Cuyamaca Rancho State Park – Arroyo Seco and Airplane Monument Loop
Trail Identifier: Monument Trail, Arroyo Seco Trail
Type of trail: Out and back or loop, sand, decomposed granite, rocks.
Distance as hiked: 7 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-3,900 ft., Top of trail 5,000-ft.
Temps: 80-90 degrees
Difficulty: moderate (heat)
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a “local” favorite of mine. Located approximately 45 minutes east of San Diego it is part of the Cleveland National Forest. Sadly, the 2003 Cedar Fire burned more than 95% of this area. I’ve hiked a significant number of the trails and the destruction is slowly fading as the native chaparral species recover. Reforestation efforts are helping and young conifers are slowly making a comeback.
We would start our hike on the Monument Trail near the Sweetwater River Bridge. The parking area across from the trailhead is a popular area for equestrians. Many of the trails in this area are shared use for hikers-bikers-horses. We tend to go later in the day on these shared trails as many people go early in the morning before it gets hot. Much of the trail is exposed, so be prepared. There are still many oaks and sycamore trees as you skirt the creek. During this hike, part of the trail was being encroached by some thickets. You have to push some of the brush back to make your way to the airplane monument. I love history and this monument was from a military DeHaviland biplane that crashed in 1922. Be careful around this engine, it was infested with bees. I was actually stung on my neck and my wife got one in her hair. We hightailed it out of there; thankfully they are not Africanized bees.
On this hike, I would also see the dreaded “Poodle-Dog Bush”, a deceptively poisonous flora that tends to appear after wildfires. The trail meanders through a wooded area with tall grasses all around. It is mostly single-track but merges with a fire road near a horse camp.
On the return leg, we descended down a dusty track and the view opened up to a valley below. A steady breeze felt refreshing. We came across the state bird, actually a male and female. California quail. They were unusually docile and not spooked by our presence. We also came a bit too close to a skunk family. They crossed about twenty feet in front of me. I stopped and gave them plenty of room. There is evidence of abundant small wildlife in this area.
This is a nice hike in an area diverse with wildlife. Best hiked from Sep-May as it gets hot!