You trudge ever upward with steady footfalls, steering clear of barely seen rocks and roots. Night vision rules, monochromatic and flat, supplied by the light from a three-quarter moon sinking in the west. As you climb higher, dawn's pale light awakens your retinal cone cells and color suffuses the landscape. On the chilly summit you wait in silence. The rosy glow of pre-sunrise builds across the eastern sky. The blue wedge of Earth's shadow flattens against the ocean horizon to the west. At last it appears: the sun god Ra peeking over the mountains to the east; Helios on his golden chariot making ready for another trip across the sky; a pinpoint of light that quickly grows into blinding intensity -- a potent symbol of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Whether or not you hold religious beliefs (Christian or otherwise) or simply appreciate a fine early-morning pilgrimage (Easter or otherwise), consider the following hikes to high places around the county. Allow at least 30 minutes to cover each mile of upward travel for each, and be mindful that on this Easter Sunday the sun rises above the mountains to the east at approximately 6:35 a.m. A flashlight may prove handy during the first part of each hike.
Piedras Pintadas Trail (south of Escondido): From the trailhead, on West Bernardo Drive 0.5 mile south of Interstate 15, walk 2 miles out on this interpretive trail to position yourself on a viewful ridge overlooking Lake Hodges. The sun comes up right over the shallow but shimmering east arm of the lake. Walk this trail first in the daytime before trying it at dawn.
Iron Mountain (east of Poway): From just south of the intersection of Poway Road and Highway 67, walk 1.5 miles east to a trail junction, then turn right on a trail leading another 1.7 miles to the summit. As seen from there the rising sun appears between the undulating ridgelines of the Volcan and Cuyamaca Mountains. If the moist marine layer has invaded the coastal plain during the night, this site will likely be just above the clouds.
Kwaay Paay Peak (west of Santee): To reach this high ridge above Mission Gorge, drive west from Mission Gorge Road on Father Junípero Serra Trail to a closed (before sunrise) gate at the border of Mission Trails Regional Park. From there follow a trail going southwest up and along a steep ridge. There's a very steep section near the end of the 1.3-mile ascent. As viewed from the Kwaay Paay summit, the rising sun often casts radial shadows across the mist-covered valley of Santee below.
Garnet Peak (Laguna Mountains): This favorite destination of sunrise-watchers lies on the edge of the mile-plus-high Laguna Mountain escarpment overlooking the desert floor. Find the obscure trailhead at mile 27.8 on Sunrise Highway and walk north for 1.2 miles to reach the rocky, windblown summit. Parts of Arizona may be visible if the skies are crystal clear.