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Black Mountain : Life at the Top : Hike Up Black Mountain Affords View as Grand as the Peak

February 20, 1992|Jerry Schad | Jerry Schad is an outdoor enthusiast, educator and author of books on hiking and cycling in San Diego County.

Singular and imposing, Black Mountain's dark, chaparral-covered bulk heaves into the sky over Rancho Penasquitos, Sabre Springs, and Rancho Bernardo. The cluster of microwave antennas bristling on top testifies to the mountain's importance in line-of-sight electronic communication, and suggests how inclusive a summit view you get from there in really clear weather.

On a good day, your gaze encompasses almost the entire coastline, from Dana Point in Orange County to Playas de Tijuana just south of the border. The Mexico-owned Islas de Los Coronados poke up sharply beyond Point Loma to the south, while San Clemente Island and Santa Catalina Island occasionally float like mirages above low-lying coastal haze to the west. Quite consistently this time of year, Old Baldy (Mount San Antonio) shows off its snowy cap in the San Gabriel Mountains far to the north.

Closer at hand and away from the ocean, it's easy to trace the discontinuous series of ridges--part of the Peninsular Ranges--that form the backbone of San Diego County. Palomar and the Santa Rosas rear up in the northeast, and the Cuyamacas rise in the east. They are but a few of the many separately named but interlinked mountain ranges (or sierra) stretching all the way to Baja's southern tip.

For years, local residents have been climbing Black Mountain by means of whatever old dirt road or firebreak seemed most convenient. Recently, however, about two miles of new hiking trail were constructed in the City of San Diego's Black Mountain Open Space park, which covers the north slope.

You can take it relatively easy by walking a 2 1/2-mile loop on the mountain's lower slopes thickly covered with chaparral, or opt to extend your hike by tacking on an extra, steep, 1-mile round-trip climb to the top.

From the Black Mountain Road/Carmel Mountain Road intersection in Rancho Penasquitos, drive north on Black Mountain Road 2.5 miles to reach the turnoff for the open-space park. (Note: The last part of Black Mountain Road is unpaved and possibly unsuitable for use after heavy rains).

The short, paved entrance road leads to a large parking lot on a knoll overlooking a large spread of not-yet-developed land west of Rancho Bernardo. It's hard to believe that the green, rolling hills below, part of San Diego's so-called urban reserve, may well be wall-to-wall subdivisions by the turn of the century.

From the parking lot, follow an old road, marked by trail signs, east. Ignore the first marked trail (old road) coming down the mountain from the right. Continue on to the narrow path that swings south up a ridge. Follow the path, generally uphill, passing three side trails--each one leading about 100 yards to an overlook. Benches have been thoughtfully placed at the second and third overlooks.

Onward past the overlooks, the trail at first sets a course for the antennas atop the mountain, but then unexpectedly curves away and descends. When you come to the next junction, an old firebreak, turn right to finish the hike expediently, or turn left to start the rocky, arduous climb to the mountain's summit.

Even though you can't enjoy a full, 360 degree view from the summit in one stance, all you have to do is walk half-way around the fenced antenna structures to get the whole picture. The unique perspective afforded by Black Mountain tells a lot about San Diego's topography. To the south, overlain by seemingly endless rooftops, is a mesa-like platform geographers call the Linda Vista Terrace.

This is actually the middle level of three successive marine terraces evident in the area. A few remnants of the oldest and highest terrace, the Poway Terrace, can be glimpsed in the southeast and east. Imagine how this landscape looked sometime in the Pleistocene Epoch--with ocean waves rolling in over Rancho Penasquitos, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa, and breakers crashing against a shoreline somewhere east of Interstate 15.

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