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Atascadero's got a plethora of trails to explore—and they leave different impressions 

A break in the rain pretty much means one thing at my house: Time to take the dog for a walk—potentially a very quick walk.

In this case, though, we get to do a little exploring in the Atascadero neighborhood we moved to in the beginning of February. On this Saturday morning, our mission is to reach Stadium Park, an open space area very close to downtown that's not far from my new place.

About 10 minutes down Capistrano Avenue, pavement gives way to the ruts of a gravelly parking area past a set of apartment buildings. Walking through a side gate, up a hill, and under the Highway 41 overpass puts me in a very good mood. The hum of passing cars fades as the blah of surburbia is swapped for the quiet murmur of chirping birds and the drip of freshly deposited water. Between green hills and moss-covered oak, the path climbs into a natural amphitheater with options.

You can take the nearly 2-mile option up to Pine Mountain and back, or you can meander on a number of short paths into the surrounding hills. I choose to meander because I don't have time for anything longer this morning, but I will be coming back on the next rain-free weekend (and that might be in April at this point). As we continue down the first trail surrounded by greenery I've walked in a while, I take a deep breath and my dog spots a squirrel, nearly pulling my arm off as he runs to the end of his leash with a startling bark.

So much for serenity.

Atascadero has more than one trail close to home, too. A section of the Atascadero Mutual Water Company's Juan Bautista De Anza Historic Trail has an entrance off Sycamore Road. During another break in the rain, this time on a Friday after work, the pooch and I go check things out.

From the entrance, we make a beeline for the levy trail above the Salinas River. Looking down from the top, a brown paper bag from Ross has clothing and plastic spilling out of it onto the banks. Honestly, it's pretty standard scenery for a dry riverbed—or even a wet one—frequented by humans. We're pretty gross.

We scale down the bank into the tire tracks that run on the dry gravel, following them southeast-ish.

There's an abandoned bicycle to my right and more trash scattered on either side, clinging to tree branches and littering the embankments. But there are also a series of stacked rocks lining the edge of the path we're walking. Gigantic ones that start with a boulder on the bottom and smaller ones that begin with fist-sized rocks and shrink down to pebbles.

A little farther down, a circular maze outlined with rocks rises out of the sand. A little bit of river muck adheres to some of the rocks, suggesting the 15-foot radius has made it through at least one rainy season. Just past that, the trail seemingly ends in a thicket of riparian grasses, mud, and (surprisingly) water! We walk the width of river, from one side to the other, attempting to find a way through and all we find is more of the same with a few trash bags thrown in for good measure.

Hidden behind tall brush is what looks like a dump—like someone drove their truck out here, opened the tailgate, and pushed a pile of black plastic trash bags out the back and onto the river bottom. Heaped on top of one another, they're ripped and torn with plastic, metal, and cloth cascading out of them. It makes me wonder what's going to happen to it when this riverbed floods again, what branches it will cling to, which rocks it will get wrapped around, and where it will get deposited. Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is bringing a bag the next time she explores the historic trail—so she can pack out more than she packed in. Send comments to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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