Highpoint Fire Tower Hike

Over the weekend, I decided to hike a trail that I’ve been on countless times over the past three years. This was my first time hiking it, though.

The trail is a rutted, partially graded truck trail that leads to Highpoint Fire Tower, which stands at the highest point on Palomar Mountain (elevation 6,140 feet). Most of the trail is located on property owned by the California Institute of Technology and travels east, past the Palomar Observatory. It’s accessible to fire agencies, the US Forest Service, and fire tower lookouts. I fall into the last category of people as a fire lookout volunteer.

View of Palomar Observatory from the trail.

The fire tower is currently closed up since fire season won’t start until May, but I figured I would hike to the tower since I’ve only ever gone up in a vehicle. I’ve always been told the trail is about nine miles, round trip, which is also what I calculated with my mapping app. It turned out to be about 6.5 miles.

A view of Highpoint Fire Tower from the trail below. It’s much taller in person.

Since the trail isn’t open to the public, I had it all to myself until I got to the top. Not long after I made it to the tower, two hikers who used the much longer, public trail, appeared. We chatted about gear while I ate my lunch. Nice people.

A closer look at Highpoint Fire Tower. In 1964, this tower replaced the original, which was built in 1935. It is about 70 feet high, and there are 92 steps to the cab (the box-like structure on top). I love this tower! Working in it is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.

The breeze at Highpoint was refreshing after my warm trek up, and the view was amazing, as always, so I stayed for about a half hour before heading back down the trail. Getting back to the fire station, where I parked my car, was much faster than going up. This had a lot to do with gravity, of course, but I also felt highly motivated after determining the animal tracks I had been seeing on my way up looked like they were left by a mountain lion.

It’s difficult to tell, though… maybe they were canine prints. Sometimes the people who work and live onsite at CalTech use the trail for hiking, so I’m hoping someone went for a walk with their friendly, smiling, tail-wagging Golden Retriever earlier that morning.

The “TrailBuddy” logo on my trekking pole is about 2.5 inches, making the print in the photo about 3.5 inches long.

Despite the missing miles and mysterious animal tracks, the hike was good. It was interesting to see the trail from a different perspective. It also gave me a chance to check on the state of the road after all the rain we had, giving me a duty-related reason to use the trail.

Here are some more photos from my hike.

Mendenhall Valley below, the Cuyamacas in the distance (at the left of the photo).
Looking southeast toward Warner Springs and Santa Ysabel. The PCT is somewhere down there.
This is what’s left of the fire lookout’s house.

This is what the residence looked like in the 1930s. So bare! We have a photo that was taken later… the trees are there, but they are still small.

Source:
https://ffla-sandiego.org/highpoint-lookout/historical-photos/

A view of the old foundation from the back.

Heading back down. One thing I love about Palomar Mountain is the ever-changing terrain and the many different types of trees and shrubs that inhabit the area.
Nom, nom, nom… watch out for hungry trees!
Back at the fire station. This is my husband’s cute little car. He had to use mine, so I got to drive this up the mountain. This is a fun car, but my dream car is a Subaru.

Bobcat

B is for Bobcat

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the Letter B.

There are tons of things that start with the letter B, so I had a lot to choose from when deciding what I would write about for today’s A to Z Challenge.

I considered sharing that I got a backpacking backpack for my birthday, which was on Saturday. I also thought about writing a post about Boucher Hill Fire Tower—a fire tower located in Palomar Mountain State Park. Not only did I pass the tower on my last hike, it’s also where I spend a lot of my time as a forest fire lookout volunteer.

I could have written about barf, which is what I did on the trail two hikes ago after eight miles with a mostly empty stomach that was literally sloshing water around as I walked. Then there is the topic of backtracking. I had to do that on my barfy hike when I decided I didn’t want to cross a creek for the fifth time that day. That ended up being a mistake, but not worth sharing.

But as you can see from the title of this blog post, I am going to write about a bobcat. I was blessed on my Boucher Trail Palomar Mountain Loop hike (March 24) with the sudden appearance of a bobcat who popped out of the bushes, onto the trail, about thirty feet ahead of me.

I spent most of my hike worrying about the mountain lions that live in the State Park, so I’m surprised I didn’t automatically “see” a lion when the bobcat stepped on the trail. Instead, I “saw” a fox. It took a second to process what I was really seeing. When it turned to rush back into the trees, I was relieved to see its bobbed tail, confirming its non-mountain-lion-ness.

Before dashing off, the bobcat stared at me long enough for me to get a photo. Be warned, the photo is Sasquatch/Big Foot quality, so please excuse the lack of clarity. Also, a lot of people tried to convince me the animal is a mountain lion after sharing the photo on Facebook. I assure you, it was not. The cat’s tail in the photo blends into its leg, making it look longer than it is. I’ve seen a mountain lion in person; there is no mistaking when you see one.

