On my last little outing to my city’s largest open-space park, before the recent rains, while I wasn’t busy looking at sycamores, I was heading up the trail to Fortuna Peak, one of the highest point in the city limits. At 1291 feet in elevation and with good trails all the way, it’s no serious mountain climb, but the view from the top gives you views from the ocean to the west to the first ranges of real mountains to the east.
Many of the local wild parks have signs warning you about the dangerous fauna in the area–mostly rattlesnakes. Here the sign cautions hikers about the mountain lions that live here on the park’s more than 5000 acres and in the adjacent open space.
I’m used to being the top predator almost wherever I go. Even confronting a sign like this, I still manage to don that cloak of invincibility stitched through years of never confronting anything that might challenge that sense. I’m also a pretty statistics-driven person. I might think about how you’re many times more likely to meet your end by lightening strike on a golf course than hiking through land like this. Many more people die from smoking than they do through mountain lion attack.
For me, knowing that there are mountain lions in the vicinity adds to the adventure. Somehow this park feels more authentic, more alive, more complete because of it.
It brings to mind the only solo backpacking trip I’ve taken through Utah’s Cedar Mesa backcountry. Five minutes after entering the wilderness area I encountered the only human I was to see for the rest of the trip as he was leaving. Ten minutes into the trip I was crossing a stream bed still moist from an afternoon thunderstorm. As I stepped into the sand I noticed one immense, perfect paw print next to my boot. A mountain lion had passed this way in the last few hours. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a quick stab of fear at that moment. Welcome to the wild.
Maybe that’s a bit too much macho posturing on my part. If I were attacked by one of these cats, the first thing the authorities would do is to go after it. People would demand it. My recklessness would lead to the destruction of one of these elusive creatures. But I’m not a mountain lion’s favorite food, and these signs always seem like a park authority trying to limit their liability. Really, what are the odds of suffering any harm?
The wilds today didn’t offer anything so dramatic as mountain lions. A few other hikers were out, some of them totally fit and practically running, others looking like they were there because of a New Year’s resolution. Almost nothing was in bloom, but white-flowering currant (Ribes indecorum) provided bright accent marks along the trail to the top.
Once on top the view expands all around you. Look north and you see open chaparral and the runways of Miramar Air Station several miles away. Military installations may take up a certain amount of a city’s land, but they often manage to preserve open space in ways that suburban sprawl doesn’t.
Turn a little east and there you begin to see the ranks of foothills leading up to the Cuyamaca and Laguna ranges that divide the county, coastal region on one side, desert on the other. Yerba santa and black sage provide the foreground.
After I returned home from the hike I finally opened up the latest issue of Orion Magazine. One of the pieces, “Spectral Light” by Amy Irvine, describes a city family that has moved into a area in the Southwest as they come to grips with living in an area that is wilder than they ever imagined. Definitely got me thinking. It’s worth picking up the January/February 2010 issue to read it, or you can listen to the author read her piece or download the podcast [ here ].
5 thoughts on “into the wild”
What a beautiful area you live in. I am glad you did not run into the mountain lion…Thank you for taking on your hike with you.
The cloak of invincibility must’ve been working for you. Good thing as it would not be fun to meet any rattlers OR mountain lions!
It sounds like you took the western approach from Tierrasanta to North Fortuna Mountain. We once took the eastern approach from Old Mission Dam via Oak Canyon to the lesser South Fortuna Mountain and the dirt road was so steep we were slipping…and that was going UP! Going back down required some care. Your pics illustrate nicely the open space views from there, as opposed to the very urban scene you get from Cowles Mountain (elev. 1591, highest in SD city limits)
It is thrilling to be in nature and realize such wild creatures are walking nearby… stepping in your footsteps… a bit scary too! Lovely vistas and I love your photos of the flowering currant. Personally I am glad for signs like the one you show… it does tell what to do if you should run into a mountain lion… that could in the long run be good for the lion, as people who know what to do are hopefully less likely to be attacked. It is said that we have mountain lions here in Western Massachusetts. I do find it harder to be in my garden at night! I would be so happy to site a mountain lion from inside my studio!! ;>))
Noelle, I agree that this is one of a number of pretty fine places to live. I’d add Arizona to that list, myself! And I’m sure you have mountain lions somewhere around you.
Tina, actually I’d love to see a mountain lion one of these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been seen by one of them, only they’re not so quick to announce themselves like the humans.
George, actually I almost always take the eastern approach, up from the dam. The last hundred feet up to the saddle between North and South Fortuna is, as you point out, awfully steep and pretty poor footing. I probably slip every third trip up or down. At least a slip here doesn’t send you over some precipice.
Carol, I spent my teen years around Los Angeles. My parents had friends whose house had a small pool and was sited at the edge of the suburban sprawl. One morning they looked out to see a large brown cat drinking out of the pool–a mountain lion. I think you would have enjoyed the view! Stay safe where you are, though I’d guess that as long as there are deer and other critters around your chances of suffering harm at all would be probably pretty slight.