Sunday, July 14, 2013

Middle Peak round-a-bout; Cuyamaca Rancho SP

After the big 395 trip last weekend, Josh and I decided to stay home and get in a local day hike.  We've been itching to catch some wildlife doing their thing and there is nowhere better to spot some animals than in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. 

On the drive up we spotted a gang of turkeys in a field but we're too slow to catch a picture. We arrived at the Milk Ranch Fire Road near the lake at 7:30am. There were tables set up and what looked to be a marathon in progress. We walked up the road and were quickly out of the runners path, on our way to the west edge of the park boundary and the back side of Middle Peak.

The Kumeyaay Indians named the peaks in the area according to legend that coincided with their physical attributes, helping them to remember the topography. The name they gave to Middle Peak translates to "Strong Mountain" while the name they gave to Cuyamaca Peak translates to "Crooked Neck", due to the west bending peak at it's summit. Each of these mountains tell a story to the native people, including epic battles that left topographical scars on the landscape.

We began to lose elevation and came to private property where we consulted our map. We were looking for the use trail that leads you to Sill Hill waterfall described in Jerry Schad's Afoot and Afield. We realize we need to backtrack up to the Middle Peak Fire Road.

 Finally we see a series of rock cairns heading off the trail. This looks less like a use trail and more like a bushwhack to me. Stepping carefully to avoid the stands of poison oak, we head down. Only a few feet in, I skin my leg on a log and walk into a branch full of ants that stick to my sweaty face. That's it, I'm done. We turn and head back to the trail.

We both take a minute to survey the cuts on our legs and remove the grass seed from our shoes and socks. Let's save this for a day that is not so hot. Moving on, we round a switchback and Josh spots a rattlesnake doing his best to blend in while he warms up in the sun.

 By now, it's hot. REALLY HOT. I'm feeling over it. Every time I take a drink of my water I am grossed out by the first hot sip that has been baking in the tube of my bladder hose. Blegh. We trudge on anyway stopping in the shade often to cool off. Some hikes you've got it and some you don't, but a hike is always a good thing.

 Long before we see it, we can smell it; Poodle Dog Bush. This gnarly plant loves the heat and grows for several years after a major fire. The plant looks and smells like Marijuana but it is not in the Cannabis family, but rather a Forget Me Not as indicated by it's delicate purple flowers. True to it's genus name, it will leave a lasting impression if you touch it, with a blistering rash far worse than that of poison oak. The oils are much more resilient than poison oak too and stay on your clothes to bite you later. It is rumored that a PCT hiker found a plant and thought it was marijuana. A few puffs later he realized he'd made a terrible mistake and ended up in the hospital.
Now put that in your pipe and smoke it!, don't.
Don't touch it either.

By now, I'm feeling hot, cranky and nauseous but not to sick to stop and admire these beauties. The Humboldt Lily and a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Gorgeous!

Just passed the Lilies, we come to another stand of Poodle Dog Bush, this one right in the middle of the trail. We carefully circumvent it and meet with the Sugar Pine Trail and our way back to the truck.
The Sugar Pine Trail is a bit on the gnarly side with exposed knob roots of cut back manzanita, slippery granite scree and large chunks of decaying asphalt. The overgrowth of the brush and the unstable ground left us tripping, sliding and peeling spiderwebs off our sweat laden faces. Good Times.

At last, we made it back to the truck and I managed to not throw up, though I definitely considered it being so overheated. We got a cold drink at the store and headed home to take a nap. Our mission accomplished, we saw a bunny, lizards, a rattlesnake, several butterflies, a gang of turkeys, a couple of bumble bees, milkweed bugs, squirrels and some hawks. Good day of animal sightings, not the most comfortable day of hiking but still a better day than at the office. 

We guesstimate the trip was seven miles. Happy hiking!


  1. Saw that snake. Good reminder. Tis the season in golf where I often leave that errant ball in the weeds. Not worth the bite. Cool pictures, Mandie.

    1. Thanks Tom!
      Some of the pix (the good ones) are from Josh. His photography site is
      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      bee doh... :-)