…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush. We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse. Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.
The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area. The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest. I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home. Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains. Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks. With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.
Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county. Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side. The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo. It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border. We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface. It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence. Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV. Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border. We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes. The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.
The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook. There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors. Like many trails, this one was diverse. Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can. “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way. Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub. Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water. We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county. Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction. Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail. To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps. Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective. The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent. Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike. My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill, steadily traversed the path. I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.
The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction. The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau. Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below. We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch. The view was amazing. So this was Corte Madera! The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north. It was getting late as the days were getting short. I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left. We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain. We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.
They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish. There were four of them, two with guns drawn. Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands. In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.
I recommend these hiking poles. They are lightweight and fairly sturdy. Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue
We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Icehouse Canyon
Type of trail: As hiked – a modified loop
Distance as hiked: 7.5 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400 ft., Top of trail-7,234 ft.
Temps: 75-85 degrees
Trail Composition: dirt, rock, scree
Fees: Day use fee or Adventure Pass
Due to recent fire in San Jacinto area, we ventured back to the Mt. Baldy area. We haven’t been there since last summer and there are tons of trails to explore. Today, we picked Icehouse Canyon. My blogging buddy “Hiking Angeles Forest” knows this area well and has written extensively on the San Gabriels.
Be sure to pick up your permit at the Visitor Center in Baldy Village. The volunteer on duty was friendly and we were on our way in minutes. The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles up the road with a well marked sign on the right. The parking lot for the trail is large, mainly because this is a busy trail. Too busy for my liking, but it is a summer weekend and there is water near the trail.
The path is well marked as you navigate your way around boulders. Going up, a canyon wall is on the left and there are old cabins along the trail next to a creek. This creek appears to run year-round with several nice cascades. We would take the Chapman Trail on the left around the one mile mark. Most of the people were continuing on Icehouse Canyon. Actually most of the lowlanders were hanging around the creek. The Chapman trail was less crowded and provided decent solitude – even for a Saturday afternoon.
We stopped for lunch at Cedar Glen Camp, a relatively flat area with – you guessed it – cedars. It was a bit buggy for this late July day, the gnats were annoying, but at least they weren’t mosquitos. After lunch, we began a gradual climb, emerged from the woods and entered an area of chaparral. You could see where parts of the area burned and the new growth appeared to be between 7-10 years old.
The trail broke out as we hiked through talus and slides. We trekked along a cliff with drop offs that were 500 ft. or more. If you are afraid of heights, this is not the trail for you. Heck, if you are afraid of heights, you probably shouldn’t be hiking. It was exciting and the views to the west were great.
Hitting the junction to Icehouse Canyon Saddle, we took a right and began a quick descent. I can imagine that this would be a fun climb in the winter and envisioned what it was like to snowshoe up here. Haven’t done that yet, but we are planning to try out some snowshoe day hikes this winter. The Chapman trail would actually be sketchy in the winter unless you had some crampons and an ice axe.
The path from the Chapman Trail junction down would wind its’ way along a mostly dry creek and would criss-cross the canyon several times. We were keeping our eye on a helicopter that was flying circles about 3-4 miles to our west toward Mt. Baldy. Soon, we saw smoke near the helicopter’s path. We picked up the pace a bit just in case. We still had two miles to go. I took the opportunity to discuss how we would handle a fire if it breached the hill. Canyons are not the best place to be in a fire as they tend to concentrate the flames. I pointed out areas of scree and talus on the slopes to the east where there was less fuel. Not ideal, but our choices would be limited. We could also soak our neckerchiefs with water and place them over our mouths/noses if needed.
After 20-30 minutes, the smoke diminished so whatever it was appeared to be under control. Hike with us and you are assured to have an adventure. Nearing the trailhead, we laughed at the sign warning the fishermen.
All in all, Icehouse Canyon – Chapman Trail is a nice hike. Best done during the week or late on the weekend. It was good to review some wilderness skills like wildfire procedures. I’ve learned so much by reading other blogs and resources on the Internet. If you are old fashioned like me and enjoy the feel of a book, then The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis is an excellent resource. Enjoy your hike friends, and take someone with you to enjoy the beauty of this great land.
The sun was rapidly sinking below the ridge as I struggled to get my bearings. As it dropped out of sight, it would be dark in 45 minutes. A bit of panic set in as I lamented over my ineptness. Headlamp shattered, my flashlight was gone. Banged up and lost, it was going to be a long night.
