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A cool late afternoon or early evening in June is perfectly fine for exploring the aptly named Boulder Loop Trail in Daley Ranch -- Escondido's 3000-acre open space preserve. During the next six weeks, the sun won't set until 8 p.m. daylight time, so this could be a great place to unwind after work. The loop trail traverses a ridge dotted with granitic boulders that gleam in the afternoon light. Each boulder has been sculpted into its own unique, often fanciful shape, a product of tens of thousands of years of weathering and erosion.

Begin walking at the entrance to Dixon Lake Recreation Area (one mile up La Honda Drive from El Norte Parkway in northeast Escondido), where a large parking lot accommodates Daley Ranch day-trippers. Pass around the Daley Ranch gate and walk on pavement up and over a summit 0.4 mile ahead. At 0.7 mile take the path on the left signed "Boulder Loop Trail." On this steep, slippery old bulldozer track hewn into decomposed-granite soil, you quickly gain 250 feet of elevation. Look behind you for an agreeable view of the pond-dotted valley below. To the south and southwest spreads the quintessentially suburban city of Escondido, and far beyond that -- if you're lucky this time of year -- you'll see the San Diego and Baja coastline.

At 1.0 mile into your hike, you level off on a gently rolling plateau averaging about 1600 feet in elevation. You proceed west for a while on a narrow, sometimes eroded path, swing north at 1.5 miles, go up and over a low saddle, and at 1.9 miles stay right, joining a distinct dirt road. A virtual boulder garden lies hereabouts, with tooth-like specimens of coarse-grained bedrock jutting upward from the ground. Many of the outcrops and boulders exhibit the effects of spheroidal weathering, a process of micro-erosion that eats away at the surface of a rock and rounds its shape by removing mineral grains one at a time. The mineral grains lying along any sharp edge of a boulder are more susceptible to loosening and removal by the chemical action of rainwater and by biological activity, and by the physical forces of flowing water and wind.

Heading east around the loop now, you pass Central Valley Loop Trail on the left. Keep straight and descend to the paved Daley Ranch entrance road (3.2 miles). Retrace your earlier steps on the pavement back to your car, another 0.8 mile away.

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