I quickly learned that the key to driving under these conditions was to pay attention to the white lines on the right side of the road. The yellow lines in the middle of the road weren’t reliable because there were opportunities for left turns and that could really throw things off, especially if there’s oncoming traffic.
I definitely couldn’t use the high beams because the bright light would reflect right back to me in the fog. Some parts of the drive were almost pitch black in the fog, which made the drive even scarier…
- Day 1 (January 22, 2016 – Julian, California): “Jogging Memories”
- Day 2 (January 23, 2016 – Julian, California): “Intimate Experiences”
- Day 3 (January 24, 2016 – Los Angeles, California): “Breaking The Losing Streak”
Day 1 (January 22, 2016 – Julian, California): “Jogging Memories”
Earlier in the week, Julie had shown me a Yelp review of Cedar Creek Falls showing a photo taken earlier in the week (I think it was the 18th of January). When we saw how much of a decent flow it had (certainly not with the volume that my Mom and I saw it several years ago in 2008 I believe), we decided right then and there that we should spontaneously make a last-minute weekend getaway to Julian as our early Valentine’s Day trip.
We figured it was better to deal with the sure thing (that the falls would flow and that the weather was supposed to be rather good) than the uncertainty of ever getting significant rain again for the rest of the Winter or even coming back here under inclement weather like last time.
In any case, I guess the powerful series of storms that hit the Southland in the first week of January (providing the only significant precipitation for the month thus far) seemed to produce enough snow in the mountains to generate the snowmelt needed to feed the waterfalls. After our Jack Creek Falls and San Juan Falls experiences from the weekend following those storms, we could say for sure that the non-snowmelt waterfalls still didn’t have a prayer of flowing despite the storms, and that the snowmelt waterfalls were indeed the only ones worth visiting.
These conclusions pretty much got me thinking that perhaps this could also be our opportunity to finally visit the Three Sisters Falls and Cottonwood Creek Falls, which were waterfalls that I was hoping to visit after all these years (but the drought prevented us from even considering).
And so when my afternoon work meeting was over, I immediately rushed home, packed up our belongings, then picked up Tahia from her school before leaving her with grandma so we could hopefully make it to our accommodation in Julian by their check-in window of 3-7pm.
The accommodation we had targeted was the Butterfield Bed and Breakfast, which was a lovely place that really rekindled memories of a comfy stay as well as a surprising snow storm that turned out romantic getaway into quite the unexpected adventure some 8 years or so ago. We really looked forward to our stay this time around because instead of just spending one night, we were going to spend two nights.
So we didn’t leave the house until about 3:30pm, which was a little later than I had hoped. In any case, we were quickly on the road and we were quite surprised at how light traffic was going along the I-5 south in the direction of Oceanside. The only real snag along the interstate was some debris on the road causing a little bit of a slowdown near Oceanside, but after that, it was once again pretty smooth even for the beginning of our drive east on the Hwy 78 after we left the I-5 near Carlsbad.
Just as I was telling Julie about the light traffic, we finally hit the slow down at around 4:45pm somewhere in the city of San Marcos. At that point, the pace was sluggish, and I knew that we still had to get past the I-15. So I figured that our optimism of getting to Julian sooner rather than later was probably a pipe dream at this point. Anyways, the slowdown wouldn’t end until somewhere after 5pm as the skies started to get dark and we were finally past the end of the freeway at Escondido. As a matter of fact, the traffic lights there were probably the main cause for the traffic backing out as far as it did on the Hwy 78 during the commute home.
Then, the drive became somewhat smooth going though we were officially mountain driving in the dark on the way from Escondido to Ramona. After getting past the familiar entrance for the San Diego Wild Animal Park, I was keenly aware of the possibility of deer dashing out on the road at this time of night. Also, the semi-twistiness of the road along with the relative high speed driving on the twisty Hwy 78 also made things a little bit dicey as well. But at least the full moon rising was an interesting little ray of light so-to-speak on this drive.
Eventually at about 6:15pm, we finally arrived at the familiar Butterfield Bed and Breakfast. Along the way, we noticed that Jeremy’s on the Hill Restaurant was about 3.5 miles from the accommodation (not that close, especially when driving on mountain roads in the dark), yet it seemed like the only dinner place that Julie really fancied.
