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With the opening of the ten-mile-long Mule Hill/San Pasqual Trail outside Escondido in June 2002, the projected Coast-to-Crest Trail leaped closer to reality. The coast-to-crest route, designed for hiking, biking, and equestrian travel, will eventually stretch about 55 miles through lands administered by the San Dieguito River Park --all the way from San Dieguito Lagoon in Del Mar to the crest of the Volcan Mountains near Julian. The newly opened segment joins an existing piece of trail along the north shore of Lake Hodges to make 17 miles of uninterrupted multi-use pathway.

Several dozen travelers managed to finish the entire ten-mile Mule Hill/San Pasqual Trail under the bright midday sunshine of the grand opening day, June 1. With crisp air and mellower sunlight, the next few weeks should be a much better time for a trek of this nature.

To reach the west end of the trail, exit I-15 onto eastbound Via Rancho Parkway and turn right (south) at the first traffic signal, Sunset Drive. You'll pass a livery, with horses for rent, along the short way out to the trailhead parking lot at the end of Sunset Drive.

The first 1.3 miles of eastbound trail, smooth and gently graded enough for wheelchairs, guides travelers around a currently dry arm of Lake Hodges toward the base of Mule Hill, where an important military engagement took place in 1846. Plenty of explanatory signage has been installed along this first, well-traveled segment of the trail.

Beyond the large interpretive display at Mule Hill, the trail stretches nearly nine miles through the San Pasqual Valley Agricultural Preserve, which encompasses most of that valley's 11,000 acres. Oaks and sycamores dot the flood plain ahead, but mostly in the miles ahead there are less interesting passages along the margins of cultivated fields and stretches that parallel rural roads. In this hiker's opinion, the trail can get tedious for those on foot, who may require four or more hours for the one-way journey; better for horses, who finish in two or three hours; and superb for the speediest of all travelers -- mountain bikers.

All ascents and descents are gradual, except at the midpoint of the ten-mile route, where the trail curls up a slope called Raptor Ridge, abruptly gaining and losing 300 feet of elevation. Mountain bikers will find this one section to be somewhat technical, while hikers will appreciate the change of pace -- not to mention the wide-field panorama of the valley below.

The trail currently ends at a parking area near the intersection of Bandy Canyon Road and Highway 78. Future extensions east will allow travelers to continue up the narrowing valley toward the remote Pamo Valley north of Ramona, then past Lake Sutherland and Santa Ysabel, and finally up into the mile-high Volcan Mountains.

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