Exploring California Parks’ Crown Jewel: Magnificent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A crown jewel indeed. Point Lobos is absolutely breathtaking. The pristine natural beauty here is brimming with life. A small park from a hiking trail mileage perspective  – about 6 miles total – this park delivers big with stunning, spectacular vistas. Here, you’ll encounter plant communities, archeological sites, geological formations, and the incredibly rich flora and fauna of the rugged turf and rolling surf. There’s also a whaling museum on site.

 

Blue Heron Mediataion
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Charming, Secluded Coves
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The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

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Sea Blues by Monastery Beach
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Wildflowers and Wild Views
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Point Lobos is home to 3 species of trees: the Monterey Pine, the Coast Live Oak, and the Monterey Cypress.  The Allan Memorial Grove in Point Lobos is a native stand for the Monterey Cypress, which is listed  as a Category 1 rare and endangered species,

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This is an absolute must do if you’re in the area. The trails are all quite accessible and you don’t have to go far to feel like you in the midst of the coastal wild. If you’re like me, you won’t want to leave. It’s a mesmerizing, magical place. (It’s like California before man.) We are so fortunate to have this area preserved. So grateful to the Point Lobos Foundation for protecting this natural wonder and national treasure. A great destination for nature lovers, painters, photographers, poets and all artists and pantheists alike. (The foundation actually puts on a poetry walk / Haiku hike- how cool is that???!)

This is my bliss. Soaking in the natural beauty as I channel Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddling

Given that Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of California’s richest marine habitats, it is a scuba diver’s, snorkeler’s, kayaker’s, stand-up paddler’s paradise with 70 foot kelp forests  brimming with lingcod, rockfish, harbor seals and sea otters.

Diving is allowed only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required.  Reservations are recommended for the weekdays and are a must for weekends and holidays.

Stand-up-paddle and kayaking are also allowed in the Reserve. (There’s a $10 fee to launch from Whaler’s Cove. You can also launch from Monastery Beach, 1/4 mile north of the park.) This would be an exceptional way to explore the captivating coves and coastal. Surprised I didn’t see anyone kayaking or stand-up paddling here; it was a perfect day with glassy calm water. Next time, I’m going for a SUP tour of my own. And yes, there will be a next time, because once you visited, all you can think about is going back.

Notes:

Poison oak flourishes here and is everywhere. While the park does its best to keep the trails clear and rope off areas, they can’t keep up with the robust growth. Pants and long sleeves are recommended. Keep an eye on young children with wandering hands…

No pets allowed in the reserve or left in parked cars.

Keep a minimum 50 feet away from marine mammals.

Dangerous conditions, including rip currents occur – be ocean-wise and safe.

Hours: 8AM-7PM

Address: 62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Fees: You can park and enter for free via Coast Highway (their small parking lot is often full), otherwise it’s $10 to park, $5 for Seniors & Disabled.

Stunning Stonewall Peak Hike, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak‘s little sister, Stonewall Peak, (5,730 feet) outshines her big sister with her stunning granite crown, haunting tree skeletons (remnants of the Cedar Fire) and lovely vistas of Cuyamaca State Park and out to Anza  Borrego. Before I moved to North County and started exploring the area, I had no idea that all this wonderful natural beauty is an easy drive from greater San Diego.

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Gradual ascent on a friendly trail

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Expansive views
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Interesting rock formations along the way
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Stairway to heavenly vistas

 

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Something about these beautiful trees and boulders
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A bit crowded at the actual peak – silly people looking down at their phones
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Lovely Lake Cuyamaca views on the way down
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A sprinkling of dazzling wildflowers

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Planning your Cuyamaca adventure

You can make it a day or a weekend adventure and do as much or as little hiking as you like. Ambitious, fit hikers can take on both peaks (Cuyamaca & Stonewall)  in a day. For the less ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities to add on easy short strolls by the lake and up to Stonewall Mine. Lots of wildlife viewing with trails for the whole family. Stay tuned for my next post. Happy trails!

The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes: This is the most popular hike in the park so go early to avoid the crowds. After you reach the Stonewall Peak spur trail and make a right, there’s a really short scramble over some rocks before you hit the last rocky stairway.  Keep your eyes open for the metal handrails.  On the way back, I recommend taking a right at the junction for a different route down ton what becomes a pleasant single track trail d. At about 3.7 miles, you come to a trail intersection. Make the left onto Vern Whitaker Trail. Shortly after that (around 3.9 miles) there’s another junction, continue to stay left. At 4.2 miles or so,you’ll encounter another side trail; stay your course to the left again.

Miles: ~<4 miles rt if you just go up and down the main trail.  My scenic route adds about a mile & a half for ~5.5 miles rt.

Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Terrain: Mostly sweet, clear terrain (as in trail runnable). It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while near the top so watch your footing. .The single track down was mostly friendly.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take.

Trailhead: Across the street from the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

On the loose, hiking Cuyamaca Peak, San Diego County, CA

It’s relatively easy to “bag” the second highest peak in San Diego County as it tops out at just 6,515 feet. You’ve got a choice between two routes or a combo of them. I opted for the scenic trails up and took the paved  road down to make a loop. Views were good on both routes, but far more solace, solitude and wildflowers on the less traveled, natural trail.

In 2003, the Cedar Fire , California’s biggest  wildfire (started by a lost hunter who lit a signal fire that burned out of control) decimated 290, 278 acres, including 90% of the Park’s 24,700 acres. The ravages from that fire are still rampant, but these formerly rich forest (oaks, willows, adlers, and sycamore tress, cedar, white fir, ponderosa, Coulter, sugar and Jeffrey pine) and meadowlands are slowly making a comeback.  More than 100 bird species abound in the park, including acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers and red tailed hawks, Mammals you might encounter here include gray fox, badger, bobcat, mountain lion and deer.

Azalea Glen Loop
Azelea Glen Loop Trail

sign If you reach this sign, refill you water at the spring, but you want to turn back and follow the fireroad about a 1/4 mile to the Coneja Trail connector and take that on up to the peak.

 

At the top

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a clear day so the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego Desert to the east and Pacific coastline to the west and all the mountain vistas surrounding were a bit difficult to discern.

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Is it just me or does the burnt tree in the picture above evoke an Indian chief bowing his head?  (Kumeyaay Indians occupied the Cuyamaca mountains from antiquity until around 1857.)

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You can document your peak bagging effort by opening this box and signing in.

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vestiges fire and view
Views to Lake Cuyamaca and the Valley below
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A framed view of Stonewall Peak
Stonewall peak closer up
A closer view of Stonewall Peak

There are plenty of other trails to explore nearby including a switchback trail up and down alluring Stonewall Peak (4 miles rt) and hidden waterfalls somewhere…(I’ll let ya know when I find them.) If I’d had more time I would have done Stonewall too. (The trail head is right across the campground entrance.) There’s more than a 100 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and a select number for mountain biking here. I’ll be back.

Planning your excursion

You can make a day or a weekend of your Cuyamaca adventure. The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes

Miles: 7.7 miles rt (Or just 5 miles rt if you take the paved road both ways.)

Elevation:  1700 ft gain/ loss

My route: Azelea Glen Loop to Azalea Glen Road. Make a right on the Azalea Fire Road, a left on the single track Conejo Trail that comes up in a 1/4 mile. The Conejo Trail hooks up with Lookout Fire Road about a 1/2 mile from the top – the steepest portion.)

Terrain: Mostly sweet, soft terrain (as in trail runnable), until you get to the Conejo Trail. It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while on there so watch your footing. (Another reason I chose the paved road downhill.)

Difficulty: Moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take. The 1/2 mile incline at the top is tough, but it’s all quite reasonable. I brought hiking poles but did not bring take them on the trail and was fine. (I have bad knees.) It would be a bit relentless to take the paved road up. (I wouldn’t mind trying it on a mtb bike. Heard about some people who did on road bikes – that’s a little nutty. Took me 2 hours up and 40 minutes down – no running…

Trailheads: Both the paved Lookout Fire Road & the Azelea Glen Loop begin at the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

 

 

 

Dinosaurs, Mastodons and Saber-Tooth Tigers —oh my! Galletta Meadows Field Trip, Anza Borrego.

Thanks to the owner of Galleta Meadows Estate, Dennis Avery, there’s an incredible al fresco metal art sculpture exhibition to be discovered in Anza Borrego. Over 130 metal sculptures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda seem to appear out of nowhere in the barren, dramatic landscape. With a little imagination, you’re transported to the prehistoric times of dinosaurs, mastodons and saber-tooth tigers.

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The exhibition spans about 10 square miles. Many of the sculptures can be seen from the road; others require some driving, hiking or mountain biking in on sandy roads. Some are in clusters, others quite spread out. You never now what kind of creature you’ll encounter next. Highlights include a giant scorpion, a 350 foot-long sea dragon and so many more. I’ll leave you to discover the rest yourself. My favorites, as you can tell, were the prehistoric sculptures.

It’s definitely worth seeing and no doubt a blast for the kids.

Getting there: Take the S22 into Anza Borrego and cruise the valley looking at both sides of the road. (If you want a guided map for the sculptures, you can pick one up at the visitor center in town.)

