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Once rich in rural landscapes, the area between Fallbrook and Bonsall has experienced a lot of suburban growth -- everything from full-blown subdivisions to large-acreage lots with mini-mansions placed on them. Fallbrook remains the "avocado capital of the world," but perhaps not for long.

Not much publicly owned recreational space has existed around Fallbrook until recently. In the past two decades, though, the Fallbrook Land Conservancy has helped to preserve a number of key parcels of land of historic and natural value. A small and obscure example of this is Heller's Bend Preserve, a 47-acre canyon-and-hillside parcel featuring a year-round stream shaded by oaks and sycamores and a lush hillside fairly dripping with mature chaparral. The preserve is open daily, and pets are welcome if kept on a leash.

To get there from most San Diego locales, take Interstate 15 north to Highway 76 (Pala Road). Turn west and continue 4.5 miles to South Mission Road on the right -- which leads north toward Fallbrook. Drive 1.5 miles on South Mission Road to the country road signed "Hellers Bend." Turn left, and after 0.3 mile park on the road shoulder at the circumspectly marked entrance to the preserve, taking care not to block traffic.

After entering the preserve on foot, you descend to cross the small, shaded creek on a concrete ford, and then follow a paved driveway sharply up the hillside. After passing a couple of side paths, the main road swings onto a ridgetop. At one particular spot, exposed to the cool afternoon and evening coastal breeze, you get a nearly panoramic view of a good chunk of Fallbrook and Bonsall.

Thirty years ago, citrus and avocado orchards draped nearly every hill and valley below; now there are plenty more homes popping up. To the north, note the narrow ravine followed by the curvy Heller's Bend Road. Today's South Mission Road took a higher, straighter route to the east, leaving behind a scenic, one-mile stretch of the old road behind.

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