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The San Dieguito River Park's San Pasqual (a.k.a. Clevenger Canyon) trail system east of Escondido visits canyon slopes already as green as Ireland's and likely to be greener and more fragrant with blooming wildflowers during the next two or three months. The trails are divided into two networks, north and south of Highway 78. Here we'll focus on the south trail system, which winds amid north-facing, moisture-retentive hillsides clothed with lush sage scrub and chaparral vegetation.

You'll find the South Trails staging area on the south side of Highway 78, 5.3 miles east of the Wild Animal Park and 2.3 miles east of Bandy Canyon Road. Start your walk by zigzagging uphill 0.5 mile to the first marked trail junction. Choose the right branch for a relatively easy climb to a 1550-foot knoll. From this vantage point, you can spot the blue or silvery (depending on the time of day) ocean surface on clear winter days.

The left branch -- involving a more serious gain and loss of elevation -- begins with a short passage through a spooky ravine, replete with a tangle of live oaks plus wild cucumber and poison oak vines. On the far side, you tackle switchback segments of trail leading toward a prominent, monolithic boulder on a high ridge to the east. After passing within a few yards of the boulder, there's a side trail on the right leading to a 1755-foot viewpoint -- good for another view to the west. Keep straight if you want to continue toward a 1635-foot bump on a ridge 0.5 mile northeast. That's where, on a clear day, you get a stupendous view of upper San Pasqual Valley, a slice of ocean horizon in the west, and the distant, blue-tinted mountains in the east. Almost straight down a thousand feet, you can spy toylike cars making their way along the sinuous asphalt ribbon of Highway 78.

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