 

 

Exploring the Goat Canyon Trestle by Mountain Bike, Jacumba, CA

Deep in the heart of the Jacumba Mountains overlooking Carrizo Gorge in Anza Borrego State Park, you’ll find the Goat Canyon Trestle. Getting to the world’s largest curved wooden trestle is like being transported to the wild west of days done by. You’ll traverse dark tunnels in various stages of collapse, dodge rock slides, narrowly avoid precipitous drops into rock canyons, explore abandoned trains and endure the blazing desert sun. If this is your idea of fun, read on. Ok, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s an easy, flat mtb cruise or a longish flat hike through some very cool (pun intended) desert terrain.

(Video credit and pics I’m in below: Ken Wells)

It’s slow going as there are several points where you have to lift your bike over one obstacle or another. You can’t speed through because you never know what’s around the next corner or if the bottom might drop out in front of you.

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Be alert and cautious all the way out and back. Headlamps are a must for the tunnels, lots of obstacles in there. Workout-wise, it’s easy – safety-wise, it could be considered a bit sketchy.

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As you bike along the railway, sometimes the path is quite narrow with a precipitous drop into the rocky canyon below. A moment of distraction could make for a very bad day. Wouldn’t suggest mountain biking for kids here, unless they are quite skilled and cautious riders.

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Up close, the trestle seems a bit rickety, like a skinny, dilapidated Jenga set.

 

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Background: The trestle was built in 1933, as part of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, aka “the impossible railroad” that ran through Baja California and Eastern San Diego County and ended in Imperial Valley. Over the years, collapsed tunnels and rock slides plagued the railroad, including the collapse of Tunnel 15, which led to the creation of the trestle. The trestle was constructed of wood (no nails used), rather than metal due to the area’s extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lead to “metal fatigue” / failure and it was designed with a 14 degree angle to offset Goat Canyon’s high winds. By 2008, rail traffic had ceased.  As recently as last year, another tunnel, Number 6, near the trestle collapsed…(Yikes.)

Distance: Roundtrip 10 -14 miles, depending on where you start

Getting there: 8E from San Diego, take the Jacumba Exit

Parking: Park for free in the dirt lot right off the freeway at the Jacumba exit and follow the dirt portion of Carrizo Gorge Road 2 miles towards the DeAnza Spring Resort, the largest “clothing optional” resort in North America. Optionally, pay $5 to park at the resort.  1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.  There’s a Subway & gas station right off the freeway. You can also grab a bite & beer at the resort after your ride…20180421_102928.jpg

Note: This is the desert, plan accordingly – ample water, sunscreen, hat, etc…

 

Discovering Torrey Pines State Park’s Lovely Little Sista: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension

In many ways, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension, the quiet younger park outshines her excessively popular, bigger sister. Especially if you like your nature served up with a bit of solitude as I do mine.  This area was acquired in 1970, 11 years after Torrey Pines itself became an official State Park thanks to the work of local conservation groups.

The pros: You still get stellar (though more distant) views of the glimmering Pacific and bedazzling Penasquitos Lagoon (if it’s a clear day) and close-ups of the dramatic red, other-worldy, sculpted, sandstones cliffs and Torrey Pines. Some of the trails are boarding rows of McMansions so you don’t quite escape from suburbia unless you put your blinders on.

 

The cons: There trails are really short and easy on sandstone or sandy terrain. (Could be considered a pro for some, I know.) Apparently there’s some way to eek out 4 miles, not sure how. You’ll be hard-pressed to get in a workout here – unless you run them quickly. Also, there is no beach access.

When I went there were no trail maps in the box so I just meandered through the network of short trails. You can’t really get lost. If you’re going, you may want to check out the online map first.

To share a “secret” locale or not, that is the question.

I’ve lived in the Sand Diego area for about a decade and had never heard of this area. This spot is relatively quiet and underutilized. Yes, it’s nice to keep it that way so am I betraying it by writing this post? Well, this is part of a State Park, which means it is open to the public and shouldn’t be a secret. So on one hand, I believe it’s appropriate to share the information. And I believe, perhaps naively, that people who love this sort of place will respect it and tread lightly. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it get overrun. (Much controversy surrounds the instagram and  social sharing phenomenon.) Then again, since this place is part of a State Park, I imagine that park officials would intervene as necessary should the area become compromised due to excessive use. Tell me, what’s your opinion of sharing vs. keeping your favorite spots secret?

