Southern California, August 1999

Southern California, August 1999
(Continued from Page 1)

Monday, August 16

Mike atop Cuyamaca MountainView from the peak of Cuyamaca Mtn.Yesterday was our restful day at the campsite. Today I wanted to get out and hike! We were planning on hiking 900 vertical feet up to Stonewall Peak, but the stuff I read about Cuyamaca Peak made it sound more interesting, probably worth the additional 600 vertical feet, all the way up to 6,512 feet above sea level. Supposedly you could see all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Salton Sea from the peak. Jen wasn't so sure, but I talked her into it.

We started out from the woods behind our tent at about 9 am, and quickly came out onto a limited-use park access road. According to the map, this road was our trail, and we'd follow it all the way to the top. The road had trees on both sides and we had a lot of shade despite the almost cloudless skies. After a couple hundred yards, the road started uphill. Little did we know that the rest of the trail would be virtually all uphill with hardly a level stretch. Just when we thought we had come to the top of part of the climb, we'd round the bend to look at another, steeper, incline. This happened time and again as we trudged up the hill. Maybe the thinner air took it out of us; we were over a mile high, after all. After about two hours we came upon a clearing with a spectacular view toward the Pacific Ocean. You're supposed to be able to see that far, but the horizon was kind of hazy. After taking in the view and resting again, Jen and I hit the road for the final climb to the peak. The road got steeper, and we ascended at a crawl. Twenty minutes later we arrived. There was some sort of broadcast antenna on the peak, and a couple guys with a pickup truck were working on it. We were bushed, and Jen was ready to steal the truck to ride down. Instead we sat on a rock and had lunch.

View from high up on Cuyamaca Mtn.The view from the peak was pretty good, but the landing we had stopped at earlier had a more expansive view. The peak had lots of trees around and it was hard to get a view most directions. It was satisfying to have made it the 1,500 vertical feet, 3.5 miles of hiking. Now it was time to go back down. Our legs were already aching from the atypical workout. Walking down seems like it would be easier. But there's something about stretching your legs to walk continuously downhill that makes you sore. Still, the gravity was of some help, and we managed to pull into camp a little after 1 pm, a four hour round trip. We were exhausted and wolfed down a peanut-butter and jelly lunch.

All that hiking had prepared us for a nice shower. Unfortunately in California state parks, the showers are not free. I can understand why...they are trying to save water. The trouble is that you have to have quarters, which we never carry. But we really had a problem when Jen realized we'd left our shampoo in San Diego. Whoops! Now we had to make a trip into town because the campground store was only open on weekends.

Stonewall MountainSo we hopped in our rental car and headed north, up to the old mining town of Julian. On the way we passed some county rescue units training in a field and a large helicopter hovering nearby, dangling something from a long cable. We figured it was some kind of firefighting training. Julian was a small tourist town, with its main street populated with museums, restaurants, and antique stores. We stopped at the general store and paid small-town prices for shampoo and conditioner. On the way back we stopped at a lookout area where we could see the view to the east, with a faint glimpse of the Salton Sea. An active hummingbird buzzed around us while we took in the scenery.

Back to the campground and our showers, which went fine except that I forgot my towel and had to drip dry. Then it was back in the car and back to Julian, where we stopped at the Barleywood Pitt BBQ for dinner. It was somewhat strange to be the only customers, but the food was good.

We returned to Paso Picacho around sunset. I hiked a little ways back up the mountain road to snap a picture of the sunset color on Stonewall Peak. The mosquitoes encouraged me to be quick about it. I used up my roll of film and headed back to the tent, ready to sleep off our busy day.

Tuesday, August 17

Mike in the Anza Borrego DesertA good night's sleep, despite the hard ground, the noisy Spanish-speaking campers, and the minor suspicion that an earthquake would knock a tree down on the tent. But we awoke with all the muscle soreness you'd expect after climbing a mountain. We planned on taking it easy from here on out. We had a breakfast of poptarts and coke, and then packed the tent away, ready for the day's adventure in the desert.

