Corte Madera Mountain

Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 2000 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Water: None on trail or at trailhead

Another great hike in the Pine Creek Wilderness, this is one of the best in the county with great views, sparse pine and oak-studded peaks, and big granite slabs galore.

Exit I-8 at Buckman Springs Road, about 1 hour east of Downtown San Diego.  Turn right on the well-marked Corral Canyon Road, with signage for the Corral Canyon ORV area.  The road is paved but rough, especially at the bottom, but is gets progressively smoother and more well-maintained as you ascend up into the valley.   Follow the road a few miles until you see a green gate and a forest service sign about the nesting raptors in the area.  Park immediately past the gate, in the small area off the road.

Passing through the gate, you’ll walk west on  a shady oak-lined road until you see a nicely marked garbage can which shows the terminus of the Espinosa trail.  Follow the Espinosa trail west, following the dry creek, then finally climbing to a road intersection where Corte Madera’s southeast face comes into view.  To the south, Los Pinos mountain rises up, topped with a fire lookout at the peak.

A handy sign points the direction to the summit trailhead, turn right and follow the Los Pinos fire road north, climbing steadily as chapparal becomes mixed with sparse oak and pine.   At another raptor nesting sign, turn left and begin climbing steeply up the ridge towards the Corte Madera summit.   The trail trends north past boulder slabs and shady pine and oak stands, with fantastic views of Corte Madera Valley, a private ranch property at the foot of the mountain.  Mt Laguna and Cuyamaca are easily visible as you climb.  After about an hour you’ll reach a sketchy junction, stay left and continue past the first flat campsite.  You’ll continue climbing up the back of the cliff-face of the mountain, through waist-high chapparal, passing a fantastic campsite at the summit before reaching the cliff’s face and the summit register.  Enjoy far-reaching westerly views that stretch to downtown San Diego on a clear winter day.  Retrace your steps to return.

Note that this is in a very remote part of the county that which receives very high temperatures much of the year.  travel in this area outside of Nov – April is not recommended.  While the trail is remote, the Corral Canyon ORV area does get a lot of traffic, so be aware of Motorcycle and truck activity, especially in the lower sections of the road.

Palomar Mountain – Oak Grove to High Point

If you are looking for a long, tough ascent, there are few options in SD county with 3500+ feet of gain. Rivaling El Cajon Mountain, this is one of the harder hikes in SD county, although perhaps less so given that much of it is on relatively well-graded fire road.

From the tiny community of Oak Grove off 79 between Aguanga and the 76 junction, park at the NF Fire Station in a small lot just near the entrance. Finding the trailhead is tricky, the easiest way is to find a small gap in the fence and take the dirt road west until you see the marked Oak Grove Trail.

Heading west almost immediately uphill, the trail follows a steep ravine up hot, scrubby east-facing slopes, with views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio opening up almost immediately. Soon the trail trends along cooler, northwest-facing slopes, where tall chapparal provides a bit of shade as you head up a seasonal creekbed to the junction with Oak Grove road at just about 2 miles.

Turn right on Oak Grove Road, follow it up and around the north-facing side with views of Baldy, Santiago peak and Agua Tibia opening to the north and west. Passing a spring and fire cistern and then a locked gate, you go left, uphill, on High Point Road and continue climbing towards a dense oak forest at the high point. The fire lookout tower becomes visible as you trend into the interior of the mountain. Continue west around the base of the high point, past a spring and fire cistern and some good camp spots, finally up the road to the high point.

At the top enjoy views to Point Loma on a clear day, as well as a full view of Palomar’s interior, including the observatory complex, Mendenhall and Barker Valley. To the south, nearly all major SD county high points are visible including Mt Laguna, Volcan Mountain, Cuyamaca peak, Stonewall Peak and beyond.

Descend in reverse, hiking poles are recommended for the lower section as it is very steep and slippery.

