooming rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseous intensified the blue stain of the tranquil Lake. After relaxing on the shore we shoved off again. Now change was in the air.

Paddling back, the afternoon wind distorted the mirror surface of the Lake with dark cracks and ripples. Though not threatening, the wind and waves meant more work for Scott to keep us moving straight and I stopped more often to rest my fatiguing arms. Storms can blow in fast on the Lake and park rangers recommend going early, staying close to shore and being prepared to stay overnight in an emergency.

Back at Navy Beach, Stuart from Caldera greeted us pulling our kayak from the water. Except for a little water in the seat bottom and wet shoes, I was perfectly dry! We didn’t even need to use the spray skirts on the kayaks.

Thoroughly satisfied with our first kayak experience and promising to return with friends soon we said goodbye to Sue and Stuart and returned to Mammoth Lakes via the June Lake Loop on Highway 395. While drinking ice tea on the sun deck of the new posh Double Eagle Resort restaurant, Scott declared we’d have to get individual kayaks if we got into the sport. A double kayak would be too heavy to get on and off the car. Translation: I got too much of a free ride in the front!

Suggested reading

Smith, Genny, Rinehart, Dean, Vestal, Elden, Willard, Bettie E., Mammoth Lakes Sierra: A handbook for roadside and trail , Genny Smith Books, Fourth edition. Seventh edition now available from  

Travel Notes:

Reservations are required. Information: Caldera Kayaks PO Box 726, Mammoth Lakes, CA. 93546 Phone/fax 760- 935- 4942 Cell phone 760-937-2215 Email: info@calderakayak.com

Tours depart from Navy Beach on the south shore of Mono Lake. From Mammoth Lakes go north on Highway 395 to about five miles north of the June Lake Junction to route 120 east. To reach Navy Beach from Lee Vining/Tioga Pass Route go south on 395 about five miles to route 120 East. Take route 120 east towards Benton for five miles. Turn left at the South Tufa Reserve turnoff. Follow the right fork toward Navy Beach. Turn left at the "T". Follow road to parking area. $60.00 per person includes paddling lesson, interpretive guide and stop for lunch.

© Copyright 1999 Linda Pyle Excerpt from upcoming book



Hiking the Mammoth Crest from Lake George

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My husband Scott and the other fisherman descended down to Bentons Crossing seeking trout. Knowing it would be hot down at the river and full of pesky flies, I headed up into the cool pines on a familiar trail for a solo hike.

It was in the parking lot at Lake George, I first ran into "the clowns." I began the dusty trail at the same time as 3 teenaged boys dressed in urban city street clothes carrying fishing gear. One wore head phones over his wool hat and sang, not rap nor heavy metal but early 70’s Crosby, Stills and Nash songs off key in a loud voice. I stopped under the enormous hemlock trees to adjust my pack and allow them to get far ahead. But as I rounded the fifth switchback I caught up just in time to hear a rendition of Judy Blue Eyes.

I stopped. I took pictures. I rested. They stopped. They rested. He sang. I passed them and they passed me over and over until finally I heard them hoot and holler down the trail toward Crystal Lake. I was headed for the Mammoth Crest. Good riddance!


But soon I was down at Crystal Lake, too. Realizing I had taken the left fork leading to the lake and had missed the trail split, I retraced my steps to where the trail sign lay propped up on the ground. How I could have missed the sign? I vowed to sharpen my sense of where I was going. Then it dawned on me, the clowns had been standing in front of the sign covering it when I passed by.00000006.jpg (110771 bytes)


Mammoth Crest Trail

I continued on the main trail enjoying the freedom of hiking at my snail’s pace, taking lots of pictures of the deep green-blue lakes below and stopping to identify penstemons and other wildflowers.

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As I climbed, Gold Mountain rose in the distance to the east above Lake Mary. From my vantage point high above the lakes, the wake of the fisherman’s boats looked like a jet trail in the sky. Now my feet crunched into the red cinders under foot, evidence of volcanic activity. I passed only one hiker going back down the trail. When I reached the Crest I found myself isolated along its gentle slope. The cool wind blew benevolently on the Crest today but its brutal winter force and severity have scarred the Whitebark (Pinus albicaulis) and Lodgepole (Pinus Murrayana) pines. These trees, my only companions on the Crest, hunched in squat, ghostly silver shapes. Large portions of the trunks and gnarled branches showed exposed wood.

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I sat on a rock in my domain eating lunch. I claimed all the silence and loneliness of the Crest and planned to stay for hours, not wanting to return to the town. But curious bees hovered around my hat buzzing like saws. I abandoned my post to sit by a rock near a patch of snow still covering the ground in August. Immediately the tiny bees droned again around my hat. Reluctantly I retraced my steps back down the trail.