During our long drive, Julie managed to book us for a 7pm reservation at the restaurant. So after getting introduced to our room by Dawn (the same hostess who chatted with us during breakfast the last time we were here), we got our stuff into the familiar Apple Sweet room, and we were also directed to park the car at a separate driveway (something we weren’t aware of last time when we checked in real late).
As soon as we got settled and even reminisced about our last time here under similar circumstances, we then headed to the Jeremy’s on the Hill Restaurant at 6:45pm. At around 7pm, we arrived at the restaurant just in time for our reservation, and we immediately sensed the quaint ambience as the place seemed like an old house converted into a fairly upscale dining joint. The last time we were dining in Julian, we ate at Romano’s, but I remembered how stuffed we were on that visit. Besides, Julie was totally sold on the organic choices and the farm-to-table scheme that was also seemingly a specialty of the Jeremy’s on the Hill Restaurant.
We had ourselves a hot apple cider along with the complementary brussel sprouts (from Julie checking in on her phone), and we also shared bison meatloaf as well as a duck breast. The bison and pork were said to be locally raised so we figured that we could do the bison today and perhaps the pork tomorrow. We finally ended it off with a very tasty apple cobbler accompanied with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Even though the place was quite busy and the friendly service was on the slow side, we enjoyed each others’ company and did lots of reminiscing about our last trip to Julian as well as trying to plan what we were going to do for the next couple of days regarding our upcoming hikes and the dining options.
Speaking of the hikes, we were a little bit anxious about the Three Sisters Falls excursion given how we had read in our research about how rough the hike could get for that one, so perhaps my aspirations of visiting both Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls on the same day (tomorrow) might not be realistic. At least we could still punt the Three Sisters for Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, Julie really looked forward to seeing Cedar Creek Falls. The last time she was here sometime back in 2000 or something was somewhat of a dud. I remembered that she brought friends along while I was at home studying for grad school, and then when they finally got to the waterfall, it was dry even though it was around May. So this would be the very first time she’d see this waterfall flow!
We were also making plans to dine here again tomorrow evening, but then bounce over to the Wynola Pizza place to sit in on a live performance. And yet even with all that we were hoping to do tomorrow, I’m sure it would be tight to fit all that in a day with limited daylight and a relatively late included breakfast, which we asked Dawn and Ed if we could do it at 8am instead of their usual time at 9am.
After a pretty satisfying dinner By 8:45pm, we were back in the car. It was a bit chilly at night and the forecast called for some light rain or possibly showers tomorrow evening before clearing up by Sunday morning.
Since we had passed on getting apple cider at Jeremy’s, we decided to stop at the local liquor store in town to get the apple cider more cheaply. We wound up getting this 22oz. bottle called Harvest Apple, and we were hoping that the cider here might taste as good as what we had in Superior, Wisconsin. We certainly didn’t expect the refined quality from the Breton Ciders of Northern France.
In any case, we were back at the Butterfield at 8:55pm. When we both tried the cider, it had more of that hard beer taste. So neither of us were that fond of it, but since it was a large bottle that we didn’t want to go to waste, I wound up chugging the rest of the bottle after Julie’s few sips. And as buzzed as I was from that bottle, we spent the rest of the evening getting cleaned up while also enjoying the warmth of the lit up fireplace.
Indeed, while the memories of our last visit was a pleasant Valentine’s Day surprise for Julie (I recalled booking this myself since she wasn’t even aware of Julian at the time), this time around, we were in the moment and just lived it up for as long as we were conscious. Of course, since we were also tired from the long drive, we wound up dead asleep by around 10:30pm…
Day 2 (January 23, 2016 – Julian, California): “Intimate Experiences”
It was about 7am when both Julie and I awoke. We both had a very restful night, and the coziness of the room really made it easy to sleep in. And unlike the last time we were here, we weren’t in any hurry to pack up and get going because we knew that we were going to spend another night here. I guess as we got older, we tended to slow things down a bit so we could better enjoy the experiences and give ourselves greater opportunity to discover something we could’ve otherwise missed had we been in a rush like in the past.
Also to my relief, the weather looked like it was going to be pretty decent as far as the morning was concerned. It was cloudy, but it seemed like the sun could break through the thin layer of clouds. This also contrasted mightily to the surprise snow that we saw 8 years ago.
At 8am, Julie and I were in the familiar main room. Indeed, it seemed like nothing much had changed in the eight years since we were last here as far as the ambience was concerned. Both Ed and Dawn greeted us as we were chatting about all sorts of topics.
