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AFIELD WITH JERRY SCHAD

Poway Beckons Those Who Like to Take a Hike

May 17, 1990|JERRY SHAD

Looking for a nice place to walk, hike or jog on a cool springtime morning or lazy afternoon? Then look no farther than Poway, North County's self-pro-

claimed "City in the Country." Nowhere in the county will you find a better- developed system of trails lacing both suburban neighborhoods and adjoining open space.

Poway's enlightened approach to community trail development is partly a reflection of its residents' preoccupation with the outdoors, and partly due to some savvy planning during the city's infancy in the early 1980s. As soon as several parcels of surplus public-domain land on the city's edge were deeded over to the city by the federal Bureau of Land Management, Poway declared them permanent open space and initiated an aggressive program of trail construction.

Today, 40 miles of trails cover not only these areas, but also many of the city's residential neighborhoods. According to Poway's riding and hiking trails plan, an additional 50 miles or so will be completed during the next several years. The system's peripheral trails are designed to link with trails in other jurisdictions, possibly as part of a future, countywide system of multiuse trails.

Poway's most interesting trail of moderate difficulty encircles the 60-acre surface of Lake Poway, a reservoir (currently full) storing emergency water supplies. Even if you don't like hiking, visiting the impeccably maintained recreational area (Poway residents get in free; nonresidents pay a parking fee of $3 weekdays, $4 weekends) along the lake's west shore might be worth your while. You can loll on the grass in a 10-acre picnic area; play horseshoes, volleyball, or softball; or rent a boat to fish or cruise on the lake. The recreation area is open seven days a week, sunrise to sunset (phone 748-2224 for more information).

The loop trail around the lake features 3 miles of dirt road and switchback trail, some of the latter steeply pitched. The whole trip takes less than an hour for joggers and power walkers, and more than two hours for bird watchers and flower sniffers. Down at the bottom of the trail, in a ravine just below the rock-fill dam, you might deviate a little from the route to visit the seldom-used wilderness campground, open only to those on foot or horseback. You can use one of the picnic tables there to relax, tank up on fluids and admire the line of oaks, sycamores and willows hugging the nearby creek.

On the east side of the lake another side trip option presents itself. Climb a short way up the steep Mt. Woodson Trail for a look at some of the late-blooming spring wildflowers--Indian pink, scarlet delphinium, and monkey flower--along the north-facing slopes.

The Mt. Woodson Trail is your gateway to the rugged area of open space known as the Clyde Rexrode Wilderness (named in honor of Poway's first mayor). If you're up to a strenuous hike, pick a cool morning to explore either of the two upper branches of the trail. One branch forks left and climbs the steep and shaggy slopes of Woodson Mountain--or Mt. Woodson, if you prefer the corrupted name. This 8-mile (round trip) west approach of the mountain involves a non-trivial 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and some easy boulder-hopping near the top. Wear lug-soled boots or waffle-soled running shoes to ensure good traction, and bring along plenty of water and high-energy snacks.

The right branch of the trail gyrates wildly up and down, following a course across the boulder-frosted south flank of Woodson Mountain. Two delightful picnic spots are passed, where you can sit in the cool shade of a venerable live oak and survey the rugged terrain around you. This branch of the trail heads toward California 67, but does not now connect to anything because of the widening of the highway roadbed. Eventually an extension of this trail will link up with the Iron Mountain Trail, about 1 mile south. Because of the many ups and downs, this alternative (9 miles round-trip to California 67) is about as strenuous as the west approach of Woodson Mountain.

Another way to enjoy the area is to hike the steep, paved service road up along Woodson Mountain's east slope. The route passes through the county's premier rock-climbing area, a landscape strewn with smooth and angular boulders shaped like oversized jelly beans and jelly-bean fragments. If you start the climb to the top (1,200 feet gain in 1.7 miles) no later than around 6:30 p.m., you'll enjoy a spectacular sunset from the summit plateau. Return by the light of the nearly full moon (best July 3-6 or Aug. 30-Sept. 2) or by flashlight. Access to the mountain is now awkward: you must park across from the fire station along California 67, quickly cross the highway on foot and walk past the station to reach the service road.

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