Into Hellhole Canyon
One of the neat things about living in southern California is that you can drive 15-20 minutes in any direction and the climate changes. From cool, Pacific coastal breezes to arid dry desert, all so close.
Hellhole Canyon is one of those places not far from home that reminds you what this area would be like without man’s influence. Located about 30 miles from the coast near Escondido and Valley Center, it can get as hot as its’ namesake describes.
Full of chaparral and sage scrub, the riparian environment has burned twice in the last 10 years. It is amazingly tolerant to fires and the oak trees are survivors. The live oaks and willows that line Hell Creek make it seem like an oasis in the middle of a harsh, dry canyon.
I like to read about the history of places that we hike. Surrounded by various Indian reservations, I can only imagine what it was like before the settlers came. Water for the nearby city of Escondido came through here via a wooden log flume and ditches from the San Luis Rey River. Since replaced with a metal pipe, it diverts water around this land preserve.
This was a challenging 8 mile hike, even in November. We made it to the summit of Rodriguez Mountain and could see well into Valley Center and the La Jolla reservation. The various casinos on the surrounding indian reservations stood out as gaudy structures in the rugged and rocky landscape. On the trail it was challenging at times since we traveled beyond the most frequented path. For some reason, never satisfied with the normal routes I tend to push us to our limits. The trail map isn’t of much use when you venture off the beaten path. Erosion had washed out parts of the trail and sometimes the crevices were 6-8 feet deep. Straddling them was quite the adventure, as I imagined them being created by an earthquake. This area has quite a bit of wildlife for such a sparse landscape. Mary, usually in the front came up on this fellow.
He didn’t really pay us much attention.
The tarantula that she stumbled upon, kept making his way across the trail and didn’t seem too threatened by us. Not long before, we spooked some deer who must have been sleeping under some bushes. The buck bolted up in the air no more than 6 ft. away. Awhile later, we observed the buck and his harem of 2-3 does making their way down the mountain. Lots of birds, no rattlesnakes today.
A year later, I would later revisit this place with a friend who almost passed out from heat stress, due to the extreme temps. A good place to visit (in the wintertime) if you want to get a feel for the desert, that is close to North County, San Diego.
Lessons Learned: 1. You can’t carry too much water on a day hike. 2. Be prepared for wildlife encounters and give them their space. 3. Tarantulas will not eat you.