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The nearly flat ramble along Daley Ranch's Jack Creek Meadow is best in the springtime -- and also comfortably suitable during the summer, provided you travel in the cooler early morning or late afternoon. If you live or work in North County, consider this route for a bit of quick and intense exercise: a speed-walk of perhaps 90 minutes, a 60-minute jog, or a 40-minute mountain-bike ride.You may want to bring along your leashed, athletic dog.

The 3000-acre Daley Ranch lies in the rocky hills just north of Escondido. To get there, exit Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway in north Escondido. Drive three miles east and make a left turn (north) on La Honda Drive. Drive one mile uphill to the end of the road, where you will find the large parking lot/staging area for Daley Ranch on the left, just short of the Dixon Lake entrance.

On foot or bike, bypass the Daley Ranch entrance gate and follow the paved Ranch House Trail access road north for 1.2 miles to the quaint redwood Daley Ranch House (generally closed to public visitation), which lies to the left. Descendants of Robert Daley, who settled in this valley in 1869, built the house in 1928.

Walk a short distance and you'll reach the Jack Creek Meadow Loop Trail. The elongated loop you follow ahead takes you around the margins of a linear meadow, so narrow and so straight that it suggests some underlying, probably ancient, geologic fault structure. The meadow, lined with a dark green row of coast live oaks and backed up by steep slopes shaggy with chaparral, looks impressive when seen in early-morning or late-afternoon light. Close at hand you pass several gnarled specimens of Engelmann oak, with gray-green leaves and light-colored bark. The meadow grasses are almost entirely nonnative, typically of an emerald green color until sometime in April, then bleached yellow-brown into the summer.

After returning to the ranch house, finish up by retracing your route on the paved access road. Nearly 30 miles of old roads and trails lace through Daley Ranch Preserve and the adjoining Dixon Lake Recreation Area, so make a promise to yourself to return someday to discover more.

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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