"Elevation 6000 feet," says the roadside sign posted on Sunrise Highway in the community of Mount Laguna, but a close inspection of a topographic map of the area reveals the road's true height of just 5950 feet -- at that one spot anyway. With a little footwork, however, you can gain the extra 50 feet and then some more, as you work your way to the top of the Kwaaymii interpretive trail. The easy half-mile hike is perfect for kids, and even better for adults with some motivation for exercise but enervated by the fierce August sunshine.
You begin at the Laguna Mountain visitor information office (10 miles uphill on Sunrise Highway from Interstate 8) and follow on foot a looping route over a small hill just north, dubbed Piñon Point. The interpretive leaflet for the trail describes the Native American uses of various indigenous plants for food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. Bedrock morteros (deep holes) and metates (shallow depressions) that were used for grinding acorns can be found along the trail. The Kwaaymii were a subtribe of the Kumeyaay people who spent summers atop the relatively cool and green Lagunas and winters in the desert, which is only a few miles away but a mile below in elevation.
The large pinyon pine (or piñon pine) on Piñon Point is a Sierra Juarez pinyon, with needles in clusters of five. Nearby is another smaller pinyon of the four-leafed variety. Pinyon pines with one, four, and five needles are distributed throughout the desert-facing slopes of San Diego and Riverside Counties and the Sierra Juarez range of Baja California, but they are relatively rare here in the Lagunas.
Near the large pinyon on Piñon Point are a patch of prickly pear cactus and several holly-leafed cherry bushes. Early autumn brings a bountiful harvest of native fruit -- a bit less than sweet to our pampered palates and full of seeds, but no doubt a tasty dessert after a meal of acorn and seed porridge.