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At the split in the trail I heard a now familiar sour strain. Yes, the clowns were headed back down the trail, too. I laughed, snapped photographs of Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) and passed many families now ascending the trail carrying kids and a poodle.  I stood ten stories above a gull winging high over the lake and peered down once more into the depths of Lake George before my final decent.

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Back at Mammoth Lakes, I found the fishermen got skunked down at Bentons and the tiny bees had driven them crazy, too. My first solo trip into the mountains to over 10,000 feet left me tired but inspired and I even caught myself singing a little Judy Blue Eyes off key.

Travel Notes:

Park at Lake George. Look for trailhead. Take the main trail to the right at the split with the Crystal Lake Trail. The trail to Crystal Lake is 1 ¼ mile each way. The Mammoth Crest Trail is 3 miles each way.


      Trail of Inyo Craters and Deer       Mountain

Hiking to the craters near Mammoth Lakes

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 A base of only 18-24 inches of snow in mid-December at Mammoth Mountain due to dry La Nina weather! Oregon and Washington were getting all the moisture. Still, Mammoth had some of the best conditions in California, thanks to snow-making and expert grooming techniques. But on this day another force of nature would change our plans to ski.

In the Mammoth Ski Area parking lot the wind blew so hard my husband, Scott, and I with 3 friends from San Diego could  barely catch our breath as we hauled skis and boot bags, trudging head down into the gale.

At a leisurely breakfast of French toast, potatoes, hot coffee and tea in the cafeteria, we kept a watchful eye on the chair lifts. By 9 a.m. none were running. Resigned, we inquired about renting snow shoes at the rental department shop. They laughed at our optimism and chided us with good-natured barbs, “The snow is bullet-proof! No need for snow shoes! Wear your hiking shoes.”

In high spirits, we retreated to town at a lower, less windy elevation to find a hike.  Deciding on the Trail of Inyo Craters, we headed along the Mammoth Scenic Loop and up a dirt road to the trailhead. Here, bundled up in hats, coats, gators, jackets and snow pants, we began our hike to the edge of the youngest volcanic craters in the area.

 Inyo Crater Trail

 The Trail, beginning at an elevation of 8000 feet in the shade, was still covered with patches of snow, dotted with the footprints of other hikers and easy to follow. Climbing about 300 feet and walking a quarter of a mile through a protective forest of Jeffery pines, we arrived at the Inyo Crater rim. Here, we gaped into the deep pit. A volcanic explosion about a century before Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain had created the enormous hole. 

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Continuing easily along the crater’s edge on the trail, we began a steep climb up to the rim of another crater. The pumice rock made footing slippery and footholds on these light rocks could not be trusted. 

We continued another ½ mile past the craters to Deer Mountain. Sweating on the steep climb, at the top at 8800 feet, we were rewarded with an eagle’s view of  windy Mammoth Mountain. No skiers on any runs.

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Mammoth Mountain’s volcanic history is much more ancient than that of the Inyo Craters. Many violent eruptions 180,000 years ago created this gray hulking mountain. Skiers don’t have to worry about eruptions closing the lifts. The last one was 40,000 years ago. But watch out for the wind!

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Travel Notes:

From town take the Mammoth Scenic Loop and turn left at the Inyo Craters sign. Follow the road to the trail head sign. The hike to the craters is an easy ¼ mile out. The hike to Deer Mountain peak is more strenuous, another ½ mile out.

Copyright 1999 Linda McMillin Pyle All rights reserved ©



Hiking with the Ancients: The Schulman Grove in the White Mountains of California

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Creeping quietly along the dry ridge I thought this wasn’t exactly the place you would expect to find the oldest living thing in the world! This trail wasn’t in a lush giant Sequoia or redwood forest but in the bone-dry White Mountains of Inyo National Forest, about a 5-hour drive northeast from Los Angeles. We were looking for Methuselah, named for the biblical patriarch who lived to be 969 years old. This Great Basin Bristlecone pine tree has outlived that human patriarch by nearly 4 millenniums! 

I examined and complimented each dwarfed tree as I passed on the trail. I wanted to stop and have a silent conversation with each one. Instead, I snapped pictures of my husband chin up toward their gnarled wooden faces and down to exposed, burled roots. Root exposure is prominent in trees over 1000 years old. We make our guesses as to which of the squat trees with many dead branches and only a narrow strip of living tissue connecting roots to needles is “the one.” Methuselah is not identified deliberately to protect it from humans.

