March 9, 2011 - Wilson and I were stoked about today's hike inasmuch as we are both J. R. R. Tolkein fans and "Elfin Forest" sounds like a place straight out of The Hobbit. I was concerned, however, that Wilson was getting carried away when he asked me to brandish him like Gandalf's staff.
Moments after we arrived at the trailhead parking lot we ran into Jeff, a dedicated Elfin Forest docent and enthusiast, who explained that the name actually refers to the stature of the surrounding vegetation. That made sense to us; elves and hobbits are short and so is the entirely native flora in these here parts.
Great start! We immediately encountered the friendly creek that cuts through this 750-acre recreational reserve in Escondido.
In addition to the one-mile botanical loop at the base of the hills here, there are 13 miles of trails to choose from as long as you are willing to commit to the first mile and a half uphill with an elevation gain of about 700 ft. on the appropriately named, "Way Up Trail."
Our plan was to take the route, described by Jerry Schad in Afoot & Afield, which would bring us up to the Ridgetop Picnic Area at the Olivenhain Reservoir, and then the additional 1.8 mi. around to the Lake Hodges Overlook for a total out-and-back trip of 7.6 miles.
The weather was exceptional and the trail welcomed us with its wide and ruggedly contoured path.
The bird serenade was playing full volume as we trekked up and up in the crooked zigzaggy pattern that kept the incline at a bearable level.
The hills all around were covered with perhaps the thickest, most healthy chaparral vegetation I have ever seen.
Eventually, after one final upward grind, the trail flattened out and we found ourselves at the top...
...and made our way over to Ridgetop Picnic Area.
After a quick bathroom stop and a refill of the canteen, it was only a few footsteps more to get to a closer view...
...of Olivenhain Reservoir.
The next part of the hike was the trail to Lake Hodges Overlook which began with another fairly steep, rocky climb bringing us to...
...the Del Dios Highlands County Preserve gateway.
After a quarter mile on what turned out to be a downward path, I realized this was not the way we wanted to go. Turning around we doubled back up the hill, but not until I got this neat picture looking down at "The Way Up Trail" from a distance.
With the friendly vistas of Olivenhain at our side we ended up on the right track.
1.8 more miles to our final destination.
Interesting to note, as I learned in Schad's Afoot&Afield, that this reservoir and dam were only recently constructed as a source of emergency water supplies. The water here is also used to generate electricity locally, during times of peak power usage, as it is allowed to flow downward to Lake Hodges. The water can then be pumped back up from the lake to refill Olivenhain. Pretty smart, huh?
The easternmost end of the reservoir provided us with another pretty view of Olivenhain...
...followed up with a sharp descent of the trail.
In case you were wondering:
On the south side now.
Turn left here!
Finally, Lake Hodges came into view off in the distance.
What was REALLY cool here was that we could view both, Olivenhain, to the north of us...
...and Lake Hodges, to the south.
Wilson was so impressed that he unilaterally declared this to be our lunch spot. It couldn't get much better than this as far mid-hike rest areas go; and we had it all to ourselves!
The return travel was comparable to the trip out, just in reverse order and different lighting on the trail.
Our expedition was rewarded with a surprise gift as we landed back at our starting point.
It just so happened that Jo-Lind and Doris, two of the most pleasant ladies you'd ever want to meet on a trail, were out for the day rendering their finest artistic renditions of Escondido Creek.
I only regret having not formally introduced Wilson, as his feelings were visibly bruised. :(
Another Great Hike!! (We'll be back for sure!)