Cuyamaca Mountains and CRHT Fun

This past weekend Nichol and I rode a modified version of the Cuyamaca Grand Loop.   It is very much looking like spring up in the Cuyamaca Mountains with lots of greenery, blooming plants and wildflowers.

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We started off from the East Mesa staging and rode the singletrack up to the park headquarters and then took the Green Valley Fireroad north.  Instead of climing Soapstone grade.  We took the Upper Green Valley singletrack north and climbed out of Cuyamaca State Park and into the Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the La Cima trail.

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You are certainly not in the desert at this point but the cool thing about the topology here is that in less that four miles the Cuyamaca Mountains drop nearly 3,000 feet into the desert proper. We topped out on the La Cima trail at about 4,880 feet.

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We rode the La Cima trail west to the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) where we the turned south.  This section of the CRHT is really sweet with some great views of the grassland of the Lake Cuyamaca Basin area.   This section of the CRHT is about 2.5 miles long and about halfway through this section you leave Anza Borrego State Park and cross back into Cuyamaca State Park.  The trail connects back up with Soapstone Grade fireroad at the top of the grade and we continued along the Grand Loop rout to the east.   In years past the state park had the California Riding and Hiking Trail closed to bikes in virtually all sections that were singletrack.  They have sense changed there mindset (Thanks to some tireless advocacy work by SDMBA!) and many more sections of the CRHT are now open in the park.  Instead of taking the pavement from Soapstone Grade Road out to Hwy 79 (I think the pavement is called Stonewall Creek Road??), We took the CRHT singletrack.

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The CRHT uses sections of the Minshall, Los Vaqueros and Vern Whitaker trails.  These are some nice sections of singletrack.  They do undulate a handful of times that is going to add your day’s effort but I put the cardio costs well worth it to enjoy these trails.  The CRHT comes out less than 50 yards south of the where the pavement meets up with Hwy 79.  There is also a junction with the northern end of the Cold Stream Trail.  The original plan was to turn right and continue along the Grand Loop route and do Milk Ranch Road and maybe a climb up Middle Peak.   Considering how cool the last section of the CRHT was and the open to bike signs for the next section across the highway,  we opted to continue along the CRHT.

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We immediately noticed that next section saw far less travel that across the highway.   Most of the users are obviously following the road to the north or the Cold Stream trail to the south.  I dig riding on trails that are sometimes defined by matted down grass.  There was also some rocky technical bits that added some nice character to the trail.   At the Azalea Glen trail junction the CRHT become make off-limits to bikes.   This was disappointing and turn west to ride the Azalea Glenn Loop trail which is open to bikes.   This lead us to the Paseo Picaho Campground.  We wanted to get up on the Azalea Fire Road and Fern Flat Fire Road to close off the Grand Loop but we now had to cover quite of elevation over a shorter distance.   A grunting we would up Lookout Road.

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Once we made it up to Fern Flat fire road we turn south and enjoy some mighty long stretches of downhill cruising that took us back down to the West Side single track near the start of the ride.   All together it was 22.1 miles with 3,190 feet of climbing so we definitely earned the post-ride beers and BBQ and Alpine Beer Company.

Another Cruise in Cuyamaca

Nichol and I went back up to Cuyamaca State Park this past weekend for another ride.  We started at the staging area by the San Diego River and went up the west-side connector trail to the Visitor Center

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From there we took the Green Valley fire road up through the valley to the bottom of Soapstone Grade.

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Instead of making the left hander and going up Soapstone Grade fire road which is part of the Cuyamaca Grand Loop,  we continued straight onto the Upper Green Valley Trail and climbed up to the La Cima trail that roughly parallels Sunrise Highway. This section of trail was fairly rocky which extracts some additional energy out of you beyond what the grade would tell. As you near the top of the trail you leave Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and enter the Anza Borrego State Park.

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We then took the La Cima trail west and enjoyed some sweet flowing mostly downhill singletrack for a couple of miles.

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When then turned south onto the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT).   This a is really nice section of singletrack that offers some great views of Lake Cuyamaca and the surrounding grasslands.

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For the first half of this section you are doing some mild climbing before the trail transitions into mild descending with good flow.

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Just before the CRHT joins up with Soapstone Grade fire road at top of that fire road’s steep climb you leave the Anza Borrego State Park and reenter Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  From here we turned east on Soapstone Grade fireroad for about a mile of flat land cruising.

