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.

Forboding beauty of Hell’s Half Acre, Idaho

A designated national natural landmark and wilderness study area, Hell’s Half Acre Lava Field is a basaltic lava plain found in the desert ecosystem of the Snake River Plain of Idaho.  It consists of about 150 sq miles of other-wordly terrain created by a lava flow from about 4,100 years ago. There’s a 1/2 mile trail marked by blue poles, you can follow those to the red poles that lead you out 4.5 miles to the central vent, where the lava broke through the surface thousands of years ago  (9.4 mile round trip).

Hiking across a lava field is not for everyone, especially not for the tender footed. It’s cool, but the novelty wears off fast. While the trail is flat and easy, the terrain itself is tough and unforgiving. Lava rock is extremely sharp – like glass shards- and fragmented and the field is a trap of open cracks, gaping holes, jagged rocks and uneven, tortuous footing. It’s slow and treacherous going. One misstep can land your foot or your body in a hole. And if you trip, you’re likely to be broken, bruised or bleeding. Sneakers are not enough, the lava will eat them up. I’d recommend sturdy hiking shoes even for the short stroll. Also, it’s easy to get lost in the vast monotonous beauty of the lava field, you really have to look for those trail pole markers. Not a hike to set the kids loose on. Do not attempt the long hike in the summer as this place gets hot as hades.

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Normally, I’m up for a hiking challenge, but I was happy to keep it short here, especially when I heard the rednecks firing shotguns close by…(sigh).

Big Sky, MT: Beehive Basin Hike

Big Sky,  unlike Anaconda, has a name that captures its essence as you can see. This vista above was a big highlight on an otherwise fairly unremarkable first couple miles. I’m a bit surprised that this out and back hike in the Gallatin National Forest was rated one of the top 10 in the world.  (Guess I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.) In wildflower season, I suspect it blossoms beautifully, bewitching its visitors. November is not her best month. It’s either dry and reedy or muddy and icy, but there are shimmering sights at the basin that do reward those with the  tenacity to trudge through the thick slime and slog through the snow in the off-season…(Yes, that would be me.)

In my first video, I mistake the first, unnamed lake for the destination lake.

 

 

As for equipping myself with the bear spray, I learned that the “griz” are the most active before hibernation and there have been recent attacks in nearby  Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. Not to mention that the sign at the trail head was difficult to ignore.

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You may notice that I’m wearing a bell around my neck to alert bears of my presence. (Let’s see a bell, chocolate in my pocket -you got it, I’m a walking, talking bear toy.) Have you heard the rangers joke about how you can tell black bear scat from grizzly scat? The grizzly scat has bells in it. I’ve stopped wearing the bell as they say the bears might find the ringing intriguing (or perhaps annoying). They say it’s better just to talk loudly and make a lot of noise in areas with limited visibility. You don’t want to surprise a griz. Supposedly, they’ll hear you coming and go the other way.

 

 

The panoramic views were breathtaking. And slogging through mud, ice, and snow mean I’m getting a more intense workout. What’s not to like, right?

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Topped off a fantastic day with a feast at the Gallatin River House Grill, what a great spot on the river with outdoor seating, a band stage and volley ball court. Their Famous Flank Steak Sandwich is as outstanding as is their riverfront view. One day, I will return to see the trail in its wildflower splendor and for post hike festivities and another feast at the River House.