Coming up on three years of hiking, I’ve spent many hours learning about backcountry navigation, survival and general stories of thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail. I’ve managed to put some of it into practice and have never been lost for more than a couple of hours. In southern California it seems that a hiker gets lost almost every week. What follows is a tale of something that I hope never happens to me – or you.
The day began like any other solo hike. I picked my route out ahead of time, texted my wife with my intended route and off I went. It was late March and there was plenty of daylight left. The Momyer Creek Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, is part of the San Bernardino National Forest. This area is loaded with challenging trails, many intersecting and often leading to multiple summits over 10,000 ft.
The trail, one of the less popular in the area is peaceful and offers good solitude. It’s also one of the least maintained with many blowdowns and much erosion. Volunteers take care of these trails and it is hard work, so no complaining here. It was also early in the season and there was still snow at the higher elevations.
I had checked the weather before leaving and it was pretty standard for early spring in the mountains of southern California. Above 6,000 ft, daytime highs in the 60’s, night-time lows in the 30’s with a slight chance of flurries above 7,000 ft. after midnight.
The hike up Momyer was a good workout, mostly a single track trail that generally followed an easterly direction. By late morning, the sun was warm and the sounds of the woodpeckers echoed through the forest. I stopped every couple of miles to rest and take in the surroundings. So far, no other hikers were around. Off in the distance, the rumbling of a rock slide could be heard. The melting snow must be loosening the granite on the slopes of “Old Greyback” as San Gorgonio Mountain is affectionately known.
My goal was to hike to 9,000 ft. and turn around. Stopping in Saxton Camp, I had a snack and noticed that it was around 4:00 p.m. Thankfully, Daylight Savings Time was a couple of weeks ago, so I could reach the trailhead by nightfall. Yep, 7 miles to go, I can do that.
As I was making my way down, I came across a landslide on one of the slopes. Debris totally blocked the trail. It was a steep talus, too steep to climb. The drop-off was even more precarious and too risky to traverse. No problem, I would backtrack and find a way above the slide. With approximately 90 minutes of daylight left, this needed to be a quick detour. I have a headlamp and flashlight, so I was prepared in case of a delay. Checking my map, I estimated that I was around 7,500 ft. and in an area of steep slopes for a half mile in each direction. Going back, it was difficult to find a path up a slope that wasn’t covered in scree, those loose rocks and pebbles. After about 15 minutes, I noticed an easier route and began a climb up. Reaching a clump of trees, I could see the trail below. Holding my hand up to the sun, I noticed two fingers between the sun and the ridge. That meant 30 minutes until it dropped out of sight.
Looking around for a reference point, that’s when it happened. One second I was standing next to a Jeffrey Pine and next thing I knew I was sliding downhill. Trying to slow myself down, I attempted to dig in with my heels. That wasn’t having much of an effect so I rolled over trying to grab the scree with my hands and clawed as much as possible. Digging my knees in, it felt like I was gaining more speed and bringing the mountain down with me. Then, there was a sensation like the bottom dropped out, and I landed on a ledge. The abrupt drop knocked the wind out of me. I was gasping like a fish out of water.
Well that sucked. After what seemed like an eternity, I rolled over and sat up to assess my situation. No broken bones that I could tell, lots of cuts and abrasions and a goose-egg on the side of my head. One hiking pole was still strapped to my hand, the other nowhere in sight. Worse yet, I was disoriented and unsure of where the trail was. Covered in a light, powdery dust, I must have been quite a sight. A crow flew over me and cackled. I’ve always disliked those birds.
Before the sun went totally down, I checked the supplies in my daypack. Emergency kit, first aid kit, water, snacks, gloves, knit cap, warm jacket, extra socks – you know the ten essentials and then some. My headlamp was a casualty of my excursion down the slope, the lens busted and bulb gone. The Otter Case protected my phone from getting demolished, but no cellular signal. I cleaned my wounds, none of the cuts too deep. The lump on the side of my head concerned me a bit, but I didn’t feel dizzy or lethargic. Looking for my backup flashlight, it wasn’t in the side pocket of my pack. What else could go wrong? With the sun setting and no light I needed to find shelter for the night, out of the winds that would come in from the northeast. Searching the immediate area, I located a spot that looked ok. The patch of flat dirt was clear of widow-makers, you know the dead trees that can drop branches and crush you in the middle of the night. I collected some pine boughs to insulate the ground near a boulder about the size of my car. I had about 1.5 liters of water, a couple of snack bars and an apple. I pressed the button on my Spot GPS to alert my wife that I was ok. Hopefully, she gets the message. Unfortunately, it is a one-way transmitter.
