Bushwhacking, it’s not for everyone.
According to the hiking book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of San Diego”, The Kelly Ditch Trail seemed like an interesting day hike. With scenic views of the area near Julian, the southern end of the trail begins near Lake Cuyamaca. A 10-11 mile round trip jaunt through the forest seemed like a great way to spend a Saturday.
Like most places we hike, there is ample history. The Kelly Ditch was built over 100 years ago to divert runoff from the nearby peaks into the somewhat manmade lake. The trail guide said that the trailhead was across the road from the dam, so we checked with the local ranger to confirm before walking down the road. It wasn’t well marked, and that should have been an omen. Not really believing in omens, I found the narrow path and started our way.
The 2003 fire hit this area and devastated most of the conifers. Some of the oaks faired better and are recovering, but the brush came back with a vengeance. At first there was an occasional fallen tree and weeds that encroached the trail, then it became a foliage tunnel. The final straw was a jumble of lumber so twisted that turned a leisurely hike into an adventure in bushwhacking.
The southern end of Kelly Ditch Trail
After a mile of intense battles with the brush, we took a lunch break and turned around. Hmm, what is that crawling on my shirt? I hate ticks!
We picked our way out, made it back to the car and drove up to Julian where the northern end of the Kelly Ditch begins in Heise County Park. This part of the trail was interesting because of what we would discover. Within five minutes of the trailhead, we heard rustling in the bushes and about 100 yards out, something darted out and crossed the trail. A few minutes later, we discovered that this area was full of wild turkeys.
Rio Grande Turkeys in Heise County Park
Apparently, Fish and Game released about 300 of these critters about 20 years ago in this area. In 2001, the last time they were counted, they numbered 20,000. How do you count wild turkeys? We encountered many turkeys over the next few hours. One curious gobbler was walking in front of us on the fire road. He kept his distance and amused us for about 30 minutes as he continued down the road with us. The trail ascended about 700-800 ft. and we turned around after several miles. We crossed Witch Creek and noticed that bees really like hanging around water. They were swarming in the mud and around the water as it gurgled past. Later, I would read that the bees would ingest and carry the water back to the colony where they would spray it near the queen and fan her with their wings. God truly made these creatures with some amazing instincts. Maybe that’s how man came up with the idea of swamp coolers.
So, even after the debacle on the southern end of Kelly Ditch, we salvaged a pretty decent hike by venturing into Julian and completing about 6 more miles. Upon returning home, we did our usual routine after hiking through brush which is to wash thoroughly to rinse off any poison oak/ivy before the nasty oils did their work. To my horror, I had several ticks that had firmly embedded themselves into my midsection. According to my trusty sidekick and wife, I momentarily freaked out and said something about lyme disease. I gathered my wits and mary plucked them out with sharp tweezers. Ticks inject their victims with a type of anesthetic and anticoagulant before they burrow their nasty little mouths into one’s skin. They are the most disgusting insects ever, and I took great pleasure flushing them away.
Lessons Learned: 1. Wear light clothing if you are bushwhacking; the ticks show up easier. 2. Take the time to observe nature; what I learned about bees was so cool. 3. I have tickaphobia. 4. Wild turkeys can run very fast.