San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Spines to Pines Expedition

May 26 through June 6, 1998
In Celebration of California State Trails Day
and National Trails Day

TCT Corridor Map

This expedition will be the first ever to follow the 114-mile route of the Trans-County Trail, which stretches across San Diego County from the California coast to the Borrego Valley. The trail -- parts of which have not yet been constructed -- covers habitats from desert to mountain, chaparral, and estuarine, over a variety of terrain. Expedition leader Cailín Ní Crualaoich provided the descriptions of each leg of the trail in the itinerary below.

Expedition team starting off at Hell Hole Canyon trail. Photo by Judy Gibson, 1998.

Expedition Itinerary

Day 1: Tuesday, May 26
Borrego Springs to Culp Valley Camp
Distance: 5 miles (measured)
USGS Map: Tubb Canyon
We begin with a stiff uphill hike through desert chaparral, gaining 2300' from the desert floor in Borrego Springs to an upper plateau at almost 3500'. The Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association is sponsoring this stopover with a meal and an interpretive program for the team.
Day 2: Wednesday, May 27
Culp Valley Camp to Plum Canyon
Distance: 14 miles (measured)
USGS Maps: Tubb Canyon and Earthquake Valley
Following an initial increase of elevation of 1400' we lose 3000'. We make our way along the Jasper Truck Trail through the Grapevine Hills to the road through Grapevine Canyon, heading south. Radio station 92.5 will sponsor this stopover with a meal.
Day 3: Thursday, May 28
Plum Canyon to Blair Valley
Distance: 8 miles (measured)
USGS Map: Earthquake Valley
A climb of 1500' takes us over the North Pinyon Mountains to a steady grade through Earthquake Valley, heading south through desert chaparral. Grace and Jim Rickard will present astronomy to the group.
Day 4: Friday, May 29
Blair Valley to Oriflamme Canyon
Distance: 8 miles (measured)
USGS Maps: Earthquake Valley and Julian
Our trail parallels S2 through Box Canyon, heading west and down into Vallecito Wash, then up to Oriflamme Canyon. Here the elevation begins to increase quickly, with more pinyon pine and juniper, and even pine trees at the top. We will camp at the intersection of the Mason Valley Truck Trail and the road through Chariot Canyon.
Day 5: Saturday, May 30
Oriflamme Canyon to Paso Picacho Campground
Distance: 8 miles (measured)
USGS Maps: Julian and Cuyamaca Peak
We go up over the Laguna Mountains -- rocky, with juniper, pines, oaks, gaining 2800' -- and into the basin of Cuyamaca Lake, grassland surrounded by pines and oaks. We will walk from the east side of Cuyamaca Lake around to Stonewall Mine, then south to the campground. Stopover sponsored by two County of San Diego employees with a fish-fry.
Day 6: Sunday, May 31
Paso Picacho Campground to Saddleback
Distance: 13 miles
USGS Maps: Cuyamaca Peak and Tule Springs
We will pick up Engineers Road west of Cuyamaca Lake, among pine trees and tall manzanita, to Boulder Creek Road, to Cedar Creek Road. All on existing paved or dirt roads, mostly downhill, with an elevation loss of 4500'.
Day 7: Monday, June 1
Saddleback to El Capitan Truck Trail
Distance: 10 miles
USGS Maps: Tule Springs and El Cajon Mountain
We drop 2600' to the headwaters of the San Diego River and the El Capitan Reservoir, then up again 2900' towards El Cajon Mountain, through dense chaparral and manzanita. We will walk Mt. Gower Truck Trail to El Capitan Truck Trail and camp beside the road.
Day 8: Tuesday, June 2
El Capitan Truck Trail to Oakoasis Open Space Preserve
Distance: 7 miles
USGS Maps: El Cajon Mountain and San Vicente Reservoir
We bag a peak this day -- El Cajon Mountain at 3675' -- after cross-country walk through dense chaparral and manzanita. This area is passable only because a fire burned the manzanita to thigh level and we can make our way along this fire break to the peak. Then an existing road takes us all the way down to Oakoasis, a loss of 3000'. The evening meal is sponsored by the San Diego County Parks Society, and the San Diego County Open Space Trail Crew will meet us for the evening. The next morning the Blue Sky Ranch community will sponsor breakfast.
Day 9: Wednesday, June 3
Oakoasis to Goodan Ranch
Distance: 7 miles (not including boat ride)
USGS Map: San Vicente Reservoir
We lose 1800' going down to San Vicente Reservoir, where participants will be ferried across the water to the boat dock and up over the hill on the west side to Highway 67. This area is still impassable along the shoreline because of dense manzanita and chaparral and many flowering native species. Then up through Slaughterhouse Canyon to a dirt road that takes us into Sycamore Canyon and down to the Open Space Preserve among oak, grassland, and manzanita. Evening interpretive program, 'Super Snake Sense,' by Suzy Wilbur.
Day 10: Thursday, June 4
Goodan Ranch to Rancho Los Peñasquitos
Distance: 12 miles
USGS Maps: San Vicente Reservoir, Poway, and Del Mar
Out of Sycamore Canyon, we gain 2300' to a trail parallelling the Scripps-Poway Parkway through the city of Poway. Then an overall elevation loss of 500' on urban trail through business parks and residential areas, down to Interstate 15 where we will pass under the bridge at Los Peñasquitos Creek. Evening meal sponsored by Aztec Adventures.
Day 11: Friday, June 5
Rancho Los Peñasquitos to Torrey Pines State Reserve
Distance: 10 miles
USGS Map: Del Mar
Mostly downhill through Los Peñasquitos Canyon to Sorrento Valley Road through urban setting, where we cross under Interstate 5, then follow the perimeter of the lagoon at Torrey Pines State Reserve to the finish at North Beach parking area (note: not the south parking lot at the foot of the cliffs).
Day 12: Saturday, June 6
National Trails Day Celebration in Balboa Park
Spines to Pines Expedition team members will be awarded certificates of completion in a public ceremony in Balboa Park on National Trails Day. The day-long celebration will feature dozens of displays and activities for the public. Expedition team members will give a slide presentation in the afternoon about their adventures on the Spines to Pines hike.