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Morena Butte is a not-so-high and not-so-hard hike found in the south central part of San Diego County, just about right for the small platoon of young hikers I was trailing behind me to the peak. We were visiting grandma in San Diego for spring break, and while most of their time was devoted to decidedly non-athletic pursuits, one of those days was reserved for Hiking with Dad, a familial ritual that has both enthusiastic (my daughter) and not-so-enthusiastic (my son) followers, though all seem to have fun once we get going. For this outing we had along Jackie's schoolfriend Jack, the brother of Sam who had joined us on a similar trip a few months earlier. We had fine weather following a day of drizzly rain, almost perfect weather for a short hike. It took more than an hour to drive the distance east on Interstate 8 and then south on Buckman Springs Rd. This was probably too long a drive for bringing the kids, but the in-flight movie did wonders to help pass the time. I did not start us from the PCT location described by Schad northeast of Morena Reservoir, finding the boat ramp inside the county park ($3 day use fee) about a mile closer, cutting an 8mi RT hike to just over 6mi.
Without finding a signed trail from the boat ramp, we started off on fishing use trails around the south side of the lake for about a third of a mile (with some back and forth as Dad got his bearings) until I discovered the dirt road a short distance above the lake shore, which finally allowed me to match our surroundings to the topo map I had printed of the area. We followed the old dirt road up from the lake, past some fields of flowers and the site of an old homestead. All that was left of what was probably a large and elegant home many years ago was the concrete foundation, chimney, and the frontage entry along the road. I made up a story about the house, its history and the usage of the various rooms. I don't think they believe a word I said.
A half mile past the house, wandering south through an oak-studded meadow, we came to the first and only sign we found for the Morena Butte Trail. It climbs south from the meadow up and over a shallow saddle to join with the Pacific Crest Trail just before it descends into Hauser Canyon. We were only on the PCT a short distance until we came to the unmarked junction with the trail leading up Morena Butte's SE Ridge.
We had taken about an hour to go little more than two miles to this point, so far with only modest elevation gain. Now the steep part would begin and our progress slowed noticeably. Jackie still had the most energy and was eagerly out in front, Ryan and Jack taking their time in the rear. Dad stopped to photograph a few flowers found along the way (moisture inside my lens made a mess of most of the pictures that day), then introduced the troops to the ancient Indian art of yucca swordsmanship. Jack held the title of Chief Bleeder during our hike, managing to scrape and cut himself half a dozen times on various plants and rock outcroppings and a few times from tripping and falling down. He didn't seem to mind too much, usually exclaiming "I'm alright! I'm alright!"
As we climbed higher we had fine views of Hauser Canyon to the south and west, Barrett Lake at the far western end of the canyon, downstream. I was probably the only one really enjoying the far views, the others cared more about the lizards, bees, and other distractions close by.
Morena Buttes has three broad, widely-spaced summits amidst a generally rocky and confusing topography in the upper reaches. It helped to find ducks along the trail where it crossed over rock slabs and other hard-to-follow stretches. These led to the middle summit that was not obviously higher than the closer south summit we passed on the way, but we were content to call it the summit nonetheless. We found a cairn in the middle of the flatish area, but no register that we could located. Morena Reservoir stretched out to the northeast and it was possible to see the red van parked along the shore more than a mile away. We snacked and took in the views, Dad sitting around while nervously watching the other three scrambling over rocks and jumping from one boulder to another in complete disregard for the parental stress this was causing me. Of course none of it was any different than what I would have done (and undoubtedly did hundreds of times) as a kid, but it somehow didn't make me feel any better. I'm not sure if my nervousness was due to actual concern for their safety or more for what the other parents would think of my lax judgement. Other than the occasional "Careful!", I kept most of this to myself to keep from spoiling their great fun.
We took much the same route back, stopping near the old homestead to investigate an old corrugated barn that was slowly falling apart. It was currently being used by the park to store pipes and other assorted gear, none of it appearing to have much value. Finding a gaping hole in one side, we thrilled in surviving a daring walk through the middle of it without having it collapse upon us. Ryan in particular was concerned with the structural integrity of the structure, but finding the alternative route around it a brushy, muddy affair, he chose to follow us through the building.
It was 2:30p before we made our back to the van, taking just about 4hrs for the outing. They were sure to remind me that Slurpees (or the Circle K equivalent - "Frosters") were on tap as reward, so before we got back to grandma's I made sure to hold up my end of the bargain - a successful outing all around, it was agreed!
This page last updated: Mon Apr 12 22:10:09 2010
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