We're a month past the vernal equinox now. Vernal refers to the spring season, but it literally means "green." That color is likely to prevail over all others among the mile-high ridges and meadows of the Laguna Mountains during the next couple of months. The greenery is profuse this year, as rain-soaked earth gives birth to tall grass and nourishes formerly drought-stricken shrubs and trees. Summer's heat will eventually transform the grasses of Laguna Meadow into a palette of yellow, gray, and brown -- but that might not happen until late June or July.
For a quick reconnaissance of the current scene up in the Lagunas, and to discover a somewhat hidden vista point, try hiking the Lightning Ridge Trail overlooking Laguna Campground.
A convenient place for non-campers to start is the access road to Horse Heaven Group Campground, which intersects Sunrise Highway at mile 25.7 (12 miles north of Interstate 8). Park off the pavement, and don't block any gates. On foot, head west down the access road. At a fork in 100 yards, take the dirt road to the right. This goes to Chula Vista Reservoir, a water tank on top of the forested hill ahead of you. After another 0.2 mile, go right on the unmarked footpath -- the Lightning Ridge Trail. This will take you to the top of the hill, only a few hundred yards ahead, in a more scenic and leisurely fashion.
The panoramic, tree-framed view from the reservoir includes Little Laguna Lake and a long stretch of Laguna Meadow. The water in the lake rises, falls, and vanishes according to the vagaries of the weather. Currently, the brimming surface mirrors the greens and blues of the surrounding forest and sky. Soon, the meadow greens may be supplanted by a yellow haze of millions of tidy tips and other late-spring wildflowers. By August perhaps, the water will completely evaporate, leaving behind a stain of green amidst the pale, dry meadow.
In the southwest, ridge after forested ridge leads your eye out to the distant, haze-shrouded coastal foothills. The section of the Laguna Mountains you behold from here escaped the flames of both the Pines Fire of August 2002 and the Cedar Fire of October 2003.
The Lightning Ridge Trail continues downslope toward Laguna Campground. You can follow it as it switchbacks through a confusing maze of false trails and shortcuts to the bottom of the hill, then continue around the south side of the hill to reach Horse Heaven Campground. Or you can drop only halfway down the hill and cut back to reach the reservoir access road at the point where you first left it.