Battered bunkers secluded by a seaside hill, a trio of Japanese war guns haunting a mahogany forest and the perfect picnic spot serenely surrounded by nature and nothing else. What could make for a better weekend than a double dose of history and a shot of tranquility?
This weekend we trek to three short Spots on The Rock: Asan Beach, Piti Guns and the Masso Reservoir. All three destinations are hardly hikes on their own, but since they're close to one another, it's well worth crossing them off your list through a trek back in time filled with exciting outdoor excursions.
Hopping in a time machine through island history, we'll explore some man-made remnants of World War II, preserved pieces that recall Guam's darker days. In the end, we'll let loose and take a leisurely stroll through a therapeutic nature trail.
Two out of the three hikes take place in Piti and one is in Asan. All will have different parking spots, so adhere to the parking directions to get to each spot.
While all three treks can be done in any order, we'll visit Asan Beach, Piti Guns and the Masso Reservoir, in that order.
A sight for sore eyes
Arriving at Asan Beach, with its sweeping green landscape, towering coconut trees and cerulean sea, the sight for sore eyes was not always so serene.
According to the National Park Service, Asan Beach has been historically home to a leper colony, exiled Filipino rebels, German war prisoners, Vietnamese refugees, U.S. Marines and the U.S. Navy Seabees.
It was also here that America's military might stormed the nearby shores in the bloody Battle for Guam (Guam's liberation) on July 21, 1944.
In 1978, the beach was finally bestowed the recognition it deserved when the National Park Service established the War in the Pacific National Historical Park.
To visit just a few remaining remnants of the area's history, including gun positions and pillboxes, walk toward the large, hexagonal WWII monument – the Liberators' Memorial – at the end of the beach.
Behind the monument is the noticeable nature trail and sign. You will follow this straightforward path the whole way, about a half-mile in its entirety.
The first half of the short, shaded trail is an easy, breezy walk uphill. To the sides, through dense jungle, peer through the branches for a peek of the shimmering Philippine Sea and the nearby park on the other side.
Halfway up the hill, the path will split into three different directions. To the left is a shortcut back to the park, which we'll use later, straight ahead leads to a viewpoint atop the hill and to the right is a hidden Japanese bunker.
Let's take the right first. The path will wind down a short, sturdy stairwell to a secluded beach with a preserved WWII remnant.
The bonafide fortification before you is a Japanese gun emplacement that housed 20cm coastal guns, used to fend off the American landing force in 1944.
Just outside the jungle lies an isolated beach with a solid rock shelf to the left, and cute corals and seashells scattered on the shore.
Uphill from here
After exploring the secluded beach site, travel back up the staircase, and this time, take a right to continue the hike uphill.
This part of the hike remains safe and simple, but requires a little more stamina for the slow ascent ahead. Utilize nearby tree trunks and branches as handholds on the way up.
Once you reach relatively level ground, nearing the top, you should see a very slight opening to the right of the trail. This leads to just one of the many Japanese pillboxes, or concrete guard posts, in which Japanese troops sheltered as they shot toward advancing American forces.
When you're done peering through the puny pillbox, return to the main path, and just a few feet further up is the summit of the hill. Here, you're rewarded with remarkable views of Asan and bustling Route 1/Marine Corps Drive to the north, and views of Piti and the Fish Eye Marine Park to the south.
After taking in the breathtaking view, head back down the hill to reach the parking lot. At the junction, you may take a right for a shortcut to the main park – with restrooms nearby – although further south of where you parked. You may also continue straight ahead, retracing your steps to precisely where you parked.
Weapons of war
The second hike takes place down the street in Piti. After finding the parking spot, head behind the hall to find the staircase that winds up through a jungle.
Ahead, we'll locate three weapons of war, each with a grim past. These three artillery machines, also preserved and protected by the National Park Service, are Japanese 140mm coastal defense guns that were intended to shoot down invading ships and landing craft.
The guns were lugged up the rugged Piti mountainside by CHamoru laborers, against their will, just before the island's liberation. They have a firing range of close to 10 miles, but were never fired during the battle. Liberation came sooner, rather than later, saving the forced laborers from finishing their traumatic job.
With no directions necessary for the brief 15-minute nature trail ahead, follow the beaten path and stairs as it stops by each gun, monuments of mankind's worst creations. Note that these are the only WWII-era coastal guns that remain intact in their original locations on Guam.
As you hike through this haunting part of island history, you might notice the variety of vibrant foliage all around, and most especially on the ground. It feels like fall walking through this jungle, in the middle of the island of all places. There's a special reason for that.
In the 1920s, before the carnage of war, the Piti hills had been part of the Guam Agricultural Experiment Station. Scientists planted plenty of mahogany trees on the hillside, though they are not native to Guam. Today, the mahogany grove remains a unique feature of the small central village.
After passing through the enchanting forest, and looking over the impressive, yet intimidating guns, retrace your steps to your car and head out for the last leg of the trip.
Historic, hidden gem
Our last adventure ends in another historic, hidden gem, just down the road from the Piti Guns. After finding parking, bask in the natural beauty around you!
The Masso Reservoir is a wondrous wetland area, created by the U.S. Navy in the late 1940s to supply potable water to surrounding villages.
Not too long afterward, the Navy deserted the watershed in 1951 due to contamination. It was no longer a trusted source for drinking water.
In 1978, the Guam Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources took control of the area and transformed the reservoir into a nature park and recreational fishing area. Since then, the division and countless volunteers have worked to restore the watershed to its former glory.
With most maintenance performed within the last decade, more than 14,000 trees have been planted to prevent soil erosion, about 15,000 cubic yards of mud was dredged from the pond and a 200-foot fishing platform was installed.
Not to mention, a nature trail was created – and a worthy one, indeed. Along the way, you can find one of the largest concentrations of plants and animals both native to Guam, and not. It's a great educational space in the great outdoors!
To find the trail, leave the fishing platform and head toward the dirt-road entrance. Continue along the path to the left, toward the hills. After passing a couple of utility poles, look out for the slight jungle entryway to your left.
Walk over the wooden platform at the entrance, and enter a flora and fauna fantasy. The path, while mostly straightforward, may have a few alternative paths. Surely, you won't get lost along the short social trails. Follow the natural curve of the path, and adhere to the many blue flags that lead the way.
After crossing another wooden platform and climbing a short hill, trekking to the left will bring you to the other side of the reservoir, although, the view is not as grand.
Traveling further uphill, to the right, ends at a small, hilltop overlook. Follow the blue flags lining the path to reach either destination, and to retrace your steps back. Though the nature trail is quick and quiet, there's a lot to see.
Flora and fauna
Be on the lookout for the endangered Mariana moorhen, also known as the "pulattat," which is signified by its bright red beak, brown and black feathers and yellow legs. It may look like a chicken on land, or a duck in the water.
Other migratory birds, like ducks, gulls, egrets and stilts are also known to drop by every once in a while, but don't count your chickens.
Besides being a bird haven, under the water the pond is home to red tilapia, shrimp, eels, frogs and other awesome aquatic life. The community is welcome to fish.
As far as flora grows, thanks to those who care about the Earth a vast variety of trees and plants, both native and non-native, can be found around the reservoir. Some trees include the Palo Maria, or "da'ok," mahogany, or "ifit," pandanus, or "ågkak," and tangantangan.
When you've had your fill of fancying flora and fauna, retrace your steps back to the reservoir. Lay in the sun, read a book or grab your fishing pole. Enjoy life, and be glad we're not living in the 1940s!