Like many areas in the mountains, cellular coverage is sporadic. Checking my phone one more time, I was disappointed to see no signal. Wait, one bar but no 3G – would it work? I tried a call, but it failed. Tried sending a text and it failed too. Oh well, better save my battery for when I do have a signal.
The last bit of light faded from the sky. No city lights for reference. Pulling out my jacket and space blanket, I settled in and stashed my pack to the side. Hearing crickets, the sky turned darker shades of blue, some pink and then black. Stars began to emerge as the daylight faded. A waning crescent moon was my only nightlight. My eyes adjusted somewhat and I prayed for an uneventful night.
NEXT- Lost in the San Bernardino Mountains-Part 2 – “Hey, that’s my pack!”
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Lost Creek Trail, 1E09
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 8.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,300ft., Top of trail-8,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Today, we would venture out farther from home and drive the 90+ miles to check out the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (SGW). While a day hike to San Gorgonio Mountain is possible, it would be a very long day for us and is better attempted as an overnighter. All trails in the SGW require the perfunctory wilderness permit, which can be obtained by stopping by in person at one of several ranger stations, via fax or by snail mail. Follow the swa.org link above for permit directions. I’ve become a bit of a purist and believe trail permits are government out of control, but I am a rule follower.
We stopped in after noon to obtain our permit at Mill Creek Ranger station. While inside, Mary met an old friend and insisted that I take their picture.
From Mill Creek, follow SR38 to the South Fork Campground. Parking for the trailhead is across the road from the campground and is co-located with the Santa Ana River Trail. It is fairly well-marked and breaks off at a marker in the campground. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation over switchbacks that gain 400-500 ft. The trail joins a fire road for a mile and changes to a wide creek bed laden with rocks before narrowing into a rutted single track. Evidence of recent equestrians is scattered along the trail.
This is one of the most interesting and diverse trails that we’ve been on in the San Bernardino National Forest. We traversed areas with deciduous trees, rounded a corner and saw cactus on the verge of blooming. As we crossed the top of a meadow, we saw an area of seasonal springs. There were a few blow-downs and widow-makers throughout the hike. At times, the trail became narrow with sheer drop-offs into the Santa Ana River canyon below. Overall, the climb was gradual with few switchbacks and limited scree to slip on. Pine straw does cover sections of the trail and is a bit slippery. On a side-note, the PCT skirts many of the trails in the San Bernardino Forest and is located less than 10 miles east of this trail.
For the first couple of miles, Sugarloaf Peak to the north is the prominent land mass and the perspective changes as you pass through 7,000 ft. Eventually, the path takes a 180 and you head in an easterly direction with views of snow-covered peaks to the southwest. For this area in southern California, I believe the best altitude for hiking is between 6-8,000 ft. The temps are usually mild and the sub-alpine surroundings offer respite from the sun. This trail is especially appealing due to the solitude. We would run into only one other couple all day.
We stopped at Grinnell Campground, an open area with awesome views to the south-southwest. It was peaceful and we enjoyed our hot tea. When hiking 8-10 miles, it’s a good idea to cool your jets by removing shoes and socks to allow for some air to dry out those puppies.
Our descent was quick with minimal stops for photos. Rounding a switchback, we did see this in the distance and like most hikers is one thing you don’t ever want to see. Notice the smoke was blowing in our direction.
A fire in the backcountry is a scary thing. Fortunately, this one was far enough away and we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead. Cal-Fire had it contained within a few days. If you hike frequently in this region, you know how much fuel is on the ground. Fires can be swift and devastating. It’s a good idea to talk about an escape plan and how you would deal with a fire when out on the trail. Trail maps and/or knowledge of the local terrain is invaluable and can make the difference between life or death in a forest fire scenario.
Well enough of the gloom and doom. We lived to see another beautiful day in southern California and have discovered an amazing array of trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. This will serve as our practice area for our section hike of the JMT this summer. My parting advice this week:
– Take trail maps, GPS and discuss escape route options. These Tom Harrison maps are the best: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (2015) (Tom Harrison Maps Waterproof and Tear Resistant)
– In fire situations, avoid canyons and ravines as fires often ravage these areas.
