June 29 2015 06:35 PM

A somewhat enlightening hike to Van Dam Peak

Buddha statue at Van Dam Peak
Photo by Jessica Johnson

    The quest to find enlightenment and/or awakening, as taught by Buddha, has compelled people to travel all over the earth. So while one particular hike to a hidden spot in San Diego County is not guaranteed to provide an extreme meditative experience, it will offer an unusual view of the representative symbol of Buddhism.

    It's a modest trek of about 1,110 feet up to the top of The Van Dam Peak. But be warned, there are a few areas where the incline slopes up quite steeply, and you may have to stop every now and then to take a breather. This hike starts in Sabre Springs at the Middle Ridge Terrace trailhead and works its way into the easternmost part of the city of Poway.

    You'll be greeted with a stunning panoramic view when you make it to the top. Keep your eyes peeled, though, because you're not alone. At the top of this peak is a special secret: a solid-stone Buddha (weighing at least a couple hundred pounds), silently overlooking the land. You'll also notice a concrete pad at the summit that once supported a communication tower. It now has a couple of lawn chairs that offer a comfortable view, and support, after a mildly strenuous hike.

    The Buddha is large, though not enormous. I noticed beautiful details etched into his robe. Sadly, his face seems to have been assaulted. I met a local on his daily hike who offered up the little information he had. Apparently, Buddha used to have a better view. Fate, or perhaps drunken fools, landed him in a ditch. That ditch became his resting place for several months, until unexpectedly, he victoriously re-emerged at the top of the peak. The turbulent experience left some permanent scars on Buddha's face. 

    There are unanswered questions surrounding the statue. First, how did something weighing half a ton make it up a mountain? One guess is he was brought up in the middle of the night on a Toyota 4Runner; there's no way anyone could drag him up by hand. But who brought him up in the first place? Who defaced him, and who later tried to make things right?

    Despite having lost part of his nose and mouth, Buddha's face still show a joyful expression. That's the enlightened takeaway: Keep on smiling, despite your misfortunes.  

    Buddha's Peak | 
    Open Space Trail | Poway

    To see more off-the-beaten-path places in San Diego, go to hiddensandiego.net. 


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