Monday, June 18, 2012


With an elevation over 5,000 feet, with its large pine, fir and cedar trees, Palomar Moun-tain State Park is said to have the most "Sierra Nevada-like" atmosphere of any southern California park. As someone who lives on the western slope of the Sierras, I was curious.

The park features camping, picnicking, hiking, and Trout fishing in Doane Pond. And yes - camping reservations can now be made again - because Palomar Mountain SP has been saved for at least the next three years!

UT San Diego News reported on May 30, 2012, that the non-profit group Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park have raised $150,000 through private donations and grants. The state will continue to maintain and operate the park. The association will raise money to help cover costs. Both parties agree that the intent is to keep the park running at full operation, contingent on the Friends of Palomar raising enough stop-gap funds.

Palomar Mountain has been a fire look-out since 1921. The last of three towers on Boucher Hill still stands. It was put into service in 1948 and retired in 1983. At an elevation of over 5400 feet, it was the perfect place for detecting wild fires over Southern California.

On clear days visitors to Palomar Mountain used to report being able to see all the way to Catalina Island. By the mid 1980s the tower was no longer needed.

The smog below was so thick that on many days a lookout couldn’t see the ground where the fires started. Not even through the telescopes on the observation deck was Catalina visible today.

Over the years, lookouts recorded data on visibility. As early as the 1940s, they reported a general haze that obscured the view of distant mountain peaks.

During World War II, fire lookouts did double-duty watching for enemy aircraft, such as the one that dropped a bomb in Oregon in 1942 in an attempt to start a forest fire. Two or more “watchers” staffed the tower 24 hours a day during the war.

A short, one mile hike at the park entrance shows the very real affects of forest fire. By suppressing fire for the better part of a century, humans have interrupted natural fire cycles, causing modern wildfires to burn hotter and more destructively than ever before. Extra hot fires can kill entire forests and can change a forest ecosystem to scrub and grassland.

Fire has always been an inte-gral part of the landscape, cre-ating a cycle of destruction and rebirth, clearing dead wood and stimulating plant growth. Now the question is not, "How do we prevent wildfires?", but rather, "How do we best prepare for fire?" Returning environments to a healthy mix of native plants and animals, complete with natural fire cycles, keeps communities safe and allows biodiversity to thrive.

After my short fire hike, I drove further into the park toward the closed (but now open) campgrounds, and parked at Doane Pond where many of the hiking trails begin.

The park had presented "fire" in a rather poetic manner. Now at the Pond, it called up Thoreau's description of ponds as "earth's eye," reminding us that it is a miniature world with all of the elements supporting a wealth of life. Doane Pond obtains its water from winter storms, its oxygen from the plants and the air, and its enery from the sun.

Cattails fringe the shore; insects dart about the surface; worms and crustaceans dwell in the darkness of the muddy bottom. The pond’s open waters are home to a variety of animals from foot-long fish to one-celled organisms too small to see.

Four different trails intertwine, offering the full spectrum of scenery - meadows, ponds, forests - available at Palomar Mountain. I struck out randomly, with the assurance that I was never far the paved road. Some decent ascents got the heart pumping. Acorn Woodpeckers orchestrated my walk the entire way, with evidence of past Woodpecker feasts strewn about the forest.

A Great Horned Owl hooted. I answered, knowing that sometimes they respond to human calls. It did. And lest I thought our dialogue was just my imagination, on several occasions when I hooted, flocks of smaller birds in the treetops above me flew away in a panic when they heard my call, fearful of becoming Owl lunch.

The discovery of bedrock mortars and artifacts in Doane Valley indicate that native peoples lived in the Palomar area for many hundreds of years.

The pine and fir trees were cut for the construction of Mission San Luis Rey. Remote meadows were a favorite hiding place for cattle and horse thieves.

Some interesting looking old outbuildings were roped off for safety reasons, so I was unable to discovery their previous or current use.

Although not actually a part of the state park, the world class Palomar Mountain Observatory is just a couple of miles up the road, with it's own hiking trails and spectacular mountain top views.

I'm happy to hear this park has a reprieve. I especially like the way they tie all of the elements together and remind us that nothing exists in isolation. And yes, this mountain does have a lot in common with the Sierra Nevadas.

I hope to see you at the state parks.


This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.

Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012

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