We had a chuckle when Ed recognized us as the “waterfall couple.” He couldn’t forget that day because we were pretty much the only guests that made it as the snow kept others from showing up.
We also chatted about the Jeremy’s on the Hill restaurant as well as how it seemed like Dawn and Ed really seemed to know all the happenings as well as life stories of the residents of Julian. I guess when you’ve run this bed and breakfast for some 17 years or so, you really have a finger on the pulse of this quaint and charming mountain town in San Diego County.
Then, we talked about the Cedar Falls hike, which they said that the hike from the Ramona side was improved around the time that we were last here. They also recognized that the Three Sisters hike was a very challenging one. They acknowledged that at their ages, they probably couldn’t do that particular hike anymore.
Along with the chatting, we had a delicious poached pear starter then a delicious french toast. We also helped ourselves to some delicious cookies.
Then, we finally hopped into the car at 8:55am. Julie and I wavered about whether to give the Cedar Creek Falls hike from the Ramona side a shot, but since we were already in Julian, we figured that it was a shorter drive to the trailhead on the Julian even though we had done it this way before. I guess in the interest of time, it didn’t seem to make sense to drive all the way back to Ramona and then drive from there to the Thornbush Trailhead. I figured that drive would’ve taken at least over an hour as opposed to the half-hour or so to get to the trailhead from the Julian side.
So with that, we made our decision and headed through Julian before heading west towards the turnoff for Pine Hill Road. Then, once we went on the familiar road, which weaved between a handful of farms, we then turned right onto the Eagle Peak Road and continued on that road for a while.
Whether my memory failed me or not, we were surprised at how much Eagle Peak Road was paved. There seemed to be quite a bit more developments of private homes or something as we seemed to drive quite a bit on paved roads before it finally went unpaved with about 8 miles to go. And even then, the unpaved road was pretty smooth dirt road as there seemed to be a handful more of what seemed to be private estates or something.
Eventually, the road got a bit narrower and rougher with about 4 miles to go. And in the last mile or so, the road was essentially on a ledge leading down to the familiar Saddleback Trailhead with the familiar locked gates leading to both Cedar Creek Road and a continuation of the Eagle Peak Roads. The gates seemed to be locked by the forest service so it was as if they were no longer roads accessible to the public given the signage providing warnings that the roads were unmaintained and that the authorities were not responsible for any damages to the vehicle driving on these roads.
It was about 9:30am when we had arrived. There were a couple of guys who were already here, but they walked down the Cedar Creek Road. When Julie and I examined the trailhead sign here, we saw that the permit area was technically at the waterfall area itself. Nobody was checking for permits on the Julian side even though we had already paid online our $6 prior to our visit. Apparently, there was a 75 party daily limit.
As we walked the trail, which featured quite a bit of overgrowth (clearly this particular trail didn’t seem to see that much traffic over these years), we could see that Mildred Falls was merely a wet streak on the mountain wall in the distance to our right. I guess with this observation, we could pretty much determine that Mildred Falls could at best flow well maybe a week at most after the end of a previous snow storm. Any less powerful of a storm or longer time to wait before a visit would mean the falls would be either completely dry or trickling like how we saw it (a little over two weeks since the strong storms in the first week of January).
As we continued following the trail, which hugged the mountains, we couldn’t help but notice the amount of shade we were getting. Perhaps it was because it was still Winter or something, but I’m sure this shade (whatever would be left of it as we’d head back up) would help with the sun exposure and heat on the way back as we were pretty much going all downhill.
It was eerily quiet on this trail as it seemed like Julie and I were the only ones on it. Clearly the trail on the Ramona side would be much more popular. In fact, we were even able to see the Ramona trail (also called the San Diego River Trail) in the distance with quite a few people on it. That kind of piqued our curiosity a bit in what the experience might be like from there.
As we got to a fork on the trail as the trail briefly veered away from the San Diego River’s ravine, we saw signposts saying something to the effect that it was a permit area. I was pretty sure that that trail would lead to the top of the Cedar Creek Falls, which Mom and I had taken last time after following Ann Marie Brown’s trail description, which was probably outdated.
Knowing that there was a better way to reach the falls, we continued descending on the main trail. Meanwhile, I came to the realization that Ann Marie Brown’s trail description also said that the hike was 4.5 miles round trip. However, that seemed to be less than the 6 miles round trip that the forest service had advertised on their trailhead signage. Therefore, her trail distance must’ve only gone to the top of Cedar Creek Falls and back. It seemed like she didn’t make it to the bottom, which required a little more hiking than what she had described in the book.
