The next section of trail is easy peasy. It will be a welcome break for anyone who struggled on the first segment from the border to Lake Morena. Not only is it relatively flat, but there is water after only 6 miles, at Boulder Oaks campground. So pack a few liters and enjoy your light pack for a while.
I did this next part in two different hikes, both out and backs. First I went from Lake Morena to S1 (a.k.a. Buckman Springs Rd a.k.a. Sunrise Highway) and back. Then I went from S1 to Boulder Oaks and back.
When you exit the trail at Lake Morena, you will see ahead of you and slightly to the right an intersection of Lakeshore Dr. and Lake Morena Dr. The guidebook says to go about 80 yards up Lakeshore Dr and go through a fence to pick up the trail. I worried a bit about finding the trail, but it was easy.
Follow Lakeshore Dr.
Pass Vine St:
Hmm, someone took the term "garden bed" literally:
And... oh yeah, there we go. On the right track:
As I stood in front of this sign, wearing the pack I take backpacking, a woman asked me "Which way, Mexico or Canada?"
"Canada!" I enthusiastically replied, taking the question as a shorthand for "Heading north or south?"
Then I realized, she thought I was going all the way. She was literally asking and I just mislead her.
"Umm, not all the way," I added.
Then I looked ahead and saw what I was looking for:
My book says you go through a fence. "What fence?" I wondered. But I kept walking. I saw these tiny lupines:
Then I saw this:
Well, that must be it, I thought. It looks like it was a fence. I walked further and admired the sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata. It smells lovely, by the way.
There are three plants in this genus that are common in this area, Sagebrush (sometimes called Big Sagebrush or Big Leaf Sagebrush), California Sagebrush (A. californica), and Mugwort (A. douglasiana). They all smell similar, and it's wonderful. Our mugwort is a different species from the one out east, by the way. Sagebrush is a good plant to know for first aid purposes. It's medicinally useful for many things, and it's common on the trail. You can make a tea out of it. One way to recognize it besides its fragrance and its silvery-green color are the leaves, which have three little "teeth" on the tips. I always remember them because the Latin name is A. tridentata. Tri for three, and dent for teeth. It's medicinally useful for so many things that I can't keep track, but when in doubt for minor issues, it's worth a try.
I enjoyed the occasional penstemon growing here too:
This was the first time I've ever seen this flower. I still haven't looked it up yet:
Then I came to this.
OK, so there's the fence. It's a real fence.
The view is really lovely here, by the way:
And I passed some checkerbloom, which is in the Mallow family:
Clouds were rolling in and covering the tops of mountains:
These gorgeous California poppies grew just off the trail:
By the way, see all the dried, dead grasses growing around the poppies? Those are your reasons for wearing gaiters in this section. The trail is very narrow in this section, and again around mile 24.6, and they get stuck in your shoes and socks constantly.
There were plenty of phacelia too:
Some horehound, a plant in the mint family that is used medicinally for respiratory ailments:
Altogether, it was really pretty:
This photo has a lot of sagebrush. The yellow is Golden Yarrow. The large trees are Coast Live Oaks. The tree on the left with clusters of white flowers is an elder. And the low growing plant in the center in front of the sagebrush is buckwheat.
There was even a bit of paintbrush:
Then I reached this:
In any case, you have definitely gone through a fence (or three) at this point, and you are on the right track.
The first part of the trail after Lake Morena goes gradually, steadily up a few hundred feet and then back down. Then it goes up 400 feet, with more of an obvious climb although never truly steep. Just before you cross the road (S1) at mile 24.6, the trail quickly goes down 400 feet, and you end these 4 miles at the same altitude you started at.
A butterfly landed on some Yerba Santa:
It flew away when I tried to get closer for a better shot.
Several trails cross the trail in this next section, and there are many PCT signs to keep you going in the right direction. The trail widens out and becomes sandy. That's obnoxious. I hate hiking on sand.
