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Raspy throated wild oats and foxtails chafe in the summer breeze. Hawks and ravens glide overhead, the sound of rushing air faintly audible in their feathers. A sleek coyote trots smugly along, its ears directed our way to ascertain whether we are friend or foe. Around more than half of Sweetwater Reservoir, suburban sprawl marches relentlessly. To the east spread sensuously rounded hills, dotted with sage, pepper trees, and rare coastal varieties of cholla and barrel cactus. Our running-shoe footprints overlap the linear marks of mountain-bike tires and the inverted-U impressions of horseshoes. All kinds of self-propelled travelers are welcome on the Sweetwater Trail along the southeast shore of the reservoir.

To reach the starting point, drive east of I-805 on Bonita Road for about four miles. Keep going straight on San Miguel Road at the intersection where Bonita Road swings abruptly north and bridges the Sweetwater River. After one-plus mile on San Miguel Road, turn left on Summit Meadow Road, which leads to Sweetwater Summit Campground, a county facility. This is where you can park your car and start a hike (or a tough mountain-bike ride for some of its stretches) eastward on the Sweetwater Trail. The trail has long been part of a regional trail system that will eventually consist of several linked county-wide paths.

Heading east, you pass a fishing access area for the reservoir and proceed across near-flat, grassy terrain --hot and dry in summer, but reasonably pleasant in early morning or late afternoon. After about a mile, the trail veers sharply right and begins a series of relentless and rather severe ups and downs. The flat top of a prominent knoll, where a picnic table and shade ramada stand, 2.4 miles into the hike, offers the best view of the lake and much of the South Bay area. In the opposite direction rises the massive, triangular bulk of San Miguel Mountain, its summit bewhiskered by several spiky radio and TV broadcast antennas.

This fine view spot is a good place to turn around. On ahead, two more miles of travel can take you to the foot of San Miguel Mountain. Beyond that, it is possible to follow trails and dirt paths paralleling the Sweetwater River all the way to Highway 94 near Jamacha Junction. The right-of-way for this extension of the trail is not yet settled, so you may run into navigational problems if you choose to press on.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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