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We then took the Stonewall Creek fireroad south from here which shed off elevation fairly quickly back down into Green Valley.  There are both some rocky and sandy sections on this fire road that if not handled well, can lead to an unplanned dismount at speed which could be hard to stick the landing.   Stonewall Creek fireroad connected back to the Green Valley fireroad where we retraced our route back to the truck.  This was a little over a 17-mile lollipop shaped route that had a little over 1,800 feet of climbing involved.   This was Nichol’s longest and hardest ride to date that offered some new technical challenges for her.  To celebrate a ride well done that did not include any blood letting we sampled some of the offerings from Nickel Beer Company in Julian before chasing down some Mexican food.   It was a good day to be on a mountain bike.

Exploration on the CRHT

So for the last couple of weeks I have been out exploring and researching the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) here in San Diego County.   The history of this trail dates back to 1945 when the state legislature  passed the California Riding and Hiking Trails Act which called for a 3,000 mile multi-use loop trail between Oregon and Mexico.  The 3,000 miles never happened but over 1,000 miles did get built/designated.  Here in San Diego county there is about 108 miles of the trail with only 76 of being used. A portion of those 76 miles are having legal/access issues as some land-owners (not just private but other government agencies) are denying access to the public right of way easements.   It is worth noting that the County Parks and Recreation Department has officially put this trail into its Master Trails Plan.  Most of my research has been using their official GIS data on where they recognize the trails to be.  There are some deltas between their data and the current and/or historical trail that can actually be found.  The trail segments vary in quality from sublimely superb to completely obliterated by pavement.  There is a lot more to tell here and I hope to gather up and publish some of the information on the various segment issues in the future.

The trail passes through some of the trail systems that I have reviewed on the site.  The  Otay Mountain Loop, Hollenbeck Canyon, Cuyamaca State Park, and Oriflamme Canyon Loop reviews all have a segments of the CRHT passing through them.  The Warner Springs area has been my latest bit of on the ground research on the CRHT route.

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There are still bits to the original trail (as intended) still in use and accessible.

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Back in the 1940s and 1950s when many of the section were designated that used old truck trails, cattle routes and farm roads as the trail.   That might have been okay back then but as civilization came along some of those truck trails and farm roads have been widened and paved making them completely worthless as a trail.   It seems that there was never any mitigation made to reroute the trail.   Pictured above here is an old chapel that is still on a dirt road that the CRHT uses.

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Lost Valley Road (Which on some maps is called Lost Creek Road) is one of those segments where the CRHT used this dirt road that has since been paved (still single wide)  and the trail was not rerouted.   This would be a nice dirt road climb with good views of the valley below.

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The picture above is of the gate on the CRHT that uses the abandoned section of Lost Valley Road.  A 1/2 mile up the CRHT the PCT joins onto the CRHT.  Now keeping in mind that bicycles are allowed on the CRHT there is a bit of interesting co-use going on.  For  9/10ths of a mile the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) uses the CRHT trail as its route and of course all of the PCT signage says “NO BIKES”.   Now the Pacific Crest Trail was not established until 1968 a full 23 years after the CRHT.   This is not the only place were PCT co-use antics occur.  Up in the San Gabriel mountains, a 1/4mile section of the PCT was rerouted onto the Burkhart trail (a nice long open to bikes single-track) and the PCT folks tried to close that 1/4th mile section of the Burkhart trail to bikes.  It is complete onsense.

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Here is a view along the section of the 9/10ths of a miles of the CRHT discussed above.

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A fair portion of the CRHT route in this area sees far to much of this action.   Landowners illegally denying access to a public right of way easement.  The CRHT uses the dirt road pictured above but the Vista Irrigation District has removed all of the CRHT trail signs and has locked the gates.

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 It also looks they have removed some of these notices as well.

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This is just one of the tasty bits of trail that these landowners are attempting to deny the public access too.  I’m going to publish more information in the future as I gather it up. In the interim here is a Google Earth file (KML) extracted from the San Diego County GIS data base.  It also has some additional data in it and is what I consider a working document.

Update to the Otay Mountain Loop

It came to my attention some time ago that the segment of the California Riding and Hiking Trail that I used as part of my Otay Mountain Loop has gotten horribly overgrown.    

It was pretty faint in spots back in 2008.  I have updated my page to reflect that riders may want to go around on the road.   Or better yet, check out this route and take some pruning gear along on you. 🙂

Southbay Father’s Day Ride

Bright and early on Father’s Day, I jumped into the truck and headed down to the Southbay area of the county.   Jamul would be the closest town for a Father’s Day ride with some of the Bonita Biker’s crew.    We met up at the 1,000 trails RV park on Otay Lakes Road.

