Pioneer Mail to Mason Valley Truck Trail Head

11.36 miles including 1.5 mile hike-out to car

Side Trips

Along our way on the Pacific Crest Trail, we have come to see a few side-trips. Sometimes, we make a wrong turn. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the trail and we end up walking a ways before we get back on track. We’ve learned and joked about needing to cross the roads we have encountered and not just turn on to them as if the road became the trail. It just seems instinctive to follow the road instead of crossing it. And sometimes, something, some kind of energy almost, pulls you away from the trail and you make a discovery like a great view of a valley or some other wonder of nature. We’ve come to realize that we have to accept the unplanned. We have to accept what we can’t anticipate. We have to live with what happens. Sometimes, we just have to take a side trip.

The hike from Pioneer Mail to Mason Valley Truck Trail was kind of a side trip. We hadn’t really planned on hiking that day. But we suddenly found ourselves free on a Tuesday, the weather was spectacular and the time was right. It had been more than a month since our last hike and we were both ready to get back on the trail.

Water at Pioneer Mail

Trail head at Pioneer Mail. We earlier indicated water was available at Pioneer Mail. But we found someone else’s report indicating the opposite. We confirmed the water works. It was cold and tasted great.

We left one car at the Pedro Fages Monument marker on Sunrise Highway and then headed south in the other car. Just a few minutes down the road was Pioneer Mail, a stopping point of an earlier segment. A sign warned us that the PCT was actually 1.5-miles east of the monument so we knew to plan the hike-out at the end of our day. It was just before 11:30 before we got a start.


Looking north on a concrete ledge, likely erected for safety. It’s one of the only human-made construction of anything we’ve seen along the PCT excepting a bridge or two.

This segment was much like our earlier hike leading into Pioneer Mail from Burnt Rancheria. We skirted the border between the Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the east and the foothills of the Laguna Mountains. While it was in the 80’s and 90’s in San Diego proper, we enjoyed high 70’s through most of the afternoon. The terrain was also within a tight elevation range so the hike this day was easy. Very little shade along the way, but a nice breeze from the west face kept us mostly comfortable. The only wildlife we saw was while starting the hike at Pioneer Mail. A small bobcat checked us out from a shrub away from a picnic area. He quickly scooted away and was gone.

On an earlier segment we once found a memorial off a bit from the trail. We posted a picture of the cross we found that bears the name of the guy whose life is being honored. Near this ledge pictured above, we found other memorials, many clustered together embedded into boulders. It made us wonder what their stories were. The plaques briefly describing the dead can’t explain much. You don’t really get a sense of who these people were. Were they hikers? Had they completed the trail? Was that their goal? Mother, father, brother, sister, each of them someone. But a note on a rock doesn’t give the details, doesn’t really tell you much. It did fuel some thinking about what such a memorial to one of us would say.


Several memorials overlook the desert just a quarter-mile north of Pioneer Mail.


As we walked around the boulders we found more plaques. In total we counted eight, but we’re not sure we found them all.

Unknown plant

Brother Brian, the family gardener, confirmed this is a Yucca Agavaceae,. We saw a lot of these plants along the way leading into the Mason Valley Truck area.

Sadly, as pleasant and therapeutic this hike was, the fact is the day was tainted. Most of the time we awaited phone calls from people we didn’t want to speak to. The words heard just the week before over the phone from the doctor were the most foreign and frightening words ever imaginable. “It is a horrible disease. It will not end you. This is treatable. Stay positive.” Here on the mountain, five days later, we expected calls from radiologists, oncologists, concerned family members and colleagues at work wondering why we haven’t answered e-mails. It was all much more than we could absorb. It was more than we could digest. But somehow, being out on the trail, not quite far enough away from reality but far enough that we still were too far, we sought solace and strength to deal with what lies ahead of us.

On October 4, 2012, Patti was diagnosed with breast cancer. To come is chemo, radiation, hormone treatment, herceptin IV therapy for a year, possibly more surgery.

It seems we have just come upon an unplanned side trip. Our intent is to continue on our goal of completing the Pacific Crest Trail. Our plans are certainly delayed. Our path certainly detoured. But our determination and intent to complete our Pacific Crest Trail goal remains unchanged.


8 thoughts on “Pioneer Mail to Mason Valley Truck Trail Head

  1. Ok, I am crying now. This is a big detour. I am so sorry, I think you should blog the detour. I look forward to your return to the Pacific Crest Trail, the happy, non toxic trail. Thanks for sharing. Sending you strenght and continued perseverance to face the detour.


  2. Pingback: Pioneer Mail to Mason Valley Truck Trail Head « Thirty Six Goals

  3. I took Jordan on a little hike thru the devils punch bowl, a little place up my way. I tried to teach him about the plants and animals around the place, but the only thing he was interested in was if we could get motorcycles up there.


  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – Curve – McShap Pacific Crest Trail Journal

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