I had been through some outer-Phoenix desert in a car, but I never had a chance to get out and look around. We were headed for Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California's largest state park. After driving into Julian again, we headed east, down the winding mountain roads into the desert. Eventually the tree covered mountains gave way to smaller hills covered with the cacti and brush you expect in the desert. I expected a huge, flat, expanse, but here the desert was, alive on rolling hills.

Jen in the Anza Borrego DesertWe stopped the car for some pictures. It was noticeably hotter than our campsite; the sun was relentless and there wasn't a tree big enough to provide shade. The ground was covered with sharp, brown cholla cacti and larger green tree-like cacti. Then it was back into the car for the drive up into Borrego Springs, which must be some kind of winter oasis, because in August there was hardly a creature stirring. My initial thought was to visit the desert state park headquarters and find a short hiking trail, but we were both dead sore from the previous day's hiking. So we drove through town instead, finding a golf resort here and there, and lots of available real estate. It was early yet, so we weren't sure what to do before we went back to the coast. "How far away is the Salton Sea?" I asked Jen. Not far, actually.

We left on the eastbound Salton Seaway, with the gas gauge getting lower. My Southern California atlas shows Salton City as a fair sized orange blob with lots of streets, so I was reasonably assured we could fill up the car and find some lunch there. The hilly terrain leveled off a bit as we approached the inland sea. A man sat under an umbrella way off the road, a "peace and love" sign steadied against his station wagon. We waved as we drove by, into Salton City.

Salton City was not the city the orange blob led us to believe. The few buildings that were there were spaced out all over the place. The motel looked closed, and the only visible restaurant didn't look that appealing. Neither did the gas prices. I knew it would be a short stop. But we were at the destination, so we drove out the the edge of the water. A mecca for migrating birds, the "sea" was a wide expanse of blue water with the dark brown Chocolate Mountains visible on the other side. As for the smell, it was horrendous. The stagnant salt pools cooking in the sun reminded us of the Great Salt Lake. Same concept, same smell. We didn't stay long. After a quick stop for overpriced middle-of-nowhere gas,  we were on our way back, up the mountains to Julian and down the other side to Oceanside.

Eventually we were back on the Pacific Coast. Not only could you tell by the cooler temperatures and the view of the water, but you could also tell by the buildings and traffic and crowds. We cruised up I-5 and soon we were at the final overnight destination: Dana Point. It was a beach and marina with some restaurants and tourist shops around. We checked into our room. This time the "harbor view" was of the yacht basin across a huge parking lot. Again, not much to look at. At least there wasn't a busy road out the window, and it had a nice balcony where I was content to finish another few pages of the immense but enjoyable Don Quixote.

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing. Our activities were limited to a little walk along the marina and dinner at a decent Mexican chain restaurant. Plus we spent a fair amount of time reorganizing all of our gear back into the bags we flew out with.

Wednesday, August 18

Nothing much for us to do but sleep in and head for the airport. To maximize our time in California, I had opted to leave through Orange County. This provided us with the best fit for Jen's schedule. But as we sat around the hotel room and watched TV, I decided that maybe taking a red-eye out the night before wouldn't have been so would've saved us a night in a hotel room and got us back home at a more reasonable hour. But it was too late now. We headed north, refueled the car, and had some McDonald's. After that we pulled into John Wayne Airport and dropped off our rental car. This was the first car I've ever driven where the gas gauge starts directly on 'full' and immediately starts moving down while you drive. It was noticeably below 'full' not 20 miles from where I filled it up. The woman for the rental agency took it upon herself to charge me for two gallons, at $3.39 a gallon! I didn't notice this at the time, but later complained on National's website and got my seven bucks back.

Another long flight back to Pittsburgh, and then a shorter hop into Greenville-Spartanburg. Ours must have been the last flight of the day, because the airport started shutting down in a hurry. Lights were going off in the parking lot while I searched for our car. It took forever to find it. The hour drive put us in Greenwood at about 1 am. As I entered the house I heard a strange grinding noise. I followed the noise into our bedroom, to find that my 33 gallon aquarium had sprung a leak. My fish were dead and the floor was soaked. The room reeked of fish and water. We tried a little cleanup, and then Jen got to bed only a couple hours before she had to get up for work. A stressful and unpleasant ending to our otherwise fine trip to Southern California!

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Last Updated: September 8, 1999