Rancheros introducing themselves in Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981):
Don Diego: Don Diego from San Fernando.
Don Francisco: Don Francisco from San Jose.
Don Fernando: Don Fernando from San Diego.
Don Jose: Don Jose from San Bernardino.
Luis Obispo: Luis Obispo from Bakersfield.
Hiking Rancho Cuyamaca this weekend got me off to a good start for my spring project of locating and exploring the old Mexican ranchos of San Diego, and some good exercise to boot.
Hoping that this first trek since my "six hikers missing" would be uneventful, I joined twelve other hikers from The Gourmet Hiking Club, a group started fifteen years ago by six outdoor and food minded teachers, to hike up to Arrowmaker ridge in the Cuyamaca Mountains in eastern San Diego County. Kathleen and Wayne, two of the other "six missing", have come along for the hike. Kathleen, I'm not surprised - she's a Scot and usually up for any adventure or misadventure, but Wayne was not an experienced hiker before Secret Canyon and I wasn't sure we'd get him back out.
The Cedar fire roared through our hiking area in the very early morning hours of October 26, 2003. By the time it was contained the fire storm had burned 280,278 acres, destroyed 2,820 buildings and killed 15 people, the largest wildfire in California history. Seven years later we were walking the forest's destruction and rejuvenation.
Just off the parking area at trail head was the ruin of the Dyar house, built in the 1920's, burned in the fire and undergoing rejuvenation like the surrounding forest lands.
Rancho Cuyamaca has a checkered history as do many of San Diego's ranchos. The Mexican government began to distribute lands when they took over from the Spanish in 1821, and our rancho here wasn't granted until 1845, just before the Americans took over California in 1848. The Mexican governor, Pio Pico, was giving out land to his friends and family just before the cession of California to the US and gave 36,000 acres to his friend, Agustin Alvarado, who had never set foot in the Cuyamacas. Thing is, there were no maps or established legal boundaries for the grant, a guy he sent out to start a lumber mill to make some money for him got run off by those pesky Indians - the nerve of those Kumeyaay objecting to people coming in to take over their land - and Alvarado had to sell off the rancho piece by piece to pay the lawyer representing his case in US courts. More disputes arose when gold was discovered in 1870 on the north side of Stonewall Mountain. The bottom line is the rancho's ownership was divided and subdivided over the years. The Dyar family bought over 20,000 acres in 1923 and ten years later sold it to the sate of California. Oila, we have this beautiful Cuyamaca Rancho State Park! Lucky for us.
We set off with a clear, cool morning through what would become a familiar sight, dead trees and regrowth,
coming to a meadow cleared for ranching in the old days.
At one end of the meadow stood the "grandfather tree". Mike, the group leader for the day who knew the trail, told the story that when the rancher was clearing the meadow, an Indian elder came to him to ask to have the tree spared as it was significant to the tribe. It was left standing and when the Cedar fire came blazing through, the fire split around it and the tree was left unburned.
We passed dead trees still standing like statues after seven years, a preview of what was to come farther up our walk.
Many stronger trees were surviving with new growth, odd looking with their blackened trunks and limbs.
We scrambled up rock formations,
uphill to a mesa through vast burned out areas that won't recover for another 50 years,
leaving the trail to cross this high meadow, looking for the site of an ancient Kumeyaay village on the ridge.
We moved up the ridge across fallen trees into dense brush,
finally coming to our destination at the outcropping of rocks at the top of the ridge,
where a nice floral tablecloth was spread and each hiker brought out his/her prepared dish for a delicious luncheon. Hence, the name of the club. We had gourmet sandwiches, a cheese log, various desserts, peach Schnapps. I think I could get used to this, forget the trail mix stuff.
Scattered across the rocks were mortar holes for grinding acorns and wild buckwheat, and on the ground myriads of broken pottery shards, remnants of past lives on this outcropping.
I found this tree, nearly back to its old shape but unable to discard the old limbs, like a divorcee and her ex.
Jillian spotted what appeared to be a carved eagle on an upturned root with a tree branch Indian headdress.
The cloud mist had moved in while we ate our lunch, and followed us down the mountain.
A mystical ending to a mystical day on Arrowmaker Ridge.