Vista Grande – Monument Rd. – Lomas Loop Trail
The Trail and the Plants
The Santa Rosa Plateau is an Ecological Preserve located just outside of San Diego County above its northern border. The preserve is set in Temecula Valley, which is the backdrop for the 1884 novel ‘Ramona’ by Helen Hunt Jackson. This fictional novel was based on hard facts surrounding the brutal treatment of the Luiseno Indians that had made the valley their home for millennia.
This great inland valley held a large lake (Lake Elsinore) in its northern section and featured extensive Oak woodlands, meandering streams, vernal pools and chaparral-covered hillsides. There are two Oak species here, the Coast Live Oak and the blue-green Engelmann Oak. There is an impressive 400-year-old specimen shading the Moreno and Machado Adobes that are located in the preserve. Equally impressive is one of the largest Vernal Pools in the state, the nearly 25-acre pool on the Mesa de Colorado.
There are many trails in the preserve and one of my favorites begins at the visitor center. This is a 5-mile loop trail that heads out across the Vista Grande trail, climbs up to Monument peak and completes the loop via the Lomas trail. From the gravel parking area walk towards the right side of the visitor center. Just past the center is gate and then on the right is the Waterline Road. The ground on the right is covered with Popcorn Flower with chaparral behind. Quickly we enter a mix of chaparral and native grasslands featuring Purple Needle Grass. Take this access road a short distance to the junction with the Granite Loop trail and turn left and then very quickly the Vista Grande trail comes in on the right. In the grassy area around this junction there are many Southern Checkerbloom with their green scalloped leaves and slender waving stems topped with pink blossoms.
At the start of this trail, on the left, is a cluster of large, old Live Oaks with seating set below. This is a wonderful spot to visit and it’s close to visitor parking area.
Just past these ancient Oaks a seasonal creek comes in on the right and we parallel this for a while. There are patches of grassland on the right spiced with Vasey’s Prickly Pear and Oaks and chaparral on the left. Spikes of yellow flowered Sharp-toothed Sanicle brighten each side of the path. There will be a trail junction on the left, go straight as this side path rejoins our trail just ahead. Climbing among the chaparral is the white flowered Wild Cucumber. There is a cluster of Basket Bush on the left. Often mistaken for Poison Oak but the leaves are much smaller and the growth habit is mounding. And on the right look for Hollyleaf Redberry with its bright red berries in spring. The trail opens up on both sides as it reaches a stream crossing. Just as the trail drops into the stream look for the gray-green pinnate foliage and whitish-yellow blooms of Pomona Locoweed.
Crossing the wooden bridge we enter a really fun section. First go right a short distance and enjoy the bench nearby. Back on the trail there are a lot of colorful annuals, Chinese Houses, Clarkia, Miner’s Lettuce, Pacific Popcorn Flower and Baby Blue Eyes (there are 2 varieties on this hike) lining this short steep section of the trail. Now the trail descends moderately with a rocky hillside on the right. At the base of large boulders look for Maiden Hair Fern and California Lace Fern. On the left large sprawling clumps of the light lavender flowering Branching Phacelia soften the boulders. Another short climb brings California Peony with their nodding flowers nestled against a rock on the right. And just after this many Purple Nightshade color the trail.
As we leave the meadow areas we come to a junction with Tenaja Truck Trail Road, go straight, across another wooden bridge and begin the ascent toward Monument Road.
The rolling hillsides are clothed in dense stands of Purple Needle Grass and dotted with more Clarkia. Near a saddle, on the left is a cluster of Palmer’s Goldenbush. These 3’ tall shrubs have short narrow leaves and golden spikes of flowers in fall. There are large Oaks punctuating the grassy hills. At the top of the ridge there are great views of the surrounding preserve. The next junction is Monument Road, turn right and climb to the next ridge. The road curves to the left and blue-green Engelmann Oaks appear in clusters up ahead. This is classic Oak grassland country.
Just past the cluster of Engelmann Oak the spur trail to Monument Peak comes in on the left. Take this to the peak where a pair of benches offers rest and amazing views. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio highlight the northeast. The violet spires of Hall’s Lupine decorate the sides of the trail
After the restful view head back to Monument Road and go left across more Oak grassland. The road curves to the west and ahead on the right is a large ancient Engelmann Oak standing alone in the grassy vista. It’s hard to take your eyes off this specimen, even with the all the competing rolling vistas. Past the old sentinel the road descends to an open saddle where a relic ranch shade structure sits waiting for riders long gone.
Soon the junction with the Lomas Trail comes in on the right, just as the road veers left. Take this beautiful trail across the ridge. California Poppy and Blue Dicks wave in the grassy fields. There are more views of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to relish. More Hollyleaf Redberry appears on the left near clusters of Oak. Then the trail drops sharply to the valley below. About ½ way down there are large fields of Shooting Stars. Entering the valley a superb display of Purple Needle Grass mixed with the Shooting Stars greets the hiker. Ahead is the junction with the Tenaja Truck Trail road, go right.
Heading back towards the visitor center along this meandering ranch road the sound of Meadow Larks wafts in the breeze. This is a beautiful bird with yellow breast feathers and a black neck blotch. It’s nearly a mile to the last junction with Waterline Road, another ranch road that takes us back to the parking area. But there is one more exciting flower to view. This is a deep blue form of Baby Blue Eyes. Look for them on the left before the stream crossing.
Hiking here takes us back in time to the vistas of Old California.