Flowers I've neglected up to this point are the 21 or so species in the genus Cryptantha. They are tiny white flowers in the Borage family and they line the trail all the way along. Here's a photo of one of them. I have no idea which species it is.
Then I made an exciting find. An Engelmann Oak! These are a threatened species and somewhat rare. When I saw it, I almost could not believe it, so I kept inspecting the tree until I found evidence of acorns, to be absolutely sure. I took a lot of photos so I could confirm it with others who know their local plants better than I do. My camera began acting funny at this point, so they are not the best pictures.
The clouds were still coming in low on the mountains:
Some more phacelia:
The holly leaf cherries are growing, but not yet ripe:
Holly leaf cherry leaves
I caught a few horny toads in the act:
I felt really bad because my camera interrupted them and they stopped:
And then they ran away from one another:
This is Cleveland Penstemon. It only grew on a small part of the trail, and I'd never seen it before so it was an exciting find:
At last, you can see the road:
The PCT guidebook lists the point where the trail crosses S1 at mile 24.6 as "Bridge over Cottonwood Creek, winter and early spring (dry by April). In May, it was bone dry. But I expected the trail itself to go over a bridge, and instead the trail goes under it. And, on top of the bridge is S1. If you are trying to reach it by car, it's about 6.5 miles from the 94, and I think about 3.7 mi from the 8 in the other direction. If you are going from the 8, you will see this sign ahead of you as you cross the bridge:
If you are heading north from the 94, you will see a 40 mph sign. There's a spur trail that leads to the road, but the trail itself goes under it.
Heading on the trail toward the bridge, you'll see this PCT sign:
And you'll pass the back of this sign:
As you go under the bridge, you see the trail markers:
Between here and Boulder Oaks, the trail goes up about 200 feet total. You'll pass this sign:
Between the barbed wire fence and the telephone poles, the trail is not at its most scenic here.
But you do get some nice views:
And if you look to your right, you'll see some California Wild Roses:
You'll pass the boundary marking Cleveland National Forest:
And you go through this fence:
The guidebook says that Cottonwood Creek, which you cross at mile 26 (1.4 miles from the bridge at S1) has water in winter and early spring. It had water when I hiked it on May 31. Not very nice water. It was a muddy puddle. But if you actually managed to run out of water so badly you couldn't wait until you reached the campground 0.6 miles later, well, it was there.
At a certain point, I began to feel like I was surrounded by boulders and oaks so I ought to get there pretty soon. I suppose now is a good time to talk about our oaks. The ones you're seeing around you in this part of the trail are mostly live oaks, and while I generally assume they are all Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), they could be Interior Live Oak (Q. wislizeni). (The term "live oak" means that the tree does not drop its leaves in the winter.) Occasionally in the chaparral I saw a little bitty scrub oak, plus the one Engelmann Oak. But the most common oak in San Diego at lower elevations is the Coast Live Oak,. Generally speaking, if you see a tree, you can assume it's an oak and you'll probably be right. The only other common native trees around here tend to grow near water: sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows. As you go up in elevation into Mt Laguna you'll begin to see the Black Oak, Q. Kelloggii.
Coast Live Oak
When you reach Boulder Oaks, you go through this pipe gate:
All of a sudden, the trail drops you off in what looks like a dirt road, but it's lined with tree stumps. Look right and you see this:
OK, so it's a campground. Horse camp maybe? Then look left:
There's the PCT sign. Back in business. Head left. You'll pass picnic tables and fire pits:
And ahead of you to the left are bathrooms:
Just keep following the road and the PCT signs:
Then you'll see this:
Yep, definitely in the right place. And if you turn around you'll see this:
Well, that explains the little enclosures at each campsite. So there you go, that's Boulder Oaks. It looks like a nice place to camp, and with the firepits you can have a campfire. If nothing else, fill up on water before heading on. You've got a 3000 foot climb ahead of you to get to Mt. Laguna.
On my way back, I saw this cute little snake. My best guess is it's a gopher snake. And a good reminder to watch where you step.
For all of my posts on the PCT, click here