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Work on the Trans County Trail ("Pines to Spines" Trail) between the pines of Torrey Pines State Reserve and the spines of the Anza-Borrego Desert continues. Some 70 percent of the trail's segments have been completed or upgraded so far. The newest segment, dedicated last June on National Trails Day, follows Los Peñasquitos Canyon east from Black Mountain Road toward Interstate 15 and Poway. Enjoy yourself exploring this new route by picking a cool time of day, either early morning or early evening.

The large Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve trailhead, on the west side of Black Mountain Road at Mercy Road, is a good place to park and start your hike. Note that current hours for parking here are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. As the days shorten due to the season, the lot will close earlier. There's a $1 fee to park here.

Cross Black Mountain Road at the Mercy Road traffic light, and pick up the trail as it threads a course between Mercy Road on the right and the equestrian ring and stables on the left. The trail is smoothly surfaced with finely crushed gravel in the first mile, which makes it suitable for certain wheelchairs.

Beyond the stables, the scenery gets better. You pass a gauging station on the left and soon completely escape the sounds of traffic. The canyon narrows, and the trail sidles up alongside the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Creek, crossing it twice and a tributary stream once. There are fine examples of willow, sycamore, toyon, and lemonade berry to look at.

Presently, though, the muffled roar of distant traffic swells, and ahead you catch sight of the gargantuan (from this unique perspective) overpasses that carry traffic on Interstate 15. As you pass under these structures, you discover an older, relatively puny, arched concrete bridge that once carried traffic on U.S. Highway 395. Today the old bridge supports a bicycle route paralleling I-15.

The trail abruptly ends at the edge of a paved access road leading to the Los Peñasquitos pump station, about 1.5 miles from where you started. The auspicious display of public art on the retaining walls along this access road is a piece titled Rock of Aegis, inspired by Kumeyaay petroglyphs and designed by Philip Merlin Matzigkeit.

Turn left on the access road and walk a short distance to a grove of newly planted trees and shrubs -- a memorial for murder victim Cara Knott, among others. A newly built gazebo with lawn chairs in the midst of the garden serves as a contemplative resting spot.

Beyond the memorial garden, the Trans County Trail resumes by swinging left around the pump station perimeter fence and curling upward along a slope. This segment, under construction at the moment, partially follows the grade of a 19th-century stagecoach mail route. Eventually it will connect with trails in Poway's Sycamore Canyon Open-Space Preserve.

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