I think my last hike might have been this past June when I hiked the Lake Calavera South Trail in Carlsbad. The old body just isn’t what it used to be.
In the map below, you can see all sorts of dotted lines representing trails. If only I had discovered Calavera 40 years ago!
Lake Calavera is the dominant feature, but I’ll have more about that a little later.
Calavera means cranium in Spanish. Skull. Wonder who named it that, and why.
Lake Calavera covers about 400 acres, and the Calavera Nature Preserve complements the lake with another 110 acres and 4.9 miles of hiking and biking trails. There is a lot of accessible land that is not in the preserve, though, with many more miles of trails.
The Lake Calavera area is home to an identified 115 plants, 49 birds, 10 mammals, and 7 amphibians & reptile. Six of the various species are classified as threatened or endangered, including the California Gnatcatcher, a bird which has had 85% of its natural habitat, the Diegan Coastal Sage Scrub, destroyed by development.
Although I love lakes, the dominant feature here, what was even more interesting to me at Calavera is this:
That’s Mount Calavera, far more interesting to me than a lake full of water. Mount Calavera is a volcanic plug. In other words, the inside of a volcano—its throat, full of magma—which went extinct 22 million years ago. Once a volcano goes extinct, it starts eroding, leaving behind the magma plug. Mount Calavera is one of only three volcanic plugs in Southern California.
In the middle of the picture you can see some vertical columns. As the magma cools, it typically forms columns. Here’s a two other pictures of the magma columns:
From the early 1900s to the 1930s, the ancient plug was mined for gravel. Some of it has been left behind.
Although the mountain is 513 feet high, there are many trails, some easy and some difficult, that take you to the top. There you’ll see several old lava flows.
You also can see three labyrinths below, which you’ll probably miss on your first visit up the mountain since they are off the beaten path. No one seems to know who or why they were created.
All in all, a great hike. Too bad that I won’t be going back again, unless it’s by helicopter.
Kudos to those who know the name of what is quite likely the most famous volcanic plug in the world. Take a guess in the comments.