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East County's Oak Oasis Open-Space Preserve covers 397 acres of oak woodland, boulder-studded hillsides, and mature stands of chaparral. Try visiting as soon as possible this month, when almost every living thing in the plant kingdom is green and the sweet fragrance of both blue- and white-flowering wild lilac (ceanothus) floats on the sun-warmed breeze. In early March, the trails here were awash in shallow water and mud. By May, barring any further rain, the wildflowers will be fading fast in the harsh inland sunshine.

The entrance to the preserve is at mile 4.2 on Wildcat Canyon Road, 4.2 miles north from Mapleview Street in Lakeside. Turn west onto a narrow paved road leading 0.1 mile to a trailhead parking lot, which is the start of the 2.4-mile walk described here. (This same lot is to be a future staging area for the proposed east-west, 110-mile-long Trans-County Trail, also known as the "Pines-to-Spines Trail" for its endpoints: the Torrey pines on the coast and the desert at Borrego Springs.)

On foot, continue west on a gravel road for 200 yards and veer right on a narrow trail down a north-facing hillside clad in tall chaparral. At 0.4 mile from the start you strike a disused dirt road following the bottom of a shallow ravine. Turn left (west), and for the next 0.3 mile enjoy the cool, oasis-like effect of walking under closely spaced coast live oaks whose opaque, overarching foliage blots out all but tiny glimmers of sunlight.

At the west end of this oak oasis, 0.7 mile from the start, you come upon a sagging cabin constructed of split logs in 1936. Continue west and northwest on the old roadbed (or you can opt for an alternate route up and over a hillside to the north). Very soon you catch sight of the sparkling surface of San Vicente Reservoir, a mile to the west and some 800 feet below. Ahead, there's a better view of the lake on a left-branching spur trail.

Next, you go up and over a saddle, traverse a grassy vale, drop into a minor ravine, and go gradually uphill to a flat area at the top of that ravine -- all the while circling right. By 1.8 miles, you're curving right into the "oak oasis" ravine you visited earlier. When you strike the old roadbed again, cross it and retrace your earlier steps up to the gravel road and back to your car.

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