Autumn seems to be the time when the backcountry calls us to life and lures us to her bosom as if we have some innate instinct to prepare for what is to come. Putting up fire wood, canning what comes from our gardens or stalking the meat that will fill our freezer, the chill of the air that settles in the valleys as the inevitable change overcomes the laziness of summer, the colors of Fall activates our senses and moves us to be out away from the congestion and be somewhere to appreciate the creation. A visit to the Mt. Laguna area fills the need for me. Late October is a great time to be there as most of the trees are about as colorful as they are going to be. Fortunately we don't have to visit New England to enjoy the changing of the Seasons, a magnificent display of color is available here in our own backyard. Hitch up your trailer and grab your old cayuse, get yourself to the Sunrise Highway off of Interstate 8 just east of Pine Valley and climb your way to mountain village and continue past the Shrine Camp to the Witches Broom or Filaree Flat where a paved road leaves the Sunrise Hwy to the left. Follow this road back into the forest to a large pullout area at the top of a small grade which is an obviously large enough area to park. Don't bring the whole horse club with you as there is room for only a few rigs. The Harrison Recreation Map of the San Diego Backcountry is a must so as to help you locate yourself. Here you will be deep in the colors of Fall and far from life as we know it. The 360o view you will have is almost overwhelming. To the south is Pine Valley and eventually Mexico; to the west are the three peaks of the Cuyamacas and a beautiful display of Fall fire; Vulcan Mountain and the Santa Rosa Range above the Anza Borrego Desert are visible to the North; while back behind you to the East will be the pine covered peaks of Mt Laguna. This is a secret spot that too many people already know about, but still offers the solitude you are looking for especially if you make the trip during the week. This area is out of the Mt Laguna Recreation area, so you can primitive camp here, but you will need an Adventure Pass, which is available from many places. You will have to accommodate your horses however it works best for you, and provide your own everything, especially water. You will cross creeks and water holes as you ride, but be sure to have some with you as camping is just a wide spot in the road. Deer hunters often use this area as a staging area, so don't be surprised to see wildlife and don't be surprised if you don't, depending on the time of season. Deer season is from Oct. 22 to Nov.22. Carry a whistle and wear something orange, on you and your horse. Most of them work a day job, so again during the week is your best bet. My favorite ride from here is a loop on the Indian Creek Trail down to the creek and follow the valley to the right and up, across the Sunrise Hwy to Pioneer Mail (where the USFS recommends you park for day use). Here you can junction with the PCT and follow it right or East back towards Mt. Laguna. The trail meanders its way through scrub oak forest with occasional pines to hide under, it climbs the face of a hillside working your way to Garnet Peak and another view of the forest in transition, these changes are something we may not be ready for, but an inevitable part of the creators plan, all we can do is appreciate the journey. If you see a fiery red bush along the path, don't always panic to stay away, thinking it to be poison oak, squaw bush has very much the same appearance and causes no harm, much like people unfamiliar to us, we must identify them carefully. The PCT will junction with the Garnet Peak trail where you will descend to the right and again cross the Sunrise Highway and become the Penny Pines Trail. Skirting the Filaree Flat valley and the paved road you came in on you will work your way back to where you parked your trailers. Use your maps, sometimes the names I use have been changed, to protect the innocent I guess. The Colors of Fall will continue to lure us and the changes may dazzle us but if we continue to credit the one who created, we will be delivered, we have no control, only over how we think and how we act in response to the change. As you return to the city below enjoy the journey home with a detour through the Cuyamacas, as you reach the Sunrise Hwy take a left and meander through a small piece of the New England country side we have in our own back yard. Left onto Hwy 79 and around the Lake, opens the fiery hillsides of Middle Peak, this can be a little overwhelming at the right time, so buckle your seat belt and pull over as you need to, better yet come back next week and ride into the middle of it. It can only settle your mind and let you go about your life in a more peaceable manner. Hwy 79 will lead you back to Interstate 8 and the freeway home.
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