At about 10:35am, it was still pretty quiet on the trail we were on. Julie and I even heard the croaking of some toads or frogs down below as we were getting closer to the level of the San Diego River. Of course as we paused and listened carefully for more croaking, that was when they stopped. And so we continued our descent.
Eventually we’d get down to the river level, where we joined up with the trail from the Ramona side. Not surprisingly, there were lots of people going back and forth on that trail. Clearly, that was the more popular trail, and it even piqued my interest even more about why that trail was so much more popular.
Anyways, we turned left and went past the fence saying we were entering a permit area. The trail now flattened out as we found ourselves surrounded by attractive triangular mountains. After crossing Cedar Creek a couple of times (easy creek crossings requiring some rock hopping), we’d eventually arrive at the Cedar Creek Falls at 10:55am. Julie was quite excited to finally see the falls flowing so she eagerly joined the crowd that was already enjoying the reward for this hike.
There were probably at least over 30+ people here. It was kind of like the Eaton Canyon Falls or Sturtevant Falls experience, and it was certainly no place for solitude or reflection. Nevertheless, the waterfall was flowing pretty well (albeit not as well as our 2008 visit), but we figured it was already a win just to even see a waterfall doing this well in the drought-stricken San Diego County!
We had to do a little awkward boulder scrambling as well as weaving between the crowd of people to get ourselves to a spot to take pictures and videos as well as people shots to prove we were here. I dared not climb this giant sloped boulder where some other young folks managed to get on top of for real commanding views of the falls.
We were also entertained by a couple who had managed to climb to a precarious-looking rock ledge. Clearly they were going to jump, but I think it was so scary up there that they had hesitated for quite a while. There was even a helicopter that flew by and made a circle. I guess they were taking a head count to see whether it was too high (versus the permits allowed) or whether they could cite someone for climbing the rocks.
Ultimately, the pair did separate jumps, and then there was a third person who went up there and made his jump; all to the applause and cheers of onlookers.
Eventually at 11:20am, we left the Cedar Creek Falls and tried to make our way back to the Saddleback Hill Trailhead. Since we knew that it was going to be all uphill on the way back, I figured it might take nearly two hours or more to get back to Julian for a late lunch. We still had Cottonwood Creek Falls to do, and I was a little worried that we might run out of daylight.
But one thing was for certain, there would absolutely be no way to do the Three Sisters Falls hike on this day.
On the way back to the San Diego River from the falls, I had noticed that there was a trail closure sign nearby where I recalled we were once able to scramble from the top of Cedar Creek Falls down to this ravine. Now, we saw no one doing it as such dicey scrambling was not necessary to experience the waterfall.
As we were about to make the climb up to the Saddleback Hill Trailhead, we could clearly see that there were many more people making their way both down and up from the Ramona side. It was almost as if Julie and I were missing the party or something, and we were wondering whether we would regret not doing this trail from that side.
Anyways, there was nothing we could do about it now, but I made a mental note to see if we could at least hike the Ramona side of this waterfall trail before heading home tomorrow after the Three Sisters Falls hike.
As expected, the hike back up was a little bit on the hot and sweaty side. We couldn’t imagine how much harder this hike would be in the hotter months of Spring and Summer. In any case, the hike was mostly uneventful though we finally saw another pair of hikers (the first folks we encountered on this trail) nearly half-way up to the trailhead, and we would encounter another 2 or 3 more parties on the way up later.
At 12:45pm, we finally arrived at the trailhead. And sure enough, there were lots more cars parked around us.
We would finally make it back to Julian at around 1:20pm, but it was difficult to find parking. So eventually, we found ourselves parked just before Hwy 79 turnoff on the far southern end of the main town area. And it was quite chilly when we got out of the car. That was a bit of a surprise considering how warm it was back at the Cedar Creek Falls hike. I guess we were feeling firsthand the elevation difference at Julian as opposed to the San Diego River.
We wound up walking to the first eatery that we saw, which happened to be this place called Granny’s Kitchen. We got there at about 1:30pm, and it was a quaint little homey place. We got ourselves a salmon sandwich as well as an apple pie. It was nowhere near the quality of Jeremy’s on the Hill, but since we were a little pressed for time, we weren’t in the mood to wait in line at one of the other busy joints in town (which was really bustling at this time).