Hi, little bobcat!
Definitely not a mountain lion… whew!

Alone on Boucher Trail & Palomar Mountain Loop

A is for Alone

Last weekend, I did two hikes. One was a four-mile, easy hike with my husband. If you’re interested, you can read about that hike here. The other was a nine-mile solo hike. Both hikes were on Palomar Mountain, but they are miles apart and vastly different.

Some people express concern when I mention I hike alone. To be honest, I have my own concerns about being on the trails by myself. A couple years ago, I wouldn’t even consider doing a solo hike. The biggest reason for my change of heart regarding solo hiking comes down to not having to rely on someone else to do the things I want to do. My husband likes to hike sometimes, but I can’t settle for the sometimes hike. I need to hike, and I need to be challenged.

I also enjoy doing things on my own. When I used to run, friends would often suggest running together, and I always declined the offers without apology. Running was my time. Now hiking is my time. It’s not that I’m a fascinating person to myself. I just like to think. I don’t like to talk. I want to be in tune with creation, to see it, hear it, feel it. I can’t do that when I have to concentrate on what people are saying or how I should respond to the things they tell me. Like your run-of-the-mill introvert, socializing often exhausts me.

My hike last weekend was both a little scary and exhilarating. But then, the two often go hand-in-hand, so it’s not surprising.

The scary came from being absolutely alone during most of the nine-mile hike. I don’t like crowds, but it is reassuring to see a human on the trail every once in a while. If nothing else, it gives the mountain lions a choice, and hopefully she will choose the other person. I’m joking, of course. Mountain lions don’t often attack. Besides, chances are I’d be the choice meal because I’d be easiest to catch.

Is hiking alone the safest thing in the world? No. Is going to the grocery at 7:00 AM the safest thing in the world? No. I could stay at home and hide from the world, but even that isn’t “safe.” Even in the sanctity of my own home, I am not guaranteed to be free from dangerous people, natural disasters, or disease.

Mostly, it wouldn’t be healthy for my soul.

Life is about living. With living, sometimes you need to take risks. Sometimes you have to put yourself in a place where others think you ought not be. Sometimes, if you want to live life, you have to do it alone.

Sometimes, alone is just where I need to be.

Love Valley Meadow Hike

This quick four-mile out-and-back hike was not on my agenda last weekend, but when my husband suggested heading to Love Valley to see if there were any wild flowers growing, I saw an opportunity to get a few more miles in… and maybe even see some of California’s famous wild flowers.

Love Valley lies on the eastern side of Palomar Mountain, just off of East Grade Road—or the S7, if you want to be technical. It is part of the Cleveland National Forest with views of Lake Henshaw, Warner Springs, parts of the PCT, and beyond. It is a pretty easy hike, but it can get very warm there in the summer.

There weren’t any wild flowers when we visited, other than the usual tiny purple flowers that grow in the area, but it was beautiful. The meadow at the base of the valley is green from all the rain, and the two small ponds are full. My husband and I passed a woman and her two dogs as we were heading down the valley fire road, but we saw nobody after that.

We hadn’t been to Love Valley in more than two years, and there were a few unfortunate changes. The first was a large portion of the meadow stripped almost bare. This is a result of San Diego Gas & Electric using it as a vehicle staging area for a project more than a year ago. It’s nothing a little time can’t fix though.

The other change is more permanent. There used to be an old, rusted-out, bullet-ridden metal structure on the site. I think it used to be a barn. It was both ugly and beautiful, as only a rundown barn in the middle of nowhere can be.

It’s gone now.

I don’t usually like human-made things taking up space in nature, but its absence made me sad. I emailed the Cleveland National Forest a couple days after my hike to ask what happened to it. I didn’t expect a reply, but one came the next day from the Recreation and Lands officer who oversees the Love Valley Meadow area. According to the officer, the barn has always been slated to be “deconstructed” but a storm came through a while ago and it sustained major damage. That sped up the process to get rid of it.

They did a thorough job of getting rid of the structure! No trace of it exists. Nothing. If I hadn’t seen it in person, I would have no idea that a barn had been there at all.

I took this photo of the Barn in 2015.
This is the Barn in 2017. I took this photo without realizing it had sustained so much damage.
I’m not very observant.
The Barn in 2019. This is looking south, while the other two photos were looking north.
Regardless of the direction, the barn is gone.

The missing barn aside, it was a nice, low-key hike. Here are some other photos from our excursion.

A little hazy, but that’s Lake Henshaw down there.
A view of the valley.
A nice, full pond.
Me and my husband with the non-barn behind us.