Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ramona - Black Canyon - Mesa Grande - Santa Ysabel morning group ride

I normally go explore unfamiliar roads on my own, but last Wednesday a few friends volunteered to come with me to check out Black Canyon Road, the unpaved back route connecting Ramona with Mesa Grande Indian Reservation. We had quite a road party!

Sunrise in Ramona, Ca.
We carpooled up to Ramona early enough in the morning to catch this pretty sunrise and a sky full of cirrus clouds. There wasn't much traffic on Main St/Hwy 78 yet as we made our way east to Magnolia Ave, our turn off from the main road.

Where pavement ends on Black Canyon Rd
Magnolia Ave soon turned into Black Canyon Road as it gently climbed north. After a couple of miles, the pavement ended and we continued on on the well graded dirt tract.

Black Canyon Rd a few miles north of Ramona.
 There was hardly any traffic at all. We were passed by three enthusiastic mountain bikers and a handful of cars and trucks, but spent most of the time enjoying the view of the surrounding canyon. There were a few patches of the road where the top layer was a bit soft for my 700x25 road tires, but most of the time the road surface posed no problem.

A shot up mile marker along Black Canyon Rd
A Steller's jay perusing the world from a branchy perch by Black Canyon Rd.
The road is quite twisty with some tight blind curves. We descended down to the Old Black Canyon Bridge where the road to Sutherland Lake branches off. A good photo-op if there ever is one!

Old Black Canyon Bridge. Est. 1913.
After the bridge the road started on a gentle climb toward Mesa Grande, the big mesa. The view was quite beautiful. After a mile or so we traded sandy dry view for rocky one as we passed an almost dried up roadside creek. I guess it should have been full of water this time of year, but only a trickle of spring was all there was. If we don't get more rain this spring we will surely be in for water restriction later in the year!

Roadside creek along Black Canyon Rd
We picked up lots of shady oaks as we climbed north. And then all of the sudden the oaks gave way to wide open green fields. We had arrived at Mesa Grande!

Mesa Grande
 Passing a cow pasture on the left, one of my friends spotted a mother cow in distress. She had obviously just given birth to a calf, which was lying unresponsive by the fence. She stood guard over the baby calf, umbilical cords still dangling from her rear, as we stopped to investigate. After a while two of us went looking for help for the cows at the ranch houses nearby. It turned out the ranchers weren't all that alarmed about the cow. The owner was off somewhere and his neighbors weren't keen on intervening (apparently ranchers don't like other ranchers looking in on their business). One friendly rancher did spend a few minutes chatting with us, though.

Green fields and wild daffodils along Mesa Grande Rd
We had planned on turning NW on Mesa Grande Rd to Lake Henshaw before turning back, but our pace was slower than expected, so we just turned east instead and headed for Santa Ysabel.

Mesa Grande Rd, looking east.
The top of the Mesa Grande featured gentle wide curves with rolling little hills. The last 2 miles east it dropped precipitously in a series of S-curves before leveling onto a straight run into Hwy 79. I was surprised to find that the road crew hadn't been by to fix the potholes and surface cracks on Mesa Grande Rd yet, since stage 1 of this year's Tour of California cycling race will pass through there in May.

Hwy 79 at Mission Santa Ysabel.
We turned south on Hwy 79 for a couple of relatively uncomfortable miles (it's a narrow two lane highway with very little shoulder and quite a few very speedy cars and trucks) before pulling into the welcoming pie shops of Santa Ysabel. I paid a visit to The Julian Pie Company for a really delicious hot slice of apple mountain berries crumble pie with two huge scoops of vanilla ice-cream... and did away in one sitting all the climbing I had done so far.

Lunch at Julian Pie Company in Santa Ysabel.
After all too sweet a brunch we hit the road again, headed west on Hwy 78 toward Ramona. It is a beautiful road with two gentle hills, though not much road shoulder to ride on and a whole lot of speedy trucks to share the street with. It was a relief to reach Witch Creek Mtn, and soon after that, the turn off to Old Julian Highway.

Heading west on Hwy 78 from Santa Ysabel.
Old Julian Hwy was the main road between Ramona and Santa Ysabel before Hwy 78 was laid. Now it's the extremely well paved back route beloved to cyclists for its beautiful scenery and near absence of cars and trucks. The Oasis Camel Dairy to the right right after it branches off from Hwy 78 is always a treat to stop and watch. Further down the road were also herds of sheep, goats, and even a stray flock of wild turkeys!

Old Julian Hwy denizens.
From Santa Ysabel to Ramona, Old Julian Hwy mostly descends (with a couple of steep pitches) in a delightfully curvy manner. As we neared Vista Ramona road junction Hwy 78 can be spotted meandering along to the north.

Looking north on Old Julian Highway
View north of Old Julian Highway just east of Ramona.
We reached the T-intersection and turned right (north) to stay on Old Julian Highway into Ramona (it reaches Main St/Hwy 78 as 3rd St). It was a beautiful spring morning ride, and, as it turned out, we lucked out a bit and got back to town just as the west wind began to pick up. It could get quite windy in the corridor between Ramona and Santa Ysabel, especially in the afternoon, so missing the wind made the ride's home stretch that much more enjoyable! The whole trip was 40 miles long with elevation gain of 2579 ft (all gentle climb at 5% grade or less).

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Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!