– Consider a GPS locator for emergency situations. I use a SPOT GPS Messenger. SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange While there is no guarantee that it works 100% of the time, it operates consistently if used properly. There are other higher quality GPS locators out there.
– On day hikes, take extra water and snacks – just in case. This week, several more novice hikers got lost in SoCal. Fortunately, all were found quickly. None of them had water or food for their unplanned overnighters.
Use common sense out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are. Consider stocking up on a couple of pieces of survival gear including: Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Camping Mirror – Personal Use, Emergency Signaling or this whistle: UST JetScream Whistle
We are coming up on three years since we’ve started day hiking in Southern California. What originally started as a way to get in better shape has morphed into a love of the outdoors and appreciation for an awesome creation.
It is a blessing to live in an area surrounded by “hike-able” terrain. Between San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, there are hundreds of trails to choose from. From coastal strolls to desert jaunts and a trek into the mountains, we just about have it all out here. No doubt, we live in one of the wackiest and most heavily taxed states in the union. A couple of reasons people tolerate the craziness out here is the abundance of outdoor activities and the ability to get away from it all.
The Peninsular Range of mountains in southern California runs north-south. From the San Jacinto’s to Baja California, they provide fantastic ocean and desert views. The trails encompassing the Laguna Mountains in the south are sub-alpine with areas of chaparral. They are often arid, with stiff, cold desert winds in the winter and hot, dry breezes in the summer. The famous Pacific Crest Trail winds its’ way through the Peninsular Range from Campo down by the Mexican border to Mount San Jacinto in the north. We’ve hiked a good bit of the PCT through here, 10 miles at a time. I’ve even thought about becoming a trail angel to the PCT thru-hikers one year.
The wildlife on the trails down here is sometimes sparse, but encounters are more frequent in the early morning hours and before dusk. Deer are abundant as are wild turkeys and a host of reptiles. Once the temps hit the 70’s, we occasionally run across two types of serpents – the Pacific and Diamondback rattlers. Often sunning across or along the trail, they usually slither away, but sometimes need a little encouragement from a hiking pole. Rarely will we find one coiled and ready to strike, but it has happened. Woodpeckers are the most common woodland bird and the California Quail is the ground dweller that we most often see – and hear. Red tail hawks frequently ride the afternoon drafts in their search for prey. Huge white owls are an occasional sight in the deserts after the sun goes down. We have yet to encounter a big cat on the trail, but we have seen a young mountain lion while driving out of San Jacinto. Skunks, bobcats and a host of vermin travel the same trails that the humans do.
Hiking season is year round with summer hikes around 8-9,000 ft. and winter hikes at lower altitudes. On one trip, we passed through a 106 deg desert climate and finished out at the snow-covered summit with temps in the 60’s. Wind is usually a factor and its effects are significant wind chills and increased dehydration. It’s usually the reason we layer our clothing too. Often, we are peeling layers off and putting them back on to stay comfortable. We have been blessed with amazing weather but usually check the forecast before heading out.
Our favorite trails are up in the San Jacinto area, the granite peaks provide majestic views, the Jeffrey pines provide ample shade for the rest breaks that you’ll need as you climb the 2-3000 ft. elevation changes, with the average hike above 6,000 ft. If you seek solitude, hit the trail later in the day and you will run across few bipeds on your hike. Bring a headlamp, and you will be rewarded with interesting descents through the forest as the sun drops behind adjacent peaks. Many of the trails are comprised of scree from decomposed granite and are slippery. Trekking poles are invaluable tools and have saved us from many a tumble. Even more important, the poles are knee savers. They will probably make nice spears too.
The easy to moderate trails in the Laguna Mountains are like casual strolls and make for a nice getaway from the suburbs. Take a lunch and enjoy watching the waterfowl at Big Laguna Lake and be on the lookout for the foxes as they seek out the field mice in the meadows. They’re watching you from a distance, but you can usually get a good photo with a zoom lens. This area is the best for an easy hike with mountains on one side and the desert on the other. The colors at sunset are beautiful.
All in all, the Peninsular Range offers some of the best day hikes, all within 90 minutes of San Diego. We are constantly on the lookout for those obscure trails less traveled and are often rewarded with solitude, awesome scenery and a decent workout. Wherever you are my friends, just venture out and explore.
