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Enjoying the Great Outdoors in North County

April 19, 1990|JERRY SCHAD | Editor's note: Jerry Schad's name is synonymous with the outdoors. His book "Afoot and Afield in San Diego County" has been as common an item in San Diego backpacks as a canteen of water. Schad, assistant professor of physical science at San Diego Mesa College, also wrote "Backcountry Roads & Trails, San Diego County," and "Cycling San Diego County" along with several other outdoors books on Southern California. North County Focus is pleased to introduce him as a monthly columnist writing about the many recreational opportunities in the area. and

Greetings! In this inaugural column, I'd like to introduce myself and preview a few of the places and topics I'll be sharing with you in the months to come.

As is the case with many of you, San Diego County is my adopted, rather than native, home. I'm a solid Californian, though, descended from ancestors who settled in Northern California during the Gold Rush.

Eighteen years ago I emigrated from the Bay Area to pursue a master's degree in astronomy. On arriving, I must confess, I wasn't too impressed with the sere and somewhat forbidding aspect of the then-more-plentiful open spaces around San Diego. But I did appreciate the bright, sunny weather, and I resolved to get to know the area at least a little before my return up north.

Looking back, I remember one particular experience in April, 1972: I was working my way up a narrow, dry canyon under the blazing desert sun. As I swung around a bend, an astounding sight was revealed to me. Dozens of palms stood shoulder to shoulder, their crowns glowing lime-green against the brown-baked canyon walls. In the grove itself, under the whispering fronds, a small stream hurried downward toward oblivion on the glaring, boulder-tossed wash below. Birds chattered and darted about under cover of the shade, safe from the desiccating heat outside.

To me it was as if all the diverse elements of the world--sun and shade, hot and cool, wet and dry, life and lifelessness--were seamlessly integrated and compressed into one very compact whole.

That small (but remarkable, to me) experience was a pivotal juncture in my life. The strange, green oasis tucked into Anza-Borrego's parched mountains hinted at other wonders I supposed would lie farther up the canyon and farther afield.

Later, a close look at a county map only whetted my appetite further. More than one-third of the county's land area, I discovered, was blanketed in green tint, the color indicating public lands open to recreation. What secrets did the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park's half-million acres hold? What was the view like from the 6,512-foot summit of Cuyamaca Peak? What mysteries were concealed in the back corners of the Cleveland National Forest.

Closer to the coast but outside most of the green areas on the map, I noticed a network of fine, squiggly lines suggesting, perhaps, many miles of fine bicycle touring routes. I was beginning to realize there was a lot to explore between the sandy beaches and the desert sands of San Diego County.

Since those early days, I've never really had time to think about living elsewhere, let alone wanting to. For 17 years now, I've been photographing and writing about San Diego county's scenic and recreational areas, and sharing much of what I discovered in guidebooks and articles.

Today, the vast open spaces that once existed beyond San Diego's core area have been nibbled down considerably by urban development. Many of the once-tranquil byways I used to tour on skinny tires have become roaring thoroughfares carrying harried commuters.

Yet, of late there also has been a greater concern for preservation of open space on the part of local governments and more funding for the purchase of parkland. Overall, the majority of the county's most beautiful places remain intact and substantially unaffected.

San Diego County, and especially North County, remains a great place to live, blessed with a climate permitting year-round outdoor recreation and plenty of opportunity for quick escapes.

In future columns, I'll be exploring with you the best of North County's natural landscapes--from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Borrego Badlands. You'll learn how to beat the heat on a summer's day and where to seek the warm sunshine in the dead of winter. We'll explore the flowering chaparral in spring and crunch through crispy leaf litter under the autumn oaks of Palomar and Cuyamaca. If next winter's rains cooperate, you'll be treated to some inside information about North County's best waterfalls.

Walks described in this column will range from half-hour strolls to half-day hikes. But we won't limit ourselves to walking trips. Winding backcountry roads still exist in North County; you'll learn where to tour some smooth ones on your 10-speed and where to tackle the bumpy ones on your mountain bike. You'll learn how, when and where to take advantage of opportunities for cross-country skiing right in our local mountains. You'll find out how to take advantage of the county's blackest skies for viewing the Milky Way. And you'll be kept apprised of the latest park and open-space acquisitions, and the newest trails.

Welcome to North County's outdoors column. Look for it on the third Thursday of each month.

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