Pala Mountain P1K
Peak 2,349ft P1K
Miller Mountain P900

Nov 23, 2014

With: Mark McCormick

Pala Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Pala Mountain

In looking over some beta for Pala Mtn, a P1K on the Pala Indian Rerservation, I exchanged emails with Mark who I'd been told had already made one attempt on the peak and was interested in going back. I'd seen his name in many a San Diego register, but never met him or even emailed him until now. We made arrangements to meet Sunday morning at the Pala Indian Casino. The night before I found the large casino parking lot far too bright with lights to sleep comfortably, so I found a dirt road off SR76 about a mile further west. I didn't get to stay there very long before getting a visit from the tribal police. They were polite enough, but firm in that I couldn't spend the night there. I ended up driving far more miles than I should have to find a somewhat secluded spot up Rice Canyon Rd. Such are the travails of dirtbagging.

We met at the prescribed 6a meeting time and drove off in his 4WD truck for Pala Mtn, only a few minutes away. Lilac Rd off SR76 leads around the northwest side of the mountain with an unsigned, rough dirt road (Cable Rd on Google maps) leading south along the west side. This eventually turns left abruptly to climb incredibly steeply up the west side of the mountain to a small communications site no longer in use. Mark had driven this terribly rutted road previously, but the truck we had today was not the same he used then, and we parked at the base of the steep section to hoof it from there. As we started up the road, damp from rain several days earlier, I marveled that he had been able to drive up it. He thought it looked worse than his previous attempt a year earlier and it doesn't look like the road has seen any maintainence for a decade or more. At a turn in the road we found a military trailer overturned and abandoned. It must have been quite a feat just to get it to that point, but why someone would attempt to do so was almost beyond belief. Mark commented that he might like to try and recover it sometime, but I laughed that off as near impossible without some serious heavy equipment.

In half an hour we had hiked to the end of the road just below Pala's NW Ridge. A graffiti-riddled shack was here with two decommissioned towers. Beer cans and litter were strewn about. Mark found an empty pill bottle labeled "Medicinal Cannabis." Thank God someone remembered to bring their meds with them before coming to this remote location - no telling what health issues might have manifested themselves without it.

At this point the easy part had been dispensed with and the real fun was to begin. From here on it's all bushwhacking, about a 6 on a 1-10 scale. Mark had gotten a short distance through this before giving up on his first effort. We both acknowledged that we were far more amenable to a good bushwhack if we had someone to share it with. And so we did. We took turns leading and snaking our way through, under and sometimes over the stuff. The leads weren't pre-planned, it just happens naturally when the leader runs up against a particularly nasty section and the follower then strikes off on a different tack. We spent just about an hour covering little more than a mile along the ridgeline, not as bad as we had feared it could be. We were helped by small breaks in the brush at various places and it seems that a trail had one time existed here far in the distant past. When we reached the nondescript summit, we found half of your standard nested red can register, but no sign of paper, plastic or the other half. We took a few photos of the views and the reference mark we found nearby before starting back. The return went faster thanks to the little trail of destruction we'd left through the brush. We would lose our route periodically, but the GPS would help us indentify in which direction to find it again. We were only 45min in getting back to the towers and then another 20min back to the truck.

Peak 2,349ft

Mark dropped me off back at the casino before heading home while I motored north to Temecula to tackle another P1K just west of Interstate 15. The summit is part of the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, a 4,344-acre reserve used for research and education of the Southern California ecosystem. The reserve protects a 5-mile stretch of the Santa Margarita River from Temecula to near Fallbrook. Peak 2,349ft lies on the divide between the river and the I-15 corridor. The summit and surrounding area is rocky with dense chaparral and at first glance seems to be a bushwhack nightmare. On the satellite view, Mark had noted a thin trail leading to the summit which makes short work of this one. He and Terry Flood had done this one previously, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.

