Friday, January 20, 2017

Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve - West

I wasn't planning to hike after the Borrego trip seeing as forecasters were enthusiastically reporting rain, but when I woke the sky was bright blue and I knew I couldn't stay inside. I wasn't sure where I was going to do my next hike, so I just kind of jumped in the truck and headed east. I cruised up hwy 67 thru the boulder fields of Lakeside and Poway before joining Hwy 78 in Ramona. I stopped and grabbed some breakfast there and continued on thru the rolling grass lands of Santa Ysabel. I am usually heading home on this route, so coming in from a different direction gave me the opportunity to see things I usually fly by. When I approached the turn out for Santa Ysabel West Preserve I made the quick decision to turn in and check it out. There was only one other car in the round-about lot as I walked toward the information kiosk. I pulled out a trifold map/brochure from the display and decided the trail looked doable and that a cruise thru the oaks was exactly what I needed. 
Photo Credit:The Canyoneers for The San Diego Reader 11/4/2015

I grabbed my gear and headed down a long fire road lined with oaks and ground squirrels scurrying about. I watched them for a while and they made me laugh as they chased each other around.

The trail left its level grade and descended into a creek drainage before climbing steeply out again. At the top of the hill sat several large oaks and an information placard that explained they were Engelmann Oaks.

The trail meandered thru rolling hills the entire way, with some relatively steep inclines as it went from ridge to ridge. The day was cool and crisp and the views went on for days.

After a while I reached the top of the hill I'd been climbing and the trail descended to a spring loaded gate. There were a great many animal trails here that looked like they were meant to circumvent the fence.

The trail began to descend gradually until it tired of it's slow and steady grade opting to just drop straight down. I dug my poles in the soft dirt in front of me to help me even my pace and my feet slid to the front of my shoes as I dipped down, down, down to Santa Ysabel creek.

At the bottom of the hill was a shady oak grotto with a few picnic tables and there I met a couple of women who were heading back toward the parking area. We chatted for a while about trekking poles and their idea to fashion a set that would have pepper spray accessible from the handle. We talked about solo hiking and one of the ladies said she is doing a big Utah national park adventure soon where she's going to hit as many parks as she can by herself. I told her about the Inreach and the confidence it's given me on rural solo jaunts and she was appreciative of the information. After chatting about our love of solo hiking for a while we parted ways, them starting the trudge up that big hill, and me starting the trudge out of the creek drainage toward the beginning of the balloon shaped loop.

This little creek reminded me so much of the PCT and it kind of made me home sick! I felt little waves of that feeling I had when I was prepping for, and finally on the trail and it made me smile. The PCT was challenging for sure but the real challenge was dealing with myself. I've done a lot of life rearranging and hard work in therapy since then and it has been paying off; I'm feeling much more grounded these days. I'm hoping to get back on trail in 2020 for what I'm calling the hindsight tour.  

Eventually I reached a junction between the Ridge Trail and the Upper Creek Trail. The wide open views of the Upper Creek Trail helped me decide which way to go. I opted to continue on with my uphill and get it all out of the way, and proceeded up the Ridge trail.

At the top of the hill I saw something bronze in the sun. As I got closer I realized it was a big ole' cow and I said hello as I passed by.

She didn't seem very amused by my hello nor my presence in general and stood there giving me a hard eye as I passed.

I made my way toward the rest of the herd expecting them to move but they didn't. In fact, two of them turned tail and shat and pissed in my direction while never breaking eye contact. I gave them a bit of a wide berth as I moved over to the fence, but they moved in the same direction I was going blocking my way even more.

I was quickly running out of ideas as I neared the calves and I moved my way off the trail looking for another route. One cow called another and I turned to see a big black cow running up the hill, and when she got there, she was PISSED. She gave me a stomp and a half-hearted charge as she groaned her displeasure with my proximity to the babies. 

I finally found my way out a gate that was closed with a caribeaner next to the trail before I got killed. I later learned that cows account for more deaths annually than sharks. That's kinda scary! I met some crazy cows on the PCT too, but none as aggressive as these. I will be a bit more careful next time I approach a herd with calves. The irritated cows watched me as I made my way downhill on the Coast to Crest trail.

Happy now to be in relative safety, I stopped to watch a couple of Red Tailed Hawks soaring over the land. Their calls are so dramatic and give me chills every time I hear them. This area has no shortage of majestic raptors, it seemed every tree, bush and fence post had some type of hawk sitting on it scanning the grassland below

I reached my final junction and turned back the way I came to close the loop. This section was exposed and treeless and the sun beat down on me but the coolness of the day offset any heat that was radiating. Winter in San Diego County is a blessing. I would not recommend this trail in the summer!

The trail was soft and muddy as I headed back and I enjoyed inspecting scat with bones in it as well as a plethora of tracks including everything from deer, bobcats and turkeys.

I descended back into the creek drainage and slipped a couple times on the loose rocks catching myself before I hit the ground. Once on level ground, I took the opportunity to sit at the picnic tables and tie my shoes as well as eat a bit of glucose for the huge climb that awaited me.

What a beautiful place! Just build my house right here please!

I took the steep terrain like a champ but still sat a while at the top of the hill at another picnic table. I focused on just being there, in the moment and listening to the cows and raptors do their thing on the hillside below. "I am grateful," I said out loud to myself, "right now, I am at peace." and it was true. There's noting better than realizing you're in a good place and being able to stay in it, even after the thought.

When I passed through the final pipe gate I found some fresh cat tracks in the mud. Not sure if this is a small mountain lion or a big bobcat.

When I arrived back at my truck I felt super good! The hike was more challenging that I thought but not hard, really just enough to make me feel like I accomplished something with my day. I look forward to checking out the larger East preserve another day.

Hike 4 of 52 is done! On to the next!


  1. I enjoyed reading about your hike and glad you got away safely from the cows..