The popular perception of San Diego is that the weather never changes. In this sense, San Diego is the perpetual snowglobe of the United States: sun, palm trees, and blue skies, all day, every day. If you talk to a “local” (who is probably a transplant from somewhere else), and you talk weather, they’ll tell you that San Diego has the following seasons: Winter, equaling sunny, with smattered rain; Spring, equaling sunny with some fog; Summer, equaling sunny; and Fall, equaling sunny with some hot winds. If you talk to an actual local, they’ll fill your ear about the climactic variations of the city that are really not variations – “May Grey”, “June Gloom”, “Sort of Santa Annas”, and “Santa Annas”. While all of these perceptions are somewhat true, what is really true about San Diego is that there are seasonal changes. (Cue ominous music, right?)
These seasonal changes are best evidenced in the pockets of wilderness that are trapped within the county. I could pick many places to prove this point (such as the fall colors in Julian), but I only need one, and it is right smack in the middle of the county. Black Mountain Community Ranch Park is one of the “newer” parks in the County, comprising Black Mountain and several great stretches of trail along the nearby foothills. (http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/blackmtn/). It’s also the home of one of the yearly Xterra SoCal Trail Races (http://www.trailrace.com/blackmtn.html).
I ran the Black Mountain race back in 2010 (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/5/2/xterra-black-mountain-trail-run-march-14-2010-515k.html), and while I was booking it down the Lusardi Loop trail, I was impressed by the verdant green hills of the park. I was so impressed (maybe it was the lack of oxygen) that I told myself that I’d have to come back some time to check out the area at a much more relaxed, slower pace. After a few twists and turns, I found myself with a free couple of hours in early October of this year, and decided to hike the Lusardi Loop.
The trail is easy to find, right off of Carmel Valley Road (http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/pdf/blackmountaintrailmap.pdf), and is easily accessible from the parking lot. One just walks through the parking lot and then it’s right there, next to the gate, and helpful wilderness kiosk board that warns you of death, mountain lions, and various other creepy crawlies. The first thing I noticed upon my return was that the area was dry. Not just dry, but sunblasted dry. The verdant hills of March? Gone. In their place? Miles upon miles upon miles of crispy cooked California Sunflowers. As I crunched down the well marked and well maintained trail, I could not help but marvel at the post-apocalyptic silence that followed me and rustled through the long dead plants. As I walked, it felt like I had stepped into a page from “The Road” (http://www.amazon.com/Road-Cormac-McCarthy/dp/0307265439); or was wandering between quests in the nuclear holocaust alternative reality of Fallout.
Despite my imaginative flights of fancy about who set the world on fire, the developments of the last twenty years were in plain view off to the East as I walked along, so I had no reason to wonder about which world I was in exactly, just as I had no need to wonder whether San Diego had seasons (from green to crunchy). Overall, the trail is a peaceful hike; and can range from a 3.3 mile loop, or a 9.9 mile loop that stretches out to near the San Dieguito River Park. As far as San Diego hikes go, I’d have to admit that I enjoy running it/riding the trail on my bike over trekking it, but it does get points for solitude. What I will say is that if you’re looking for a place to get away from it all where the grass whispers, or the sunflowers rustle, this is your spot. See you on the trail!