Friday, October 2, 2015

Mt Laguna - Monument Peak - Julian - Wynola - Ramona

Quite a few moons ago - before summer's muggy heat came to town and refused to leave - I made a few cycling trips east into the Laguna Mountains in search of new sights and amazing back roads. The last of such trips was quite a successful one that bears some revisiting. It might even become a regular cool-weather Smorg's Western Loop!

Crash site on eastbound I-8 east of Alpine. See the wreck?
The first bit riding east out of town on El Cajon's Main St and then Old Hwy 80 was, I'm afraid, pretty boring, though things picked up a bit as I rode on the shoulder of eastbound I-8 (it's bike legal between E Willow and Hwy 79 simply because there is no alternative paved surface road in between those exit to ride on) east of Alpine. An elderly couple had drove their car off the side of the freeway earlier, and a road crew had parked (and completely blocked) on the shoulder up the hill from the wreck, trying to figure out how to get the banged up car out of its resting place. It made for a photo op... though a rather uncomfortable one since I had to swing into the rightmost freeway travel lane for a bit (traffic was very light, but still... people drive 70+ mph on that stretch!). Besides, the copious width of the freeway shoulder was no longer any comfort after having seen real life evidence of just how far wide of the marked lane a car can (and do, everyday) go.

I wish they'd pave Viejas Grade Rd!

Some views along Olde Hwy 80 in Descanso & Guatay.
The cool morning clouds started to break up as I made my way through Descanso and Guatay along Olde Hwy 80, making it difficult for me to speed through this area when it's being pretty like this. A few cows were out on the field along with a few plump wild turkeys and a whole lot of chatty acorn woodpeckers. Even a cute little mole was out and about on the highway rather than staying in his subterranean house! (See ride recap video at bottom).

No coasting for a while, I guess...
One of the many Forestry fire engines on Sunrise Hwy that day.
A PCT hiker heading back to the trailhead after having stocked up at Laguna Mtn Lodge.
Of course, all the leisurely sight-seeing riding had to be paid for at some point and the road dutifully pitched up after Pine Valley as I slow slugged my way up the long climb of Sunrise Highway. After a couple of miles of climbing I started getting passed by a long series of green forestry fire trucks, which had me a bit concerned. I had checked to make sure that there wasn't any wild fire out this way before leaving my Uptown pad, but had one erupted in the hours since? There was no smoke column that I could see, though. Then near the road crest all the fire trucks pulled into the Red Tailed Roost (Laguna Mountain Volunteer Association's HQ) parking lot. I guess they were just having an exercise.

Monument Peak Rd has a rough (and flies-infested during summer months) dirt section sandwiched by old tarmac bookends.
Anyhow, the day's main objective was an offshoot from Sunrise Hwy that leads to Monument Peak, a little-cycled (but much-hiked) peak on the escarpment between the Laguna Mountains and Anza Borrego Desert. It houses a bunch of radio antennae, a set of HPWREN weather webcams, and, at 6,271 ft elevation, is the 3rd or 4th tallest peak in San Diego County, depending on whether you count the 6,378 ft tall Cuyapaipe Peak almost next door or not. Cuyapaipe falls within the Cuyapaipe Indians Reservation and is off-limit even to hikers. Since there is no road accessing it, it doesn't count for two-wheeled me.

The BLM marker at the top of Monument Peak.
Looking south toward Stephenson Peak's FAA radar from Monument Peak.
The turn off from Sunrise Hwy is not marked, but I had studied the area map before hand and knew what to look for (if you get to the Big Laguna Trail dirt turn off, you had gone too far). There are a couple of car gates to navigate and a rather rough and rutty dirt section to power through before getting to the narrow old tarmac lane that services both the radio antennae on Monument Peak and the FAA radar on neighboring Stephenson Peak (the latter is quite off-limit, I'm afraid). Once past the lumpy pine-lined straight the road pitches up a bit and the view opens up all around as the final 1/4 mile climb snakes its way to the top. I don't think there's anything steeper than 15% grade on that road, though. It looks worse than it is... And even if it doesn't, the amazing view from the crest of the escarpment is a great painkiller.

I walked around a bit enjoying the scenery before locating the little peak-top BLM marker by the rock cropping between the two sets of radio towers. It was a nice payback for having spent most of the morning climbing!
A group of thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.
A bit more climbing heading north past Garnet Peak.
It was a bit past noon when I headed down to resupply at the Laguna Mtn Lodge & Trading Post before deciding to take the long way home through Julian. This was still the spring side of summer, so there were still quite a lot of thru hikers making their way north along the Pacific Crest Trail which spends a lot of miles along the east side of the highway. I cheered on a few as I passed, and got to chat with others at various trail accesses. I wonder how many managed to finish their long trek all the way to the Canadian border.

