It's barely a month after more than a foot of late-season snow fell on the 6000-foot-high Laguna Mountains. The forest atop these rarefied heights is responding in a sluggish way to the melted snow and the warmer, longer days. Black oaks are sending out rust-colored baby leaves -- leaves that when aged for a week or two change to bright green. Acorn woodpeckers are tapping at the Jeffrey pines, the furrowed bark of which exudes a vanilla-butterscotch scent when exposed to prolonged sunlight. New blades of grass are pushing up amid last season's half-decayed leaf litter. Off the roadsides and on the trails, few hikers are seen now that day-tripping tourists have had their fill of snow for another year.
To join those few-in-number hikers, give the Desert View Trail a try. This easy 1.3-mile trail starts just inside Burnt Rancheria Campground at a day-use parking lot. (You'll need a National Forest Adventure Pass, $5 per day, to park here or anywhere along the roads of the Cleveland National Forest. The Visitor Information Office and the general store, across Sunrise Highway from the campground, have the adventure pass for sale.)
Desert View Trail winds through Jeffrey-pine forest before joining the Pacific Crest Trail on a chaparral-covered ridge. Heading north on the ridge, you'll get a wide-open view of the La Posta Creek canyon, part of a remote southern area of the Lagunas that was swept by wildfire ten years ago. New growth, especially along the creek below, is softening the scrub-covered landscape.
Farther north, a view to the north and west opens. Ahead are old radar domes at a former Air Force facility on Stephenson Peak. Off to the right is a slice of the tan and ochre desert floor, some 4000 feet below.
Don't miss the trail junction, at a point 0.8 mile from the start, where the Desert View Trail diverges left from the Pacific Crest Trail. From there you descend and return straightway through the campground to the parking lot.