Saturday, December 29, 2012

Experiencing (too much?) nature on Lake Hodges trails

Since I am base building in preparations for marathon training, I am taking advantage of the easy running time to check out a few new trails. Winter is a great time for trail running in SoCal because it is not dangerously hot on inland trails and the rattlesnakes are not as active.

So on Christmas day, I checked out some trails near Lake Hodges, which is a 20 minute drive inland from home (Solana Beach). I ran part of the north shore trail along Lake Hodges as well as the Del Dios Gorge and Sante Fe Valley trails, which lie west of and connect to the Lake Hodges trails (maps here and here).

This run was a 7.5 mile out and back. It is a great route for an easy run or long run because the trail setting necessarily slows down pace. I felt like I was running fast when I was doing a 9:00 pace. For the reasons you’ll discover in this post, the trail is probably best enjoyed when running with a companion. Snakes, cats, and bats: oh my!

These trails are part of the Coast to Crest trail system, a very ambitious project to connect Del Mar to Julian – 55 miles – by way of trail. I’ve previously written about a few other segments here and here, which are part of this trail system. The trails that I’ve run on in the Coast to Crest system so far are very well maintained. I ran the Lake Hodges route after about a week of wet weather – including at least one day of hard rain, cool temps, and a few days of continuous drizzle. There were a few minor puddles, but the trail was completely passable.

I parked at the Lake Hodges North Shore trail head off of S6 and the cross street Rancho Dr. I noticed that there is a café (Hernandez Hideaway) directly across the street from the trail head, so you could look up the address of this café and map it to find your way to the start. There is a port-a-potty at the trail head, or lots and lots of bushes on the trail. No water.

Lake Hodges North Shore

From the trail head, I ran west on the Lake Hodges North Shore Trail. This route only covers one short segment of this 7 mile trail along the lake. The segment I ran follows the shore for about a mile. Then it winds away from the lake through dense brush and lots of tree cover. The trail narrows, but it is still soft and not very rocky. Once the trail veered away from the lake, it got too wild for my comfort. As I said, this time of year, I am not as concerned about snakes. But cats – mountain lions – were definitely on my mind for this part of the run. Especially because I saw a deer on my drive to the trail, and deer are a mountain lion’s favorite prey. Deer, and probably little blond runners running alone. Then the trail widened and moved back toward the lake, phew!

Del Dios Gorge

The Del Dios Gorge segment begins where the Lake Hodges dam is located.

 And then the trail drops into a valley. The trail on this part of the run is flat and wide. It feels decidedly less wild. Most of the trail is adjacent to S6, aka the Del Dios Highway. But the highway isn’t noisy or busy. And most of the time, the highway isn’t even visible from the trail, which is sort of built into the side of the mountain that the highway runs on top of.

Rattlesnakes must like the habitat of the gorge, as the trail was lined with “beware of rattlesnake” signs every half mile or so. But since it is winter and the path is wide here, I wasn’t very concerned. And I didn’t need to be – I didn’t see or hear any snakes.

Sante Fe Valley

The Del Dios Gorge trail connects to the Santa Fe Valley trail by a bridge that runs across the gorge. 

This part of the trail has some steep hills and was a little bit muddy at the bottom of the hills.

I had mountain lions on the brain again because I saw deer hoof prints all over the trail. But then the trail wound behind some neighborhoods in Rancho Sante Fe, and I felt safe(r) again. There are a few very steep hills to run up if the mood strikes. And if rattlesnakes and mountain lions aren’t enough nature for you, you can also check out the bat houses. 

The end of the Sante Valley Fe trail is the turnaround point. Currently, there is no trail that connects to the Sante Fe Valley trail from the west.

In all, I would say I felt like I was about to become a mountain lion's next meal less than 10% of the run. And I felt the snakes and bats were no match for me. Not too bad? I want to check out other trails around Lake Hodges, but next time definitely with a companion runner!

two little runners

1 comment:

  1. I loveee trail running!
    It's true you can't look at your pace while out on the trail, the dirt adds resistance, plus hills, plus unpredictability...but it's the perfect place to run when adding mileage!
    I've been exploring trails around San Diego, and definitely feel like I'm about to be chomped by a wild animal sometimes!
    I'm excited to cheer for you as you prepare for your spring marathon!!