Beautifully well-firred Whispering Pines near Julian.
There was a bit more climbing along Hwy 79 toward Julian before I could enjoy a nice and curvy descent into town. I was still a bit ahead of schedule when I got to the junction with Hwy 78 and decided to veer east to have a look around the Whispering Pines neighborhood and scout out the elusive 'Lutz Castle'. It was a fruitful little detour with lots of view and charming narrow roads of pretty quads-busting gradients. I'm afraid Lutz Castle (a private B&B) isn't much more castle-y than two low and hard to spot turrets, but it fits quite well into the surrounding, which, to me, is a plus.

A glimpse of the Anza Borrego Desert from the top of Volcan View Dr.
Twisty Canyon Dr and a glimpse of the Lutz Castle B&B.
All the climbing made me hungry, though, so I headed into Julian proper in search of some high-calories cycling fuel. I didn't have to do much looking... That charming little old mining town was overflowing with pies and tarts of many types of apple and berries!

Julian is heaven for the hungry...
Being properly weighed down by the sweets I slow slug out of Julian's pie-belly factories up the less-traveled lanes of Farmer Rd instead of the more frequented Hwy 78. It's a beautiful country lane with awesome view of the local fields and ranches... and the tantalizing Volcan Mountain and its radio antennae/fire lookout tower. There used to be a set of HPWREN cameras there, but it went off-line after a lightning strike during the storm of October 2013 and has not been replaced.

Farmer Rd leading out of Julian.
Volcan Mtn radio antennae.
Farmer Rd at Wynola Rd, where the fun begins!
Taking Farmer Rd instead of Hwy 79 added a few extra miles to the ride, but it was totally worth it just to turn left (west) at Menghini Winery and descent the uninterrupted and endlessly curvy Wynola Rd into Wynola Junction. It's one of the most awesome downhill runs in the county along with Montezuma Grade and Palomar South Grade Rds (with the caveat that there is quite more traffic on both of the latter than there usually is on Wynola Rd). So, naturally, I didn't get any photo of the Wynola twisties... It was too much fun to stop for a shot or two!

Luckily... there are some nice Youtube clips to give you some ideas. Mind you, I do think the lady driving this car was going a bit faster than she should. Fellow cyclists should also note how invisible we two-wheelers would be under those tree shades. If you plan on riding there, wear bright color jersey, use front and rear flashing lights, and control the lane until you see that the driver approaching from behind does see you before turning out when you find a safe spot. It doesn't do to make yourselves invisible by riding in the shadowed edge of the lane where drivers wouldn't see you until the last seconds... That's when they'd get themselves into the 'either head on collision or force the cyclist off the road' situation. Make no mistake, they always choose the latter rather than the former!

Wynola Junction itself is just a small collection of country stores and eateries. I headed west on Hwy 78 and swung off the sharp right turn on the descent into Santa Ysabel to visit the little memorial to the Inaja Fire of 1956 where 11 firefighters died during a flash over. The tragedy resulted int the enactment of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders that is still in use today.

Wynola Junction.
Inaja Fire Memorial off Hwy 78 in Santa Ysabel.
The view SW from Inaja Memorial.
I'm afraid riding on the 78 west of Santa Ysabel is never much fun. Drivers go too fast and the road shoulder way too narrow (when one exists, that is). So, like most that have had to cycle between Ramona and Santa Ysabel many times, I couldn't duck into the much more sparsely trafficked Old Julian Highway fast enough. Besides, the OJH runs along the open back field of Camel Oasis Dairy and the are always a few of the hump backs out grazing the field during the day. I already have too many photos of these cool critters, but I can't seem to ever stop myself from taking more every time I pass by!

Camels in the field off Old Julian Highway.
Enjoying the low traffic Old Julian Highway before returning to the main drag in Ramona.
Yup, I'm afraid the low-traffic riding goes away once you get into Ramona proper as the only roads west and south of it are busy high-speed highways (well, Highland Valley Rd and a secret series of private lanes aren't as busy, but the former involves more climbing and drops you off further north in Rancho Bernardo. And the private lanes are, you know, private and still drop you off on busy Espola Rd where more climbing is needed to get back toward I-15 bike paths). I decided that the least painful of all the sub-optimal options was to take Hwy 67 to Scripps Poway Pkwy. It wasn't bad... but all those road safety reminder signs along that high-speed road really are there for a reason, and as careful a rider as I am, I have no illusion that luck is not a big part of surviving riding that thing a lot. When a driver does something stupid on that road, there really isn't much you on the bicycle can do to save yourselves. There isn't room to maneuver, and the driving speed is always too excessive. That's how it goes, I'm afraid.

After the draggy climb to the base of Mt Woodson, it's downhill most of the way back to Poway!
I'm not writing anything about the rest of the ride home 'cause it's a relatively boring and non-exotic city riding slug and this post is getting way too long already. I did make a little video of the ride, though. It was one of this year's better solo centuries. Here it is!

Ride safely and have fun!

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Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!