An Answer to Longing

Monday afternoon I went for a short hike in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness — when I recently dug out photos from a 2011 hike there I was reminded that the south-eastern parts of it are just a little more than an hour away from our home. And after my many desert hikes, I felt like seeing more green for a change, too!

For this short excursion I had picked San Mateo Peak, which can be reached from the Morgan Trailhead along South Main Divide Road in a relatively short time. This is also the area where I first photographed the fantastic bloom of Ceanothus crassifolius a couple of years ago, and now my visit was just right to see it again.

What I was really looking forward to though were the expansive views across the “miles and miles of chaparral” that I had seen in my 2011 photos — but the trail first went into a riparian area, namely the easternmost part of Morrell Canyon (interestingly, it is spelled Morrill Canyon on old maps).

I knew that I’d have to leave the Morgan Trail pretty soon after entering this woodland, and kind of expected that there would be a little trail marker at the turnoff, to guide hikers — and there was none, so I promptly missed the turn to get onto the right trail.

I wasn’t unprepared: I had actually plotted the route at home but for whatever reason, the GPS on my phone got stuck somehow, minutes after I began to walk — there’s always something new! It didn’t update my location at all, and only after walking for another 10 or 15 minutes and then re-checking the phone (because where the heck was that turn?!) I saw that it still showed me at the very beginning of the trail.

You know the feeling when you’re eager to get somewhere, see something, and then not only does it take longer, but you’re actually in the wrong place? As much as I like riparian woodlands, the chaos, the trees, the shade… this was the total opposite of what I was so longing to see. The GPS came unstuck after I rebooted the phone and I saw how far I had walked past the turnoff already. A minor setback, I knew that I’d still have plenty of time, but I was annoyed with my the foolish reliance on technology and my stupidity, nevertheless.

It seemed to directly affect my physical abilities. It was a fairly warm mid afternoon and I felt slow and exhausted now, even though I hadn’t even done much yet. The shelter of trees in the canyon almost felt like a trap, and similarly, I felt trapped inside myself. Once on the right trail and after another turn, I finally began to gain elevation, left the oaks behind and entered the chaparral. Soon the views opened up, and as my eyes were finally freed and my gaze swept across the beautiful shrublands, so did my spirit, reaching out, touching peace.

A little bit past the summit of San Mateo Peak, I found exactly the views that I was looking for.

Hazy chaparral landscape of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, California. April 2021.
Hazy chaparral landscape of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, California. April 2021.

Up here, a fresh and cool breeze from the Pacific made the temperatures much more pleasant. I spent a lot of time taking it all in. It still fascinates me that this huge area of seemingly untouched chaparral landscape exists today, sitting between the busy I-5 and I-15 corridors and the bustling sprawl of Riverside and Orange County.

I’m grateful that it is a protected wilderness and will surely return for some longer hikes, but on this day, the ~6 miles that I did more than satisfied me and I felt more energized after the hike than I had when I begun.

More photos to come are here.

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4 thoughts on “An Answer to Longing”

  1. The ups and downs of your emotional state sound so familiar – I think we have all been there, focused on something in our minds but mired in setbacks of one kind or another, and you described the feeling well. :-) The photo really gets that feeling of relief across! Yes, what a gift that this land is preserved, particularly since it’s in such a busy part of the world.


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