A Quick Mountain Overnight

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Everyone was on vacation but me – the downside of the “new” job. I took one of my off days for an overnight camping trip.

I had worked the night before, getting off at 7 a.m., so I planned for an afternoon start. I managed to beat my alarm by a few minutes.

I loaded my bike while drinking my “morning” coffee. It was looking to be a hot day here in the pass area.

I headed out I-10 toward Beaumont and hopped on Highway 79 through Lambs Canyon into the Hemet area. The temperature went up when I dropped out of the canyon; the bike’s air temperature gauge read 104 degrees (40 Celsius for you metric folks). I also got a blast of hot wind from the west. It was like riding through a hair dryer.

After negotiating the stop-and-go of Hemet, I took Sage Road out of the valley. While on Sage Road, something felt off about the bike but I couldn’t tell what it was. It felt like the back was wanting to slip or I was getting some movement. Last time I rode on Sage Road, it wasn’t as hot. Can chip seal get slippery when it’s hot? Maybe my load was moving around a bit with the turns. I took it easy and kept on my way.

Sage Road dropped my back on Highway 79 in the Aguanga Valley. The pavement on the state highway felt much better, being asphalt instead of chip. I made a quick stop to double check that my tires were OK and to check my load. The load wasn’t very loose, but the straps accepted a bit more cinching.

Hitting the road after the check and some water (hydration is important), I noticed things felt better. Highway 79 wound its way through the Dodge Valley and the Cañada Aguanga, ranches, farms, and even a winery lined the highway.

As I entered the San Jose Valley near Warner Springs, the winds picked up. I passed by Warner Springs Airport, where several signs advertised “Sailplane rides for one or two!” The airport’s four windsocks fully extended with every wind gust.

I turned onto Highway 76 and waved at a passing motor cop who was most likely on his way home. Just west of Lake Henshaw, I turned onto East Grade Road to climb Palomar Mountain. Off to my right was the lake and the San Jose Valley stretching to the east. Over the far off mountains on the east side of the valley were tall puffy thunderheads reaching to the sky. I stopped at the overlook for some pictures and I could feel the winds blowing down the mountain toward the valley below.

I felt like I had the road to myself. I only passed one other vehicle, a guy on a little red sportbike. The road went from following a ridgeline to dropping to several small valleys. Other than the red bike, I didn’t see anyone else until I stopped at the Palomar Mountain Store. I made it just a few minutes before they closed. I picked up some adult beverages and dinner supplies then headed to camp.

When I arrived at the campground, it appeared mostly empty. It was surprising considering the online reservations were all full the night before (I made my reservation a few weeks ago). I set up camp while fighting with hoardes of annoying little flies that seemed immune to the effects of DEET or enough citronella candles to look like a prayer altar.

I hadn’t had room at the store to buy a bundle of wood, and the cashier said the campgrounds usually sold wood. I rode over to the host’s trailer to pick up a bundle. The host must not have liked visitors, since he didn’t answer my several knocks. I rode over to the Fry Creek Campground across the street, but there wasn’t a host there. Not one to waste a trip, I rode up toward the Palomar Observatory to see if I could get a glimpse of the domes. Unfortunately, the observatory grounds closed at 3:30, and you can’t see the domes from the road. Back to camp it would be.

When I got back to camp, I walked around looking for firewood at empty campsites. I found a couple large fallen tree branches at one site, so I cut them up and took them back to my site.

I chopped up my wood, made my dinner, and got the fire going. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, one must have a camp fire. I sat back with my adult beverage and a cigar. I probably solved all the world’s problems with that cigar over the campfire, but I forgot to write them down. I’ll do better next time.

Across from my site, a guy was setting up a telescope. The scope looked to be almost as big as an oil drum – glad to see he brought the small scope. I’m not sure what happened, but almost as soon as he set the scope up, he took it down and packed it up. He and his family left soon after.

Once the sun went down, it was time for nature’s show. The campground has a large clearing in the center, leaving a perfect unobstructed view of the sky for stargazing. Right about this time I realized I didn’t pack my camera tripod. I managed to improvise by using my packed sleeping bag to rest my camera on. Looks like I did remember one of the problems I solved.

The sky was so clear thanks to the 5000+ foot (1500 meter) elevation. Surprisingly there was very little light pollution despite being just outside the San Diego area. Countless stars and the Milky Way were overhead. No wonder this campground is such a great place for stargazers.