After the lunch, we briefly walked around town as Julie was exploring the town for the first time (since we really didn’t have a chance to do it last time). She really dug the historical look and feel of the main drag of Julian, and she even fancied getting some buckwheat honey that was locally produced here. We also noticed that the Mom’s pie shop had a crazy long line in front of its entrance. There was no way we’d have time to wait for that on this day!
We made one stop at a local market so we could replenish on some water knowing that tomorrow’s Three Sisters Falls hike would require it.
At 2:45pm, we were back in the car. However, I knew that we only had a little over 2 more hours of daylight, and that included the drive to the start of the Cottonwood Creek Falls. So it was now or never to make it down there and back by our 6pm dinner reservation at Jeremy’s again.
The drive south on the Hwy 79 was a bit on the twisty side. It seemed like there were still small patches of snow on the sides of the road in some limited spots, but for the most part, the drive seemed like it was passing through more of the familiar Joshua Tree-like rocks as well as the Lake Cuyamaca. We also noticed that the Green Valley Campground was closed, which meant that my hopes of sneaking in a visit to the Green Valley Falls wasn’t going to happen on this visit.
After getting to the I-8 and gunning it east to the Sunrise Highway, we’d finally arrive at this really wide pullout just before the 15.5 mile marker on the Sunrise Highway at 3:30pm. There was so much space on this pullout that we weren’t quite sure where or how we should park. We ultimately decided to park near this rock (which Ann Marie Brown said was a graffiti-covered rock wall in her book though the graffiti was mostly gone when we were there). Then while Julie was getting ready, I explored the pullout while also taking a badly needed nature call near the rock wall.
Looking down the hill towards the I-8, it was a nice view and the graffiti-covered picnic table seemed to be well-situated to soak in the view. It was the lone picnic table on this pullout however, which seemed strangely out-of-place for such a giant pullout area.
Now that we were equipped and ready to go at 3:45pm with daylight fading fast, we went to the north end of the guard rail on the east side of the Sunrise Highway, then we started looking for the “trail” that would lead down the ravine and ultimately to the Cottonwood Creek Falls. At first, the trail didn’t seem obvious, but there was a power pole nearby, and that was where we caught the “trail” descending from the banks of the Sunrise Highway.
At that point, we pretty much brushed through all the overgrowth on the narrow trail (even avoiding a patch of cactus right beside this trail), and the trail ultimately started to widen out a little bit while also flattening out. The trail itself seemed like it was following the trail of power poles and lines above us, which got me wondering whether this trail was blazed by the workers who erected these power poles.
I figured they were from Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas and Electric or something like that. And perhaps the workers might have noticed the Cottonwood Creek Falls during the course of doing work out here (maybe even maintenance work as well), and that might have been how the falls came to be “discovered.” It certainly wasn’t a well-known spot as there was no signage indicating the presence of the trailhead nor the waterfall itself. Indeed, it was one of those places that you just had to know it was there in order to have the faith to proceed down this seemingly random desert trail.
Eventually, we got to a point where the trail turned towards a T-junction. We were able to see parts of the Cottonwood Creek Falls from the distance along the trail during the descent, and from what we could tell, the falls was flowing somewhat, but it definitely wasn’t worthy of the “9” rating that Ann Marie Brown gave in her book. We turned left at the T-junction to go upstream towards the series of waterfalls comprising the Cottonwood Creek Falls.
Julie was already considering this a waste of time, but since we were already here, we mind as well be in the moment and see the merits of this waterfall. Ultimately, the trail led us to falls, which was flanked by a few cactus patches. The falls itself was a mix of water flowing over wet rocks with a few white streaky parts where the creek didn’t fan out as much and had a little more depth.
At this point, the hike now became a boulder and rock scramble as we were continuing to hike upstream to see more of the tiers of the Cottonwood Creek Falls. After getting past the second or third tiny tier (probably no more than 5-10ft each), we finally got to the uppermost main tier at 4:20pm, which seemed to be roughly 15-20ft tall. This was the part that was photographed in the Ann Marie Brown book, and so this was our turnaround point.
During the approach to this part of the waterfall, I had heard croaking from what must’ve been toads or frogs. And as loud as they were and as persistent the croaking was, it seemed like they sensed my presence as I got closer and ultimately the croaking stopped well before I got to this part of the falls. When I examined the small plunge pool beneath the falls, I couldn’t see any frogs or toads.