I admit to being a bit of an introvert. Maybe that is why hiking in the backcountry is so enjoyable to me. The solitude and peacefulness that one can experience is guaranteed to lower your blood pressure by ten points. Admit it, you don’t really enjoy crowds. With over 22 million people in Southern California, the thought of having a space pretty much to my wife and me is ok. If you make it to the backcountry, you will see what it’s all about. After a few hours are spent on the trail, you may notice certain sounds that are missing. You don’t hear cars, sirens, doors slamming and people talking loudly. You hear the wind blowing through the trees. You hear the woodpeckers, hawks, chipmunks and quail. The sounds of nature envelope you. You hear your footsteps as you walk, the clicking of the hiking poles on the granite. You see blue, open sky. The contrast between the terrain and horizon, especially at sunset is amazing. At night, the heavens reveal as many stars as the descendants of Abraham. The moon is so much brighter. The air seems much more crisp and cleaner.
If you are a believer, you may recognize that your surroundings in the wilderness are not just happenstance. I think the beauty was created by a God that loves us and provided this for our enjoyment.
Wildlife (Southern Cali)
Admittedly, in SoCal there aren’t many large animal encounters on the trail. Hikers typically aren’t stealthy because we actually want the large animals to hear us coming. Startling a bear or cougar is probably not a good idea. In our experience, we have come across more deer than anything else. I’ve found that the earlier (or later) you go in the day, the chances of viewing the critters are better. On the trail, it’s mostly birds, reptiles and small mammals. In the spring and summer, the rattlers are out and it’s not uncommon to run across a few.
I love to take pics on the trail; it’s a way to share my experience with others. Up until last year, I used a point and click camera. It was ok for landscapes, but not for wildlife. After getting a DSLR, my desire to take better photos increased. Now photography is another part of my hiking experience. I still don’t know much about it, but found if you take enough pics, some will turn out just fine. Just get the basics down like composition and lighting.
Most of the hiking that I do with my wife are day hikes. We tend to walk an average of 7-10 miles and try to include some decent elevation changes. We stay on the trail, but there are often side trips to check out the scenery or just to explore. Sometimes, we lose the path and bushwhack for a bit. For me, the experience of hiking is better enjoyed when you can share it with someone. My wife of over 30 years is a great partner on the trail. While we’ve had some close calls, lots of tumbles and have been a little lost, she trusts that I will get her back to the car eventually. Our time on the trail has forged a special bond within our marriage. Now, if I can just get her out on a multi-day backcountry trip. …. For now, I’ll just have to do that with the guys.
I tend to bring more stuff (proportionally) on a day hike than on a backcountry trip. Plenty of water, 1st aid kit, survival, GPS, maps, extra snacks and clothing. Sometimes the temperature varies 25-30 deg. on a day hike. We’ve hiked when it was as cold as 18 in Yosemite and as high as 98 in the Borrego Desert. In our experience, hiking in the cold was more comfortable. The heat just saps your energy.
Occasionally, I will hike solo and always let family members know my destination. A text to a family member or friend is invaluable. This year, I purchased a SPOT Messenger, a GPS locator that can send my location to friends, family members. It also functions as an emergency beacon if needed. While I don’t take risks while hiking solo, it provides some peace of mind. I used it on a hike this past summer on the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness (part of the Appalachian Trail) and our family members could track us on a daily basis. Even a couple of my coworkers followed our trip as it plots your location on Google Maps.
I’ve learned and experienced many things on the trail. After 3 years of hiking, mostly in California, I’m still quite the novice. I’ve learned to be aware of my surroundings, and have not taken a serious tumble yet. Oh, I’ve fallen in streams and came within a couple of feet of a coiled Pacific Rattler, but am convinced that I must have a guardian angel with me.
Most trails that we hike are not easy, that would be boring. Do the research, find some with hills and varied terrain. I’ve sought out guidebooks for my area like: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego: Including North, South and East Counties and Afoot and Afield: San Diego County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide Seek the obscure trails and you may be rewarded with killer views of sunsets or lush alpine meadows. Find the websites that lists the hikes. They don’t always turn out as advertised. On a couple of occasions, we’ve had to turn back due to overgrown brush. Oh, and if you tend venture off trail, take a trail map-they are invaluable. You can’t worry about bugs out here-ticks, arachnids and once a tarantula. No scorpions yet, thank goodness.
The bottom line is just get out my friends. This doesn’t only apply in SoCal, there are trails all over this great country. I guarantee after you spend a few Saturdays off the beaten path, you will be hooked.
I now use a Nikon 3300 series DSLR, a great camera for the trail: Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)
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!