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.