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Spared from the threat of being inundated by a large reservoir, Pamo Valley awaits a possible destiny of becoming one of the county's premier nature preserves. A large parcel of Cleveland National Forest land surrounds the valley, as do properties earmarked for inclusion in the 55-mile-long San Dieguito River Park gradually materializing between Del Mar and Julian.

For a cursory look at Pamo Valley, you may drive in and out of it by way of a single accessway -- Pamo Road. Better yet, you can tour the valley and much more using a mountain bike on the 20-mile-long (1800-foot elevation gain) loop route described here. Take plenty of food and especially water; there are no facilities along the way. In this warm, dry time of year, it is essential to get an early start to beat the midday heat!

Start near the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Highway 78, a mile east of Ramona. Head north on Magnolia, west on Pile Street, and north on Pamo Road. After reaching a crest on Pamo Road, a meteoric descent takes you into oak-fringed, sycamore-lined Pamo Valley, whose name is of Kumeyaay origin but unknown meaning.

At the bottom of the grade, you cross placid Santa Ysabel Creek on a narrow concrete bridge. Pavement ends, and you move on toward oak-dotted flats where cattle often graze. At 7.1 miles from the start, turn right on a dirt road (road 12S07, or Santa Ysabel Road) that is normally closed to motor-vehicle traffic. At the next junction, 8.6 miles into the ride, bear right to remain on Santa Ysabel Road. (The left branch leads 6 grueling miles to the 4051-foot summit of Black Mountain, a side trip for very motivated riders only.)

On a 3-mile stretch ahead, you contour across a steep slope overlooking oak- and sycamore-lined Santa Ysabel Creek -- which comes alive with cascading water during the rainy season. At 12.0 miles you cross the Black Canyon creekbed near the scant remains of the former Black Canyon Campground. Just uphill from there you meet the graded Black Canyon Road. Turn right, coast down to a narrow bridge -- your second crossing of Santa Ysabel Creek -- and stay right on the far side. All that's left now is another 7, mostly downhill miles on unpaved Black Canyon Road and paved Magnolia Avenue, leading back to the starting point.

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