Nature’s potato chips

By Matt Hose

The summit of the Mount Woodson hike in Poway confronts the outdoorsman with one of nature’s bitter ironies. It shows the often-debated issue of man’s influence on the natural world.

A little less than an hour north of the city of San Diego, the iconic hike features some of San Diego County’s most unique features: rolling hills, giant boulders and massive desert landscapes.

The six mile round trip trek begins at Lake Poway, a beautifully blue lake that seems nearly untouched by pollution. Little rowboats dot the entirety of the lake as locals fish for carp, catfish and other specimen. A strict limit on the number of fish any local can bring home keeps the lake adequately populated. The lake is surrounded almost on all sides by mountains, and children play and feed hundreds of ducks in the recreation area surrounding the lake. It seems like the pristine environment to show man in harmony with nature.

The hike itself is steep and fairly difficult, as it climbs 2,300 feet into the sky to the peak of Mount Woodson. The entirety of the first three miles heads upward, and few places for shade lie on the road, except for one gorgeous old tree that overlooks all of San Diego.

The trail is mostly made of dirt and contains signs cautioning hikers to stay on the trail to avoid erosion. Most hikers seem willing to follow the rule, though whether they bow their heads to nature or to the park rangers is unclear.

It was on this leg of the hike that I encountered my first glimpse of the previously mentioned irony.

The peace of the natural world is often disturbed by a distorted and cacophonous sound emanating from human beings.

Their pockets bump, their fists resonate with the sound of electronic music coming from tiny iPhone speakers. In the natural world, with its silence so deep that it usually forces self-reflection, these sounds become sheer noise against the musical and poetic nature of the hike.

The pleasure of man and the pleasures of nature at this point seemed to diverge on my hike. But, I reminded myself of every relativist’s favorite perspective. I reminded myself that everyone enjoys activities in their own ways. The music-blasters soon passed me, and I was back in peace.

However, when I got to the top, I was confronted with a view that was both beautiful and horrifying. The summit provides arguably one of the best overlooks in San Diego, as I could see the entirety of downtown, the fog layer over the Pacific Ocean and the deserts further east.

More imposing than this, however, I could see a giant ugly radio tower at the mountain’s summit, and a throng of over 40 people waiting to get their pictures taken at Potato Chip Rock, the iconic wonder of the hike.

Potato Chip Rock is a thin slab of rock that hangs more than 20 feet over the ground. It looks, as its name mentions, like a potato chip, and walking out to the end of it feels like you are a pirate walking the plank. Nevertheless, years of people strolling cautiously on this rock make them think that it is safe enough to cram groups of 10 onto it for a new profile picture. The precipice has quickly become an icon of the amateur hiker’s experience in San Diego.

In my opinion, a natural wonder like that should be something to enjoy in reflection, contemplating how our world got to be the way it is today. In other people’s opinions, it might be a cheap Disneyland-esque picture to get at the top of a grueling day (full disclosure: I also got my new profile picture atop the rock). One way or another, it doesn’t seem like the rock will ever have a line less than 30-people-long any time soon.

So maybe we can all be correct in our ways of encountering nature, to go back to the view that the relativist would propose. Or maybe humanity will go for one profile picture too many, and the rock will crumble and bring a cheap thrill back to its natural state. Only time will tell how definite man’s influence on nature has really become.