Hiking Palomar Mountain SP



Rising up from the hot flats of Pauma Valley, Palomar mountain’s unique unique character sets it apart from the few other areas of San Diego.  A cool, forested refuge at 5,000 feet, this shaded, wooded eden of meadows, creeks and ferny glades feels otherwordly in bone-dry San Diego County.   This area has also been spared at least some of the severe burns that affected both Cuyamaca Rancho (Cedar Fire) and Mt Laguna (Chariot Fire)

Palomar Mountain has just a few large parcels of public land.  Much of the land at the lower elevations is part of the La Jolla Indian Reservation.  Private ranches dot the shaded and sheltered valleys of the summit.  Palomar Mountain SP is only a few thousand acres, but it’s is a self-contained pine and oak wonderland.

High ridges to the south and west flank shaded Doane and French Valley.   Surprisingly dense Oak and Pine stands line the valley and good water flows all year.  This is a very unique place and great for kids and out-of-town visitors.

Most trails in the park are short, but longer loops can be created by stitching together the trails at the perimeter.  Park at the Silverwood picnic area lot immediately beyond the entrance, climb Boucher Hill and enjoy views all the way to the ocean on a clear day.  Descending north into moist ceanothus, oak and pine stands, finally emerging into wide meadows, skirting lower Doane valley, into French Valley.  Continue to circle Doane Valley, finally climbing steeply to Chimney Flats, to the ridge and your car.

There are numerous popular campsites in the Park, including state-run and CNF sites.  Backpacking in the park is tricky – most of the park is heavily developed with roads and there are private lands adjacent.  However there appear to be some stealth camping options on adjacent CNF land, I haven’t fully explored these options yet.

Pinyon Ridge

Pinyon Ridge Panorama

Pinyon Ridge Panorama

Pinyon Ridge forms the southern boundary of the Borrego Valley, separating the flat basin of Borrego Springs from the Shelter Valley area to the south.  Because of the relatively high elevation at 4,000 feet, this area hosts a transitional chapparal zone and cooler temps than the valley floor.

From Central San Diego, take 79 (from either Julian or Ramona) to S-2 at Santa Ysabel.  Continue North and then head east on S-22 Montezuma Valley Rd.  At mile 10.4 there is the signed Old Culp Valley Road. The trailhead is about 2 miles up at the signed Wilson trail.  My Subaru sedan made it but just barely, a small SUV should have no problem.  There is one particular spot where a large rock makes it challenging but mostly the road is in good shape.

From the parking spot, take the signed Wilson trail east and head down across a broad valley as Pinyon ridge flanks you to the south.  Continuing east you will cross through a large burn zone of mostly chapparal, much of which is recovering from the 2013 Ranchita fire. As you continue to climb over small passes the terrain changes to a yucca and cholla-covered zone, passing through several broad, shallow valleys.

The official trail ends in a wide valley at a wall of boulders (there is a metal pole to mark the end). From here follow a well-ducked trail up through the rocks to a second, higher valley.  The remains of the burned Pinyons are the only trees left on Pinyon ridge.  This upper valley has great views to the northeast of Hot Spring Mountain, Rabbit, Toro, Villager.  To the West the Palomar observatory is easily visible as is Volcan Mountain, Mount Laguna, Stonewall and Cuyamaca peak.  To the east is the thousand mile view to the Salton Sea and beyond.  Numerous boulder-topped peaks dot the rim of the valley and each is easily attained via some light scrambling.

Numerous flat campsites abound in the upper valley, particularly the north-facing side which has great views of Coyote Mountain, Villager & Rabbit peak and the Borrego Valley.  Evidence of jackrabbits and coyotes are visible, and of course the ubiquitous black beetles.

Solo Overnight at Granite Springs, Cuyamaca Rancho SP

Distance: 10 miles RT
Elevation: 1000 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Water: at Green Valley CG, seasonal Granite Springs (dry)

My plan was to test my colder-weather gear for the JMT up in the mountains where temps were dipping into the low 50’s and we’d had a few recent days of rain. Unfortunately we got hit with Santa Ana winds and San Diego broiled under 100 degree temps.

