Finding Cuyamaca : California Nevada Dec'14 Series #1

12/17/2014 03:09:00 PM

view near the Cuyamaca lake, Canon 450D, Tokina 11-16

About 40 miles away from South San Diego, when I took a left turn from National Hwy 8, I never had the slightest of the idea, that I'd be in for a 'surprise of the trip' here. The Charming winding roads, cattles grazing, rustic old victorian architecture, beautiful ranches in midst of the oak forests, red and orange hues of fall colors ( still there in december) and the grass in color pallete I can not possibly describe. From the sea level I was suddenly standing on a lake shore, at an elevation of about 5000 ft, trying to get a glimpse of a vast valley and the mountains, hidden in the mist.

Out in the wilderness here in USA multiple times now, I do not carry any plan any more. We just land at a certain city, hire a car and get on the road. Though the limited time, doesn't allow a satisfactory level of discovering the landscape, I feel its a good recce for the future trips. Because once the terrain is somewhat familiar, its easy to venture out for a deeper exploration, i.e. a couple of days of hiking, or even photography trips for that matter, because, while on the road, I hardly do justice to the place, just stopping the car in the corner and taking a quick shot, that my friend, is no way photography.

So landing in San Diego, we thought we'll do something backcountry in the SD-LA-LV (no sea world or zoo of course) circuit. it may or may not have bigger names, I wanted to camp at the beach for a night, and perhaps go to 1-2 national parks, and thats all what was the so called plan. Then I remembered "Salton Sea" from a bucket-list post i wrote sometime back, ( link here, I'd write more about my experience in upcoming posts) and decide to head there the very first morning.

There is no road trip with out a roadmap right? to make it easy to follow, here I have attached a approximate map of the entire trip. The two arches, beginning San diego - El Cojan, entering in to quite pretty Cleveland National Forest Area, then heading north to Anza-borrego desert park and reaching south most corner of the Salton sea, and here's what I felt about this part before the trip = umm.. Not Interested.

You may now question, then why would I take this route, if I was n't that interested in area. not interested in many way, is not so excited, not so explored on google map- the little research I do, or somewhat ignored, and definitely not someplace I am planning to spend a lot of time at. I took the route because, I hate freeways and national highways, good for speed, but you can not possibly slowdown or stop to see. On the contrary the two lane state highways are mostly the back country, old roads, many historical, well maintained ( rarely in bad condition), low traffic in comparison to the highways, and the surroundings are more scenic than anywhere else. In this case it led right in the state park, not one but  2 or more, and even though I was not too keen on exploring the state parks, anything and everything is better than the time spent driving on the boring freeways, I thought.

California | Julian | iPhone 4S | PS CS6
On the road to Julian, SH79, iPhone4S

I may be on the road with lot of conviction, "going with the flow" and be ready for surprises, but I, like everyone else, am not immune to choices, I too have bucket-lists, things I want to see and those I don't, contradicting my own words of wisdom. seriously, who cares about small state-parks yeah? and when I do that, thats exactly when I get a tight slap on my face by mother nature. Did I not tell you to not be biased, and explore what may come? - She reiterates.

I am kind of in hurry to reach the dead sea and abandoned flats, But, what I see in front me is something I did not expect, and now can not comprehend, Isn't that I was out on the road for? The SH-79 also called Cuyamaca Highway, looks like a deserted exit out of NH-8, at the first glance. the road is narrow, slowly gaining the elevation, and what looks like to be entering in the valley, through the dry forest land of a small town Descanso. it is nothing appealing, until you see the reforestation when you enter the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and then its one surprise after another.

Entering the two mountain ranges of Laguna and Cuyamaca that host a few Six thousands+ ft mountains such as Cuyapaipe, Stonewall and Cuyamaca Peaks, from south san diego area, is like entering another world, the terrain transitions into mountain top conifer and broadleaf forests, meadows tucked in like little jewels in a garland like peninsula. I doubt I know the name of exact viewpoint I first stopped at, but below is how it looked like, I was earlier speculating if these barren trees are in such state due to winter, the forests looked heavily condensed, however, there was no lack of fall colors in early december as I witnessed the hues of orange dispersed all over in the jungle beyond the layers of hills.

poonamparihar_cuyamaca_MG_0018-PCuyamaca Rancho State Park, Canon 450D, Tokina 100mm

On my return from the trip, when I was looking in to one of the govt forests protection websites, I learnt, there is one reforestation project going on in this mountain range and the state park, after the massive damage that incurred after the Cedar fire in 2003, so I am guessing this view may be somewhat related, someone local may have more knowledge about the flora though.

Pretty clear until this point, the road ahead is wrapped in the mist, traversing through pale yellow grass meadows, and deep green oak woodland forest. At the average elevation of about 5000ft, One or two vehicles pass us by in both directions as we stop to soak a little of mountain beauty, but mostly there are not many visitors, until we reach the Lake Cuyamaca, which is very close to the Old world - Gold mining town Julian, and has cars lined up in the parking area near the restaurant. we stopped a little ahead of the recreational area as the view of the lake from this side was somewhat blocked. At about 2:30PM PST we reached Julian and since we had a long way ahead ( now I am thinking I should have stopped there a while and explored), took a right towards north 78 and Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the journey I will be talking about in the next post.

California | Cuyamaca Rancho State Park | iPhone 4S | PS CS6
Cuyamaca Mountains, iPhone 4S

Not ashamed to admit, one of the many things that I did not know about before this trip, was this area was big huge part of Gold Rush in late1800s, I had long read about Death Valley Gold rush, but never about these range of mountains. Interestingly 26000 acres of Cuyamaca, isn't the only park around here, but it hosts few other county parks and there are at least 100 miles of riding and hiking trails, including the Cuyamaca Peak Trail which climbs to the 6,512-foot summit with a spectacular view of the Pacific coastline, Colorado Desert, Mexico, and the Salton Sea. There are proven reports of mountain lions here btw. But here is the best part, Its an all season wilderness experience, it snows in winter here, fall colors are gorgeous, and from what I see on flickr, when the valley is covered in wildflowers from head to toes, is when Cuyamaca looks it best. Dont believe me? Go search "Cuyamaca Wildflowers on flickr". All this, and I was thinking it'll be just burned grass and grey desert, Clearly the road is full of surprise, I mean who knew?

Pine Valley, San Diego Back County California | iPhone4S | PS CS6
Bordering Cuyamaca, Anza-Borrego, Harrison Park, iPhone 4S

to be continued....

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