Just to satisfy my curiosity, I did the steep scramble above this waterfall to see what else was further upstream, but it didn’t seem like there was much in the way of more waterfalls there as there seemed to be just more boulders and shrubs. I didn’t particularly feel like doing any more daring scrambling anyways as it was definitely getting darker and we were in danger of being late for our 6pm reservation at Jeremy’s on the Hill.
So after we were done photographing and taking videos of the falls, we left at about 4:30pm. Most of the orange from the fading light in the immediate area was giving way to shadows as the sun continue to sink beneath the horizon unseen above us.
The hike back to the trailhead seemed to be much easier now that we knew where we were going. And by 4:55pm, we made it back to the car just as the orange sun was setting in the horizon in view from the picnic table up ahead. As I was taking my last steps of this excursion before getting to the car, I was feeling a sharp pain in my left foot as if something was stabbing me there.
I suspected it was probably from a cactus or something, but it was unclear to me how the spike even got there through the boot and into my wool sock! But sure enough, when I removed the shoes and carefully removed the socks, there was the spike jabbed pretty deep into my left foot. When I pulled the thorn out of my foot, it almost pulled of my skin given how deep it was. I can’t imagine how much more excruciating it would be had there been more thorns from cacti jabbing the skin.
Julie and I speculated that perhaps that cactus patch in the overgrown part of the trail near the trailhead was where it occured though I never recalled stepping into the cactus patch, and we were still trying to figure out just how the thorn even got that far towards the front of the interior of the boot.
Anyways, at 5pm, we left the trailhead and quickly made our way back to the I-8 then the Hwy 79. We only had an hour left to get to our 6pm reservation, and we were both very stinky so we needed to at least change our clothes before getting to dinner. Plus, with the darkness, it was going to be non-trivial driving given how twisty the Hwy 79 was.
As twilight gave way to darkness, we could see that the clouds that were rolling in throughout the day had finally started to fog parts of the drive along the Hwy 79. It seemed to be the onset of the fog, but we were still able to get back to the Butterfield Bed and Breakfast by 5:45pm. And as expected, we probably weren’t going to have time to shower before dinner, but at least we could get changed out of our stinky hiking attire.
Ten minutes later, we left the accommodation and promptly made our way to Jeremy’s on the Hill again. We got there at 6:05pm, which was not bad considering barely an hour earlier, we were by the I-8 near Mt Laguna. In any case, we were seated in the same corner as last night, which was right next to the fireplace. And this night, it seemed like it was even busier than last night. There was also someone playing live string music (on a guitar I think). No lyrics, just the melodies.
Once again, the dinner was pretty good. This time, we got the beef brisket main dish as well as the Juicy J burger (since the menu said it had the pork brisket on it though it seemed more like a regular burger; did they get the order wrong?). We also started off with another cup of hot apple cider as well as a lobster bisque. We opted to skip on the dessert since time was of the essence and we wanted to go immediately across the street to the Wynola Pizza to catch the live performance there.
So eventually at around 7:30pm, we were done with dinner, and then we got ourselves some kind of brownie dessert and another cup of hot apple cider to enjoy while we were listening to the live performance. At first, there weren’t any available seats for us as the cozy and intimate setting was pretty much full. However, one lady beckoned to us to take her seat as she wanted to take pictures.
And so with that, we took her table, had ourselves dessert, and listened to the live acoustic performance by Christine Parker, who had this soulful voice and very Jewel Karcher-like style singing some covers as well as some of her original songs. Julie really liked her voice and her songs, and it was pretty clear that this lady was quite good (maybe even on some shows or even having a record label). Whatever the case was with her credentials, there was no denying the unforgettably intimate setting here.
Indeed, we were glad to spend the second night here and really enjoy little moments like this; further reinforcing our observation that sometimes it’s better to take it slow and allow ourselves to discover such things like this.
When Parker took a break, we decided to bail and head back to the Butterfield so we could rest up in anticipation for tomorrow’s hike. And just as we left, there was one guy looking around for seats and immediately took ours. Indeed, it was definitely standing room only for the late-comers.
When we got back to the car, we could see that the winds were picking up a bit and there were even some light sprinkles. I guess the forecasts were correct in saying that there was supposed to be some rain starting tonight but ending by daybreak tomorrow morning.