As suggested, I started at the Park N Ride lot on the west side of I-15 at the junction with SR79 (Temecula Pkwy). From here one can hike south on a dirt road following Murrieta Creek. Just past the Temecula sign the road crosses Temecula Creek (Murrieta and Temecula Creeks have their confluence here where it becomes the start of the Santa Margarita River), surprisingly there's water here with ducks and coots plying a small quiet part of the river. The first of two gates is encountered here, marking the start of the reserve. Another half mile further up the road a second gate is encountered, this one with razor wire over the top but easily breached through the loose barbed-wire to the left. Less than half a mile further up is the research residence that one must necessarily pass right by. This was the part I was most worried about - Mark had reported being spotted by someone inside, but they did nothing to stop him. I found a truck parked out front (perhaps a resident caretaker?) which had me nervous, but I saw no one and heard nothing inside or out as I passed by onto the continuing road to the right. Above this I was able to relax and hike the remaining short distance of road to a small communications facility at road's end. As described, a trail starts from here heading west into the chaparral, a nicely cut trail that appears to be well-maintained, leading higher. The trail meanders some but makes its way to the rocky summit area, the highpoint still almost a mile further. Here the trail forks without much notice, going to either of two remote installations in the area. I didn't realize at first that I had taken the wrong fork until I saw the antenna to the east that I was heading towards. Backtracking, I found some white flagging marking the trail junction and soon found myself on the right track. It was an interesting trail, leading over slabs and boulders, through brush where necessary, then more slabby rocks until I got to the highpoint (with its own antenna arrangement) a little more than an hour after starting out.

As often happens, there are two highpoints vying for attention. The north summit with the antenna seems obviously higher. I took a photo on the line-of-sight between the two for evidence while I mulled whether or not to actually pay the other a visit. The trail does not continue to the south summit with the spot elevation of 2,349ft and at first glance it appears to have a bit too much disagreeable brush. But once I committed to doing it, it took less than ten minutes to get from one to the other and the brush wasn't as bad as I feared. I snapped a photo looking south towards Fallbrook, another back towards the north summit, then returned to the highpoint. I rested here long enough to eat a snack before heading back. To the north lies the Temecula Valley while to the east was another P1K just on the other side of I-15 (on the next day's agenda). To the west can be seen the Pacific Ocean stretching south to San Diego. It was just after noon by the time I returned to the Park N Ride lot. I was happy to see no one on the return as I passed the research residence for a second time.

Miller Mountain

This P900 is located in the southern part of the Santa Ana Mtns west of Temecula, just inside the Cleveland National Forest. Unfortunately, access to it by strictly legal means is immensely difficult, with the only reasonable route traveling through some private property to the southeast off Tenaja Rd. The surrounding area on the edge of the forest is peppered with various ranch homes, some older, some newer. Following Mark's advice, I started through a vacant property between two homesites, aiming for a ranch road I knew to be above the newer home and leading upwards towards Miller's summit. Much of this route is open and visible to anyone looking around which had me nervous for that first half mile stretch both going and returning. Above this the route is blocked from view and I was able to relax some. A small herd of cattle was encountered shortly before reaching the summit area, but the cows and calves moved off to the side without much bother. I followed a cow trail closer to the summit and then scrambled the last few hundred feet up rock and grass slopes to reach the highpoint in just short of an hour. There is a nice view across the Santa Anas, south to Santa Margarita and north to Santiago, the range highpoint and also the highpoint of Orange County. I found a weather-beaten register, barely readable among the rocks placed by a Terry Flood party in 2004. To no great surprise, Mark McCormick was the only other visitor to sign the register five years later. I took the same amount of time on the descent primarily because I had to be more cautious on the return - no place for mindless jogging. I had some concern when I noted what looked like my van parked behind a white truck at the newer homesite. Had someone actually towed my car there? That was a bit disconcerting - certainly not legal since I had parked off a public roadway, but I was in no real position to argue. I was happy to find that it was just a coincidence, finding my van right where I'd left it, unmolested. Whew. I relaxed only after I had gotten back in the van and started down the road...


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