After a crazy day at work I finally got home around 5PM, grabbed my gear, hugged the family and made it to the Green Valley Campground kiosk at about 6:15. The kid working the kiosk was surprised anyone would be going out there, and the sun was setting fast. Despite 100+ temps in San Diego it was in the high 60’s and breezy up at 5000 feet.  To camp at Granite Springs, you pay a $5 fee, and park at the Green Valley Campground just next to the Kiosk.  Don’t park on the highway.

After finding the connector trail, I hiked briefly north towards the Sweetwater river bridge parking area, where I turned right and headed uphill through a gully on the Harvey Moore trail. Trending southeast through a narrow, steep, rocky trail, it got progressively darker and soon I found myself night-hiking through a pitch-dark new moon. As it got darker and cooler, the chapparal landscape came alive with black beetles, tarantulas, crickets, potato bugs. I saw a fruit bat on this section of the trail as well. I was hiking fast, since I had 5+ miles to go and was feeling the effects of of a couple of beers at happy hour and the adrenaline rush of night-hiking, plus the bone dry air from the santa ana winds.

After a fairly long and uneventful section of climbing through scrub and dense, impenetrable chapparal, I arrived at the ridge which transitions into the large open grassy meadow of the east mesa, a less-used area of the park mostly only used by hikers and equestrians. Given the darkness I couldn’t see far beyond the trail but I knew this section follows a draw up to the fire road at the top of the mesa. I came across a shrew-type critter and a deer as I approached Granite Springs, a primitive camp in a grove of oaks just at the eastern edge of the mesa.

Granite Springs is a trail camp with 3 tent sites and a group site which I didn’t check out. There is a pump and spring but as of Oct 2015 the spring is dry and the pump is broken. There are some water caches for equestrians but they were green when I was there. Past the well-maintained pit latrines I quickly picked a campsite (in the dark, it doesn’t matter too much), hung my food, made camp, ate a minimal dessert of peanut M&Ms and Swiss Miss, and a shot of whisky and went to bed around 9. Overall the night was uneventful, the temps stayed warm and barely got below 65, and Santa Anas gusted up to about 20mph a few times but nothing the Tarptent couldn’t handle. I alternated between being drenched in sweat and cooled by the breeze with my 20 degree bag.

Waking up around 7:30 I was treated to a spectacular sunrise over the crest of Mt Laguna to the east. Before me, East Mesa drops into the deep valley of Pine Creek below. Definitely an area to revisit on a Laguna-to-Cuyamaca route. I broke camp and made a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee before heading out.

The next morning hiked out enjoying the views of San Diego to the west in the clear air. East Mesa’s grassy, open spaces and oak-topped hills show a lot of promise for off-trail stealth camp spots. There was a large equestrian event that slowed my progress, and I helped escort an injured horse and rider back to the parking lot.

Overall a satisfying and surprisingly accessible backcountry experience. For a quick (albeit dry) backpacking trip this is a good option being only 45 minutes from central San Diego.

PCT to Morena Butte and Hauser Canyon

Check out the Photos Here

Distance: 14 miles
Elevation: 3200′
Difficulty: strenuous
Water: Lake Morena, seasonal hauser creek (dry)

This remote and undeveloped corner of San Diego County is tucked between the 8 freeway, the border, and east of the large north-south valley of the Pine Creek Wilderness.

From Lake Morena Campground, the PCT entrance and parking is just outside the gate of the park. Head south around Lake Morena and climb gently with views of the butte and the lake opening up to your right. Continue south and then east around the base of the butte, through the bone-dry landscape of chapparal, yucca, and cactus.

