Hiking the Observatory Trail

Pines on Palomar
For those of you who are waiting for an update about the permaculture garden, I’ll do that tomorrow or the next day.  Many small things, although labor-intensive, have been happening, and some big things are happening tomorrow, so I should have good photos to share.

Meanwhile, today was hiking day, and a gorgeous day it was.  My hiking buddy Alex came up with an old magazine article about the Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail, which neither of us had heard about.  You drive up to the gate that leads into the Palomar Observatory parking lot and look right… and there is the trailhead. 

The Observatory closes this season at 3, and the parking lot at 3:45, so we parked on the street past the ‘no parking’ signs.  (Disclaimer: These photos were taken with a lightweight cheapy digital camera which I use now when hiking instead of the big heavy camera, so the resolution isn’t superb.)  To our  surprise on this warm Spring day, there was still snow along the roadsides.

Snow Flower

  Alex made a Snow Flower instead of a Snow Angel.  So artistic.

  If you decide to hike this trail, at the sign there is a well-worn path to the left and a not-so-well-worn path to the right.  We, of course, not taking Robert Frost’s advice, took the well-worn path, which led us into a maze of cut brush piles, fallen logs and criss-crossed paths.  We laughed about survival skills just to get through the first five minutes of the trail.  On our return we clearly saw the real pathway that was beautifully laid out, skirted the brush pile maze, and came around to the other side of the entrance sign.  Of course.  This trail is supposed to be 2.2 miles one way, and it travels downhill through mixed pine and oak forest, paralleling the roadway a lot of the time, until you reach the Observatory Campground.  Then you have to hike uphill on the return.  During the time of year that the campground is open (it isn’t now), you can park there and hike uphill first to the Observatory, take a tour and hike back down.  Not all of the pathway is shaded, and it wasn’t a hard trail at all (if you didn’t get stuck in the brush piles!). 

Woodpecker Tree

If you are a birder, this is a wonderful area.  I saw red shouldered hawks, nuthatch, spotted towhee, banded pidgeons and of course plenty of acorn woodpeckers.  Woodpecker families ‘own’ trees. In the Fall when oak acorns drop, they compete with many other animals who eat the nuts for their high protein value.   The acorn woodpeckers grab an acorn with their beak, fly up to the family tree, then nod and shake their heads slowly measuring the acorn up and down.  Then clasping it in their feet they drill a hole exactly the size of the acorn.  They jam that acorn in so that no one can get it out.  They fill trees (and the sides of houses, too!) with acorns, and this is their pantry.  Since acorns fall only once a year, this storehouse has to help feed the family for a year, with the addition of insects to their diet.  During the year the woodpeckers will check on the acorns buried in the bark, and if the nuts have shrunk, they redrill a smaller hole for it.  At this time of year and on into early summer you should be able to spot activity in tree cavities.  What a wonderful thing it is to see later in the season little red and black heads peering out of their nest!

     This area had been burned in the past, and the trees still show the burn marks. 

Many of the deciduous oaks are still bare, and there are stands of very old incense cedars,
oaks and pines.  The heavy smell of resin permiated the air, making me feel a little sleepy in the sunshine.  What a fragrance!  The terrain changes a lot, from shady forest, to streambed with a log crossing, to open areas bordered with manzanita just going into bloom.  Against the bluest of blue skies some of the white-barked bare trees made wonderful designs. 
A little more than two-thirds of the way down, you get to a platform jutting away from the trail, and from there is a view well worth the hike (if the beauty of the forest wasn’t enough).  Down across the tree-studded mountain you can see the sweep of Mendenhall Valley, with brilliant green grazing land studded with cows and ponds. 

Mendenhall ValleySnow

We also passed an area where there had recently been a controlled burn to clear out the undergrowth.   Then we’d dip down and cross a streambed with mossy rocks and deep, spongy loam.

Streambed

  Along the pathways were boulders ranging from gigantic, mossy troll-like beasts, to well-constructed stone retaining walls.   

Stone Wall

Smaller Observatory

From the path you can see the smaller of the two observatories glinting in the sun.  How fortunate we are to live so close to such a famous research facility!  You of course know that there are two roads up to the observatory because the first one switched back and forth too much for the truck to navigate that was hauling up the huge lens, so the second one is more straightforward.     When traveling back down the mountain there are many scenic pull-outs.  Take advantage of them, even if you’ve stopped many times before!  The view down into Pauma Valley, and across the shapely mountains and hills that roll right out to the Pacific, is a reminder of how beautiful the land is and how lucky we are to live here. 

Out to the Sea

I apologize for the random craziness of the photos.  I’m trying to insert them where I want after uploading them one at a time (whew!), and the program doesn’t agree with my placement.  In fact, I just posted this and about four of the photos had disappeared, so I had to readjust.  A work in progress!

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