As we pulled out of the Jeremy’s on the Hill lot at 8:05pm, we were precariously driving on the Hwy 78 as we realized that the visibility on the road was quite poor. With all the twistiness of the road, that made things a little bit worrisome. Fortunately, we weren’t in much of a rush so we took our time. We even noticed some other vehicles pulling off to the side of the road in some of the open spots not wanting to chance it in the fog.
I quickly learned that the key to driving under these conditions was to pay attention to the white lines on the right side of the road. The yellow lines in the middle of the road weren’t reliable because there were opportunities for left turns and that could really throw things off, especially if there’s oncoming traffic.
I definitely couldn’t use the high beams because the bright light would reflect right back to me in the fog. Some parts of the drive were almost pitch black in the fog, which made the drive even scarier.
Eventually at 8:20pm, we thankfully made it back to the Butterfield. It was quite chilly with the wind chill so it was a perfect time to light up the fireplace and warm up in the Apple Sweet for one last night. Eventually at around 11pm, we were asleep…
Day 3 (January 24, 2016 – Los Angeles, California): “Breaking The Losing Streak”
It was about 6am when we awoke. We woke up earlier on this morning because we had to get packed and ready to go before breakfast. Given that today was the challenging Three Sisters Falls hike, I figured that we needed all the time that we could afford, especially since we also wanted to scout out the Ramona side of Cedar Creek Falls before driving all the way home.
When I looked outside the window, I could see that the skies were definitely clear so whatever weak storm that came our way last night was obviously short-lived. Now, there wasn’t a cloud in sight, and there was even a bright full moon that was looking big and setting behind some nearby hills with lots of foliage getting in the way (so it was hard to photograph).
It was a bit nippy outside, but other than that, we spent a good couple of hours getting our stuff together as well as getting ready for the day. By about 7:45am, we had loaded up the car, and we then showed up to the breakfast area a few minutes early, where we chatted with both Dawn and Ed who were already up bright and early.
Julie was enjoying the fireplace they had over there, and we were talking about our experiences last night at the Wynola Pizza place (where Christine Parker performed) as well as our repeat visit to Jeremy’s on the Hill. We also learned quite a few things about Ed and Dawn, who revealed to us that they were originally from the Bay Area and that Ed was now part of the Chamber of Commerce for Julian. We further learned that they ran and maintained the Butterfield Bed and Breakfast by themselves, so I can appreciate how it’s pretty much constant work even when they’re not fully booked with guests.
Meanwhile, we talked some more over the brekkie that we had, which was different from yesterday. This time, we had oranges topped with mixed berries as the starter, and the main was a kind of quiche. When they learned that we had a daughter, the conversations gravitated towards what else we could do around Julian, specifically at Borrego Springs.
We saw that there was a so-called Sky Museum, where metallic dinosaurs were created and on display for the public to enjoy for free. We figured that if there’s more precipitation (especially snow) running off towards the deserts, then we might be able to visit some waterfalls nearby Borrego Springs (some 30 minutes east of Julian) as well. With this year seemingly the year of San Diego (as we had been to Legoland earlier in the month, and now we’re in Julian), it just might be entirely possible that we might complete the trifecta by going all the way to Borrego Springs. Julie even fancied going to Sea World or something, though I’m not all that keen to visit theme parks.
When it was about 9am, we returned the keys and gave a fond farewell to Dawn and Ed. We then got back in the car at 9:05am, and now it was time to make our way over to the trailhead for Three Sisters Falls.
As we drove back through the town of Julian, Julie wanted me to make a quick stop in town seeing that it was fairly quiet at this time so the town would be more photographable without the crowds. We didn’t make the stop for long as I was getting antsy about starting the Three Sisters Hike late, so we got Julie’s desired town photos and soaked in the ambience briefly, but we figured that after the hike, we’ll come back here again for a late lunch.
We continued on the drive back towards the familiar Pine Hills Road. And we followed the same route that we took yesterday, except we kept left onto Boulder Creek Road at the Eagle Peak Road turnoff. From there, the paved road gradually gave way to a fairly rough unpaved road past the Pine Hill Fire Station (roughly 5 miles from the trailhead according to our Nuvi).
The driving was pretty tame and it seemed like we were the only ones on the road. There were a couple of sections of fairly deep ruts (clearly a gutter or water channel wasn’t provided in such sections), but they were easily handled by Julie’s car.