Warning soapbox

It seems strange that the signs and literature at Torrey Pines State Park don’t make any reference to this area. It almost feels like the Del Mar locals (who may include some of the original conservationists) have played a role in keeping this on down low. Ok, am I approaching conspiracy theory level yet? (I’m just saying it seems awfully convenient that they have managed to keep the trail and the views all to themselves and their dogs.) Dogs, you say? Are they allowed? No, they aren’t and there are “No Dogs” signs posted everywhere. Yet, of the half dozen or so people we ran into, most had their 4-legged companions with them. Not only that, when we started out on the trail a Golden Retriever bounded down from the one of the homes and raced in front of us, eager to guide  us through “his park”. Hey, I’m a dog lover, but there’s a reason they’ve posted no dog signs everywhere, right? Fragile ecosystem, etc…I guess if you live in Del Mar, the rules don’t apply to you. Ok, maybe not all the hikers with dogs were from Del Mar, but chances are…

Getting there: From I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit. Head west on Del Mar Heights Road for approximately half a mile. Turn left onto Mercado Drive, then left onto Cordero Road. Make a right onto Mira Montana Drive and follow it to the end where you’ll find a couple parking spots and a trail head next to Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Parking and entry is free. There are other access points in the neighborhood with ample parking along the street.

Notes

No Dogs (Even though plenty of entitled peeps and pooches were violating this rule.)

No Bikes

Palomar Mountain Field Trip: Fun for everyone – hike, fish, astronerd or simply enjoy epic views.

Headed to Palomar Mountain with hiking in mind and got much more out of the excursion than expected.

The drive up the South Grade (S6) mountain road is winding and scenic. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving. Apparently this road has been compared to the L’Alpe d’Huez on the Tour de France Route so it’s popular with road cyclists, motorcyclists and sports car drivers too… Beware of those dare devil motocyclists crossing the center line as they race down the mountain

The clouds and fog made for some dramatic vistas on the way up.

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The small park headquarters has a mini natural history exhibit. I didn’t know we had gray fox around here. Signs were up about a recent mountain lion sighting in the park.

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Hiking Scoop

As far as the hiking here goes, most trails are short and dogs aren’t allowed on them. We did the longest loop we could find, starting at the Doane Pond, which is open for fishing year round and stocked with trout. It’s a  great spot for a picnic too.

Overall, the terrain is easy on the feet – mostly dirt, not too many rocks or roots. It’s ideal for a quick trail run. (Note the seasonal tick and rattle snake warnings.)

We went up the Thunder Springs and the Silver Crest Trails and down Scott’s Cabin Trail and Chimney Flats. (Spoiler alert  – the trails name is a misnomer as there is no standing cabin, just a placard at the site with no historic details on it or in the park’s brochure). The hike is interrupted by the road a couple times and the road is always within a stones throw. The good news – you won’t get lost. The bad news, if you’re a hiking snob like me, it’s a bit anticlimactic, but that’s ok – the views along the ridge, at the Boucher Hill Fire Tower, and by the Observatory are quite epic. And the road and the drive by locations make it accessible for all.

Here’s a video clip of a particularly lovely section of trail.

 

 

Tree lovers will delight in the variety that this section of the Cleveland National Forest yields:  Douglass fir, white fir, incense cedar, live oak, black oak, coulter pine and yellow pine. Approximately 40 inches of annual rainfall keeps them thriving. Of course all these trees make it a haven for birds and bird lovers as well.

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We saw all but the quail today.

Camping Scoop

The Doane valley Campground has 31 campsites, each outfitted  with a table, fire ring, BBQ and food locker. Nearby restrooms have flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers. Many comforts of home in a forest setting – great for an introduction to camping. The Cedar Grove Campground has 3 areas for group camping.  For more info and to reserve a spot up to 7 months in advance call 1-800-444-7275.

Enjoy Epic Views from the Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower

The Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower is definitely worth a stop too – whether you drive by or hike the 1.2 miles up from the visitor center. This is one of only 2 fire towers left  in California. From the observation deck, you don’t even have to use the provided binocular gizmo to see the glimmering Pacific ~50 miles away.

 

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Even with my bad eyes, I could make out Tamarack Tower / Smoke Stack that marks my home beach. You have to know what to look for to make it out in the video, but you can definitely tell that you’re looking out to sea.

 

 

Visit the Impressive Palomar Observatory & Museum

And no, the field trip’s not over yet. Next, we headed over to the Palomar Observatory.  The structure itself is quite impressive (see feature photo), but it’s definitely worth looking inside. (Hours are 9-4 daily.) The Hale Telescope is considered one of most important scientific innovations of the last century and was the most productive and prominent telescope in the world from 1948 to 1993.

 

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Don’t miss the Museum either. It’s got great displays, info and videos. The small gift shop was closed as we got there late, but I’m sure there’s some cool stuff and souvenirs for the kids in there too.

 

If you aren’t an astronomy or science buff going in, you might be when you leave. ..

So many fun things to do, see and learn here. Highly recommend Palomar Mountain as a field trip for the whole family. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Almost forgot to mention, be sure to bring a water bottle and get your fill of refreshing fresh (and free) spring water on the way up or down at the Palomar Artesian Springs.

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Cheers and happy trails!