There were lots of folks I had not meet before.   Ali, “Mr Izi, Jose, James, Gil, Rob were some of the name I caught.  Forgive me (and contact me) if I missed your name.  The ride today was billed as a social ride on some of the fireroads in the and Jamul Mountains.  Having not spent much time in this area I was interested.   We started off north and worked our way through some valleys until we came to a bit of San Diego history.

This is the remenants of the Jamul Cement Works factory which first started making cement in March of 1891.   Jose knew the history of this place quite  well and was quite the cultural tourguide here.    The San Diego Historical Society has a good article on the history of this place that is well worth a read.    Don’t miss the link to the period photographs of the plant.

A couple of barn owls call this place home and we spooked them off as we approached.  At the bottom of the kilns were lots of scat and bones of small rodents.   It was quite the little killing field these nocturnal birds of prey had going.

A view from the inside looking out.

Once back to rolling we had a bit of climbing to do.  It was not long but it had some steepness to it.  Rob made it look almost easy with the Big Hit.

Another view of some uphillage

Israel trying to break a sweat.

After the climbing section we dumped off all of the elevation rather quickly.  There were some mighty  silty sections on the fireroad descent that made following someone really interesting.  I wanted to call the descent “Powder Puff” hill.   Once back down the valley floor we did bit of untrammeled trail riding to connect back to the 1,000 trails RV park.  I thought a section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail went through here, but it may have been destoryed in the fires that went through here a few years back.   Something to investigate later.

A handful of folks had to split at this point for some early Father’s Day commitments.   The rest of us set out to do a loop to the south of Otay Lakes Road.   It was a  fireroad affair, but it was still pretty cool being new dirt for me.   Before we started climbing in earnest we enjoyed the shade of some large oaks which were just past the line were the 2007 wildfire was stopped in this area.   Once we turned up hill there were some mild grinding to to for a bit as we worked up out of a valley.

On a climb.

Along the way we went by an old well.  It had older wooden parts down below and somewhat newer stone work up near the top.  There was still water in the well.

We would do a bit more of ridgeline climbing before turning the bikes back down for another fast and silty descent followed by a quick road connect back to the 1,000 trails RV park and some waiting refreshements.   All together it was about a 16-17 miles jaunt.   Not a big ride but plenty interesting with good folks to boot.  A good time indeed that had me home with plenty of time to enjoy Father’s Day with the family.

Oh My Otay

Yesterday I managed to pull off a mid-week epic that I think I’m going to call the Otay Loop.   Boy what a doozie.  I started at the Marina at Otay Lakes and rode along the southwest corner of the lake and then cut through Lower Otay County Park down into the Otay Valley and climbed out of the valley to the south on a fireroad.   I then worked my way over to the the Otay Mountain Truck Trail.  

Bottom of Windmill Canyon

 I had a nice big climb up Otay Mountain.   My GPS did had a couple of blips early in the ride but I had already registered something like 3,900+ feet climbing .  The Truck Trail took me up to the intersection of the Minnewawa Trail at an area known as “Doghouse Junction”

Downtown from Otay Mountain

 The descent from there down the Minnewawa Trail was mighty darn zippy and seemed to be over way too quickly.   The trail dumps you out right at the 1,000 Trails RV Park Otay Lakes Rd (HWY 94). 

Descending Otay Mountain

I crossed the road into the park on the other side of the road and proceed west through the RV park.   At the end of the RV park I picked up a segment of the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT).  This area was burned in the 2007 Firestorm.  The rate of regrowth was pretty amazing forcing me to use “the force” to follow the trail in some sections.  In some of the steeper hillside sections, rocks had erroded down onto the trail make it technical in spots.  Combined with shin-high grass over the trail and things got really interesting.  

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I followed the CRHT for a couple miles until Otay River crossed under Otay Lakes Road.  I hopped on the pavement for about 1.5 miles or so until I hit the eastern entrace to the Otay Lake Park.  

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 I cruised out to a point on the lake on a bit of old pavement.  Once out at the point I picked up some nice pretty buff singletrack heading north up the east side of the lake.  From here the navigation was pretty darn easy.  Take any left you like and don’t go in the water.  I must have ridden at least 6 or 7 miles of single track as I worked my way back around the north and west sides of the lake to get back to my truck. 

Otay Lakes Singletrack

Once I strighten out my GPS tracks I’ll know for sure but it looks like this was about a 35 mile adventure with about 4,000 feet of climbing.   I really dug this ride and I need to do some more exploring around Otay Lake with the Bonita Bikers crew.

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Look for a full review on the site in the coming weeks.

-Bill