The rural landscape spreading north and east of the tiny, border-hugging town of Campo is caught in a time warp. Not much new has appeared hereabouts in the past half-century. Narrow two-lane ribbons of blacktop meander over rocky hills and grassy dales. Grazing cattle dot meadows filled with the most lush display of tender green shoots we've seen in years. A pungent-sweet fragrance rises from the thickets of chaparral and sage draping the hillsides. It's a perfect venue for road bicycling; by no other means of travel can you fully engage all of your five senses at the same time.
A good starting point is the spacious Buckman Springs freeway rest stop, less than one hour east of San Diego on Interstate 8. Park anywhere outside the rest area itself (technically, you're not allowed to leave your car unaccompanied in the rest area). Pedal south on Buckman Springs Road. You roll past table-flat Cottonwood Valley, aptly named for its cottonwood trees, bare at the moment but ready to sprout a fresh crop of shimmering green leaves with the arrival of the spring season. You cross woodsy Cottonwood Creek on a narrow bridge and climb moderately for another two miles to reach a Y-intersection on the right. Take the right fork, Oak Drive, for the side trip into the authentically quaint Morena Village. Morena Reservoir, recovering from years of drought, its water level steadily rising, lies just past the center of town.
From the middle of Lake Morena Village, follow Lake Morena Drive south and continue all the way (mostly downhill) to an intersection at Highway 94 called Cameron Corners. A short side trip south from there takes you to the small village of Campo, with three destinations of note: The first is the historic Campo stone store -- the site of a wild gun battle in 1875 that is said to have rivaled the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The second is the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum along the historic rail line connecting San Diego and the Imperial Valley. The third is a unique wooden monument marking the south terminus of the 2650-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail, the West's most famous footpath. The latter point of interest is 1.5 miles south of Campo by way of the mostly unpaved Forest Gate Road.
Our loop route continues east of Cameron Corners on Highway 94, past an old feldspar mill whose grounds are the site of a collection of old trucks known as the Motor Transport Museum. At 3.3 miles east of Cameron Corners, turn left onto La Posta Road and pedal north. Your whirring intrusion on this serene ribbon of pavement may startle and scatter jackrabbits and squirrels. On a promontory ahead stands a Navy-operated radio telescope, its gobletlike parabolic dish pointed straight up. After a long ascent you reach a summit, swoop downhill toward a glade of oaks, and finally arrive at a junction with the old U.S. Highway 80. Turn left and enjoy the last six mostly downhill miles on this once-busy but now lonely frontage road running parallel to Interstate 8.