Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Natural wonders await at nearby Hellhole

Bruce Keller and Nick and Nora enjoy the view and fresh air
in Hellhole Canyon Preserve. A hitching post welcomes riders.
                                                                                 --Christene Meyers photo

     Less than two hours from downtown San Diego, but light years from the city, is a little known park of natural wonders.
     Hellhole Canyon Preserve transports the hiker to a world of calm and beauty.
     Its serenity and bounty of flora and fauna contradict the fire and brimstone its name connotes.
     We happened on Hellhole during a weekend outing at Harrah's Rincon Casino Resort, 90 minutes northeast of the city.
     Setting aside a losing blackjack streak and a disastrous run at the video poker machines, we retreated to our room.  Intrigued by the view out our hotel window, Keller suggested  "Let's see what's over there." A phone call to a co-operative concierge inspired a lovely afternoon in the preserve, avoiding further gambling losses, socking away memories of Hellhole.
      The concierge printed out a map which took us 10.6 miles in a lovely half-hour from the hotel.
The road less taken leads to peace, beauty.
     The scenic road headed us back toward Valley Center, and onto Lake Wohlford, Paradise Mountain and Los Hermanos Ranch roads -- paths seldom transited by most San Diegans and never once experienced by my native San Diegan partner.
Cookie pauses along the Hellhole
Canyon Preserve trail.
                                --Bruce Keller photos
     The farms, orchards and tableaux we passed were from another era -- Mayberry, perhaps, or the small Montana town in which I grew up. Folks chatting in their yards, kids swinging.  We were the recipients of waves and smiles -- inspired, perhaps, by our Big Sky license plates.  When we purposely took a wrong turn to admire an avocado orchard, a sprightly elderly lady walked over from her rose garden to ask, "Could I help you find something?"
     At the preserve gate, we parked the Explorer, leashed up the Yorkies, grabbed a water bottle and headed up the gentle slope.  We noticed horse droppings along the trail as we passed a ranger's trailer and entered this lovely hikers' oasis.
      Within 50 yards, we met a young father and pre-school son who told us the four of us were were the only ones on the trail. "I'm a local," he said, "and we come over here once a month or so..... it's a hidden treasure. Three miles to the stream."
Rock, wood, water and scrub await hikers.
 The trail winds around in the hills and eventually over the top and back down to the view we saw out our hotel window, the view that diverted us from more gambling and introduced a part of our state we'd never seen.
      If you're looking for peace and tranquility, Hellhole has these in spades, pardon the gambling reference.  We saw squirrels and gophers, lizards and a multitude of birds.  Thankfully, we spied not a single snake, but the displays warned of their presence. Mountain lions, lynx and coyotes also call Hellhole home.
      Sumac, sage and fir are set against boulders and rock shards. The air is fresh and fragrant. And if you take your horse, the park thoughtfully provides a hitching post and watering stations.
Flowers bushes and chaparral remind of the Mediterranean.
     Hellhole is a lovely discovery, and if you decide to visit, don't miss an opportunity to visit Heritage Family Farms in Escondido.  We've shopped there three times now for sweet melon, avocados in every stage of ripeness, Julian breads and pies and an abundance of vegetables including fabulous vine-ripened tomatoes.  We've made a habit of picking up a dozen tasty tamales -- beef, pork and chicken-cheese, all delicious -- and a crispy apple turnover to enjoy on our return to city life.
Heritage Family Farms  offers quality produce and
homemade treats if you're on an outing near Escondido.
     Harrah's is man-made fun.  Hellhole is another kind of enjoyment, the kind that comes from communing with the natural world.

SATURDAY:  Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" celebrates its 50th year in print.  Cookie takes a look back at her role in the feminist movement in Montana, her weekend as a Playboy Bunny in Chicago, her writings for Ms. Magazine, her coverage of the Miss America pageant in 1969 and the editor who arbitrarily changed her byline when she married Bruce Meyers! We've come a long way, and the Baby Boomers paved the way for contemporary women.

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