At about 3.5 miles in you will reach a saddle and the signed spur for the butte. Head west up the steep, rocky trail. There is a small bivy camp spot a few hundred feet up with a nice view to the north. The trail picks through boulders around the south side of the butte where views of Hauser Canyon open up to the west. Follow the abundant ducks to the summit, a flat, windy, boulder-strewn rubble pile. Hop boulders and check out the various high points for views of Hauser Canyon and Pine Creek Wilderness. It may be possible to stealth camp in the kitty litter with a tarp and bivy but this hasn’t been tested. Return to the saddle by retracing your path.

From the saddle, descend 900 feet into Hauser Canyon with wide-open views of Hauser Canyon. Note the Sunrise Powerlink coming in from the east, up and over Hauser Canyon. At the bottom the chapparal gives way to oak shaded creekside setting. There are a few camp spots here but they are trashed. Unfortunately this area is well-used by the US Border Patrol, migrants and smugglers as well as pig hunters. I found trash in numerous sections and many hikers in this area have encountered Border Patrol agents. I hiked a few miles down the road into the canyon among the oaks, but turned around before I could fully explore the canyon. A few miles below, there is an open, grassy meadow that used to be a forest service campground, but I didn’t get that far. Given all the activity I am now quite sure I would camp here, but it’s worth another recon.

Estimating a population mean from a sample in python

Least Squares Linear Regression with Python

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Fun with sinuses


Caronas Sandwich Shop

A new series where I review one of my former jobs. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In 1995 I took my second trip cross country, and upon arrival at my half-brother’s house in San Diego, broke up with my hippy, vegan, dreadlocked girlfriend, Caitlin. She and I had come to the point in our relationship where constant bickering over life’s inconsequential minutiae had become surprisingly less entertaining than expected.

Alone, immature, and crashing at my then thirty-something brother’s pad with his new wife proved inconvenient for both of us, namely him, so it was on me to get a jobby job and find a place of my own. This being  San Diego’s mid-90’s salad days, I was quickly able to find a job at a Mission Hills sub shop,  the most menial possible job possible within a bike ride of my temporary home base in Normal Heights.

My job was clear: I’d do all the sh*t work that no one else would be bothered to do. In food service this means lots of cleaning, from grease traps to ovens, and then for a treat,  the lowest end of food prep, i.e shredding lettuce, cooking bacon, and slicing tomatoes, i.e. anything that requires zero cooking skills.

The boss was Steve Carona.   His namesake eatery was a typical non-descript sandwich joint in that one spot that has turned over 10 times on an otherwise nice little restaurant row.  Steve had a standing order for at least a few dozen subs a day on to the base, which basically kept the place running while he squandered any meager profit either on one of his many ex-wives and mistresses or more likely, up his nose.

Steve was a massive pain in the ass, but was rarely there.  My day started with Howard Stern on the radio while sweeping the leaves from a nice, shady upstairs eating area.  Then it was time to prep for the lunch rush.   My least favorite job was in the afternoon: protecting the private, shared parking lot from non-authorized-parkers, something which basically involved me counting minutes while staring into space. Occasionally, I had to clean the grease trap, or cook 50lbs of bacon at a time, and inhaling bacon grease vapor is not something I would recommend to anyone.

Honestly, it wasn’t a bad job. It was one of those jobs that’s just exactly what you’d expect.   The paychecks cashed and the people were nice.  I made friends with the  lead cook and we’d sometimes hang out at her under-furnished North Park apartment and drink beer.  Eventually I saved up enough to get out of my brother’s house.  I think I quit because I found a better job somewhere else, and no one really cared one way or the other.  Carona’s closed a few years later.

15 years later,  I find myself picking up a pizza pie from my favorite local place, and who’s standing outside, greeting customers and answering the phone?   None other than Steve Carona.  I shake his hand and tell him that I worked for him a dozen years ago.  His interest piqued, but clearly having no idea who I was, he responds like he was running the place:  “Oh yeah?  Well, I’m over here now”.   That was pretty much about what I’d expected.