Participants: Craig Cheetham and Tom Chester
Date: 30 January 1997 (Written up 21 March 1997)
Numbers: 6 miles, ~450' elevation gain.
We started from the Vernal Pool Trailhead, and hiked to the main pool on Mesa de Colorado. The two pools near the trailhead were both still full. An extension to the boardwalk at the big pool had been added due to the large size of the pool. However, possibly because there was a wind of about 10 mph from the north, the pool was slightly lower near the boardwalk then it had been on 17 January.
The trail to the pool was pretty muddy in two main places, one near the trailhead. It doesn't get worse once you get past that one.
We backtracked to the Los Santos Trail, which itself was pretty muddy in places. Near the beginning, descending into a little canyon, there is a little stream flowing north. It looks like there is a small place of standing water, but the stream is just wide at that point.
There were some neat white flowers on a plant about a foot high, with clusters of 5-10 flowers on top. I couldn't recognize the leaves. Some blue dicks were just about to open.
Going west on the ranch road, there is a sign "Walter B. Gerken overlook loop trail, 0.5 mile" and one crosses a nice bridge over a creek. Shortly after passing a trail junction, which is the other part of the loop, we saw what we were pretty sure was a mountain lion on the ridge to our left. This was the first time in literally thousands of miles of hiking that I saw a mountain lion, which certainly gave me something to think about for a while. Fortunately, we had no trouble with it, although I picked up a large stick just in case.
At the top of the hill, there is a nice wooden bench with a plaque on it saying:
Dedicated to Walter B. Gerken, chairman of the board 1990-1996, Nature Conservancy of California; a champion of California's natural landscape
This is a great place to stop and eat lunch! The views are stupendous. Some of the things you can see are:
- the steep part of the road that we drove to the trailhead that goes up to Mesa de Colorado,
- a pond on the other side of that road,
- the 200" telescope on top of Palomar Mountain, which peeks out behind Agua Tibia, and High Point, which is the actual highest point of Palomar Mountain,
- the old main entrance to the Reserve, and
- the hills guarding the I-15 pass between Temecula and Fallbrook.
The trail has now apparently been extended to the north to connect to the new parking area, but we doubled back past the bench. We were a little uncertain about the trail there until we got to the bench because the trail was pretty covered by vegetation.
As we continued on the Ranch Road, we initially erred and did not take the turn to the right at the windmill. Instead, we continued curving along the road, which soon headed directly back toward the hill with the bench on it! Once we realized the error of our ways, we doubled back and crossed the creek at the windmill. A crew had just finished placing a bridge across the creek, which was necessary to avoid getting seriously wet crossing the creek.
We decided to take the Trans-Preserve Trail back to my car due to lack of time, although we had intended to hike through to the Operations Center, where we had left Craig's car.
I went back to the main pool to see if I could get a better measurement of its depth, if the wind had stopped blowing, but the depth was about the same as measured previously.
Explanation of column headings
Detailed Hiking Log Recording number Mileage Time arrived Time left Altitude Comments 0 0.00 9:57 1700 Vernal Pool Trailhead. 1 0.70 10:17 1650 Main Pool. 2 0.75 10:52 1650 Leaving main pool. 3 1.30 11:07 1700 Jct. Los Santos Trail. 4 2.00 11:34 Dropping off Plateau. 5 2.10 11:42 Good views of Mesa de Burro to right. Repeated muddy, marshy areas along trail that need to be crossed carefully. 6 2.40 11:56 1700 North end of Los Santos Trail. Went left (west) on Ranch Road. 7 2.50 12:06 1600 Jct bridge: "Walter B. Gerken overlook loop trail, 0.5 mile". Ranch road continued ahead, took bridge. 8 2.55 12:10 Trail going off to left is the "loop-back" trail. 9 2.75 12:15 1700 Top of hill. End of loop. Lunch stop. 10 2.85 1:04 1750 After going to top of next hill to north and back. 11 3.05 1:08   End of loop; back on main trail. 12 3.25 1:13 1650 Jct. north end of Los Santos Trail; continue on Ranch Road. 13 3.45 1:25 Little "mud pot" in middle of road. It was a spring with a trickle of water that had air bubbling out at times. 14 4.00 1:36 1700 Whoops! heading back to hilltop with bench. Turned around. 15 4.25 1:41 1700 Back at U of Ranch Road. Took 90° turn to left across creek. 16 4.35 1:47 1650 Went right (south) on Trans Presrve Trail. 17 5.00 2:11 1800 Left on Vernal Pool Trail back to pool 18 5.25 2:18 1850 Main Pool. 19 5.75 2:34 1800 Car at Vernal Pool Trailhead.
Copyright © 1997-2000 by Tom Chester.
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Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 21 March 1997.