The other enemies of these trees are heart rot, small boring insects and heavy winds. I think that the maladies that plague the humans are not so dissimilar.

Dr. Edmund P. Schulman

Ironically, the man who identified the age of the ancient trees here, died at the young age of 49. Dr. Edmund P. Schulman, a University of Arizona, Tucson, Associate Professor of Dendrochronology (the science dealing with the study of the annual rings of trees in determining the dates and chronological order of past events) came up here to follow up on a rumor of some very, very old Bristlecone pines.

He knew these trees could be found in many of the dry mountain ranges of Nevada, Utah and eastern California. But, here in the White Mountains the conditions were the most severe—less than 10 inches of rain a year. In 1957 his team began to analyze sample cores drilled from trees along the ridge where we walked. Shouts of excitement must have rocked the mountain as he dated the rings and counted down the millenniums. These trees proved the old adage that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. The harsh conditions, he speculated, made them survivors. The sample core of Methuselah dated to be 4600 years old.

Something a Little Fantastic

He found “there is something a little fantastic in the persistent ability of a 4,000 year old tree to shut up shop almost everywhere throughout its stem in a very dry year, and faithfully to reawaken to add may new cells in a favorable year.” Dr. Schulman thought the trees held clues to tree longevity. I clutched at the idea they held clues to human longevity, too.

It was four years since we had last traced this path. That day, inspired by their tremendous age, I had left the trail wanting to have the strong heart of a bristlecone pine tree. I didn’t know what that meant and still hadn’t figured it out.

Back home in southern California, my husband, Scott, had told friends the trail was a sacred experience. One friend commented he had never heard him talk that way about any place. His praise made this friend, wife and son eager to join us this trip. But the winding road and sudden ascent to 10,000-foot altitude grounded our friends with motion sickness in the parking lot. Only their thirteen-year-old son had joined us as we set off in the 50-degree chill about an hour earlier.  


It seemed as if the misshapen trees surrounding us could easily pull out their burled, exposed roots and dance around the forest on them. But they stood motionless, mangled together on the slopes as they had for thousands of years. Only a few lively pinecones bounced in the wind, another adaptation to the adverse conditions. Expending only enough energy to replace 1/20th or 1/30th of their needles, Bristlecones conserve energy for survival.  The limber pine growing next to it replaces 1/4 of its needles each year.   

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We stopped at all of the markers on the trail.  My husband, Scott, usually in a hurry, lingered to read out loud to us each and every word of incredible facts about these trees and their ecosystem from our informative self-guiding leaflet. We learned these trees grow only 1 inch every hundred years; the soil here has eroded less than one foot in a thousand years; only a few seedlings are needed each century to maintain the forest! Our young companion politely listened and then confidently took the lead on the trail as we moved ahead single-file.    

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At stop number 17, a section of tree cut off during trail construction stopped us in our tracks. The birth of Christ was marked with an arrow. Our amateur eyes read the tree rings. Narrow rings usually mean less rainfall and bigger rings more moist conditions. Dr. Schulman’s research showed that trees in arid climates produced significantly smaller, more sensitive growth patterns compared to the tree rings in the forests of Coastal redwood and Giant sequoias. 

The Final Stop 

We made our final stop, number 25. 2 ½ hours from the start, our young companion, though feigning interest, fidgeted, restless at our snail pace and eagerly ran the ¼ mile to the car where his parents waited. Feeling better, they had hiked the shorter Discovery Trail.  

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While munching on sandwiches at a picnic table, we were accosted by a bold ground squirrel that licked the condensed moisture on my Perrier bottle and peeked into the lens of my camera.  Inside the new ranger station, I bought mementos of the forest, another green Bristlecone t-shirt and greeting cards with the ancient’s photographs on them.

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The Heart of an Ancient Bristlecone Pine

Our car coasted down the mountain road toward Big Pine and finally joined the river of cars on Highway 395. Mentally reviewing the last 4 years, it dawned on me that in researching my recently published book, Peaks, Palms & Picnics Day Journeys in the Mountains & Deserts of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley I had discovered how beauty and life blossomed in the Desert under the most adverse conditions on earth when a good rain fell. Like Dr. Schulman, in the desert plants and trees I saw life and “a little bit of the fantastic.” 

Maybe to have the heart of an ancient tree is to be able to see the darkness before the dawn, to conserve and focus all your energy toward your dreams; not to speed along the trail of life but to stop and savor even the details of an ancient tree’s life high above the city. The ancients live a long dream.

Travel Notes:

From Highway 395 in Big Pine turn east onto State Highway 168. (No gas or food will be available for the next 100 miles.) 12.7 miles from Big Pine turn left at the sign reading White Mountain Road. At 5.1 miles you will pass the Grandview Campground. At 7.7 miles you will pass a Vista Point. At 10 miles you will reach the Schulman Grove parking area. The road is closed from late October until spring.   


Copyright 2000 ©Linda McMillin Pyle

Excerpt from upcoming Book All Rights Reserved

Cross Country Skiing Tamarack Lodge, Mammoth Lakes

 Six inches of fresh snow blanketed the bare ground while we slept snug in our bed, the first significant snowfall for Mammoth in 3 weeks! We rejoiced at our good fortune.  Hot tea, coffee and bagels at Schatt’s Bakery fortified us. With picnic lunch in our packs we blazed by car 2.5 miles up Lake Mary Road to the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. The lodge buzzed with activity as Hollywood film crews prepared for shooting a movie called Peak Experience. Little did we know our experience would be more like Hitchcock’s The Birds!  

Tamarack Cross Country Center

Inside the center, we laced up ski boots, held poles under armpits to determine  right length and exited with the proper pungent wax for snow consistency applied to the bottoms of our skinny skis.

Outside, a strong wind stung our eyes as we snapped into our bindings. Shoving off with the familiar kick-glide motion we had learned as teenagers in Minnesota, soon we dropped into the cross-country track grooves made by a special attachment to a snowplow. Gliding along Lake Mary Road, tiny crystals of snow beaded up on our jackets and glasses. The snowstorm had stalled over the mountain and it looked as if another inch might fall.

Lake Mary

We passed the Lake Mary store and Crystal Crag cabins, now closed for the winter. It was nice to experience this well-used campground and fishing lake in the stony silence of a winter storm. The Crystal Crag, a gray monolith loomed above us. It is all that remains of a once high ridge after glaciers carved out this lakes basin. 

The road winds up the hill toward Lake George. Later a passing hiker told us he planned to hike out of Lake George, by way of the Mammoth Crest trail, up to Crystal Lake.    

Instead of continuing up to Lake George, we crossed over a bridge, stopped to catch our breath at the east side of Lake Mary and headed to the trail’s end at Horseshoe Lake.    

The Birds

Waiting for T.M. to catch up with me, I looked up and saw the first winter bird. “Look! Hello, little bird--” Before these words left my mouth, ten or twelve black-capped fat little birds swirled out of the tree and encircled T.M. approaching on the road. He stood frozen, crouched in surprise, as the birds came to perch on his shoulders and backpack in a flutter of gray wings. 

"Don't be afraid."

“I’m not! I’m just trying to be still.”

They called clear whistles of “tsee-dee-dee- tsee-dee-dee as if greeting a long lost friend. About the size of a sparrow, one of the gregarious birds balanced gracefully on the tip of his ski. Another perched on his backpack while still another soon replaced him on the coveted position. Between black crowns and black throats, their tiny faces had comical contrasting white eyebrows.  As T.M. pushed off, they retreated back to the tree.

We skied away touched by excitement. After clearing the snow off a picnic table top with our gloves, we munched on our lunch, and mused, “Did they know skiers carry food in their backpacks?” Chalking the whole incident up to T.M.’s usual animal magnetism, we continued our kick gliding, kick-gliding until we came to the end of the trail at the sandy shores of Horseshoe Lake.

Horseshoe Lake

Now, happy to have chosen to picnic near Lake Mary, we find our usual picnic spot closed due to natural toxic gas. Carbon monoxide collecting around tree wells, buildings and the lakebed have caused surrounding trees to die, the deadly effect of this colorless, odorless gas thought to be a precursor sign of volcanic activity. We finished the track in about 2 1/2 hours covering nearly 8 miles with no eruption yet! 

Mountain Chickadees

At home, I discovered the sweet birds to be mountain chickadees, (Parus gambeli) one of the few birds that stay at high elevations in the winter. Telling the chickadee story to friends, many wondered what it meant and some offered opinions.  My Chinese acupuncturist said it was a great sign of T.M."s business success in the coming year! Another friend  proclaimed it to be so unusual that seeking deeper contemplation into its meaning must be done! But T.M. just smiles enigmatically, as if he knows the meaning and it will remain a secret between himself and the birds.

Travel Notes:

Tamarack Lodge and Cross Country Ski Center Information 1-800-237-6879


Day pass and rentals $26 per person.

Copyright 2000 Linda McMillin All rights reserved. From upcoming book Day Journeys in the Southern Sierras in and around Mammoth Lakes.  



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