After getting through the Inaja Indian Reservation, we’d eventually get to a part where there were some fine views along the road. The views seemed to continue to improve as we were getting near the trailhead. Then, we suddenly saw a bunch of cars parked some 0.2 miles from the actual trailhead. Seeing that there were many other cars parked up ahead, we figured that we wouldn’t have a prayer of parking closer so we just found a suitable shoulder to park, and then we promptly put on our hiking boots and made sure we had adequate water.
The time was now 9:50am and it didn’t feel terribly warm at the time. But somehow we had a sense that we’ll be sweating on the way back. Anyways, we could see right away that this was a very popular hike despite the challenges we anticipated on facing. We figured this hike couldn’t be all that bad if it was this popular, but we’ll have to keep pushing forward to see for ourselves.
We eventually got to the trailhead at roughly 10am. I was surprised to see a little girl by the left gate where everyone was hiking. If the hike was anticipated to be hard, should that little girl be doing this hike? In fact, this hike was the very reason why we didn’t bring Tahia on this spontaneous weekend trip.
Julie asked others if this was the trail to Three Sisters (just to be sure), and they confirmed it. I could see that without the crowds of people getting started at around the same time as us, we could’ve easily gotten confused about whether we should’ve followed the gate on the right side instead.
And so we promptly got started and followed the pretty obvious trail that gradually ascended up to a hilltop before us. We could immediately see that there was an attractive ravine to our left as well as a rolling series of hills and ravines on the other side of the hill to our right. At the top of the hill were some black trees signalling that there was probably a fire that went through here at some point.
Once we were past the apex of the hill, we then started descending towards a pole at the end of a switchback. As we looked to our left, we could see way in the distance the Three Sisters Falls mostly in shadow though it wouldn’t be long before it was be partially in shadow. At this time of the morning, it was already a bit difficult to take a photo of it given the high contrast in light.
Thankfully, this waterfall definitely had flow. We didn’t expect any worse considering how well Cedar Creek Falls had been flowing yesterday.
Anyways, after the switchback, the trail continued descending gradually as it crossed some dry creek then went through a patch of shade through some fair overgrowth. Eventually, the foliage opened up towards somewhat of an opening, and that was when we had another opportunity to get a distance and attractive view of the Three Sisters Falls.
As we looked ahead, we could see there were already lots of people between the first and second waterfall with a handful of people even at the bottom and top of the topmost waterfall. We couldn’t wait to get to the falls, but we were also anxious about the steep sections that we had read about as part of our trip research.
Well after a little bit of undulations, the trail continued descending before we finally got to where it got pretty steep. With our hiking boots, we were getting fairly good grip on these steep sections, but there was a Latino group that had passed us that was struggling already with the slope. There was especially one lady in tennis shoes, who kept slipping and falling on her bottom.
At this point, there was also a guy holding a yellow rope. I wasn’t sure if that rope had already been there, or if he was setting it up, but he was waiting there for quite a while. Meanwhile, we saw other people find other paths to scramble both up and down (mostly on all fours) so we figured we mind as well not go on the rope route and descend around it.
Indeed, the slope was steep, but Julie and I felt we were in control for the most part. There were some sections where I could see how a misstep could lead to a pretty nasty head-over-heels-type tumble, but as long as we were careful in our route-finding, we were fine.
So we continued down this steep part, which after a while didn’t seem all that bad though we were definitely glad we didn’t bring Tahia with us. But then we got to a short but sheer rock wall with a role tied around a tree with exposed roots. Julie paused over here waiting for me as I was catching up.
And once I arrived, she then slowly descended the wall while carefully holding onto the rope. Once she got down, it was my turn. It wasn’t trivial, but I also made it down, and I wondered whether going back up would be easier than going down something this vertical.
Julie and I wondered why they didn’t force people to get permits for this hike (partially to fund a better trail) because all this scrambling was obviously causing erosion on the hill side. We wondered at what point will the erosion be so severe that it would be downright dangerous to do this hike.
Anyways, once we got past this rock wall, the descent flattened out. We then found ourselves along the banks of Boulder Creek, which seemed to have a bit of water, but it wasn’t raging. Now, we could see up ahead that people were doing boulder scrambles (and the section we saw looked particularly discomforting). There were also a few rocks with spray-painted white arrows though they seemed to be pointing in both directions so at this point, we seemed to have lost the “trail”, and now we were essentially route finding and boulder scrambling our way closer to the Three Sisters Falls, which seemed so close yet so far away.
When we saw the boulder scrambling that some of the return hikers doing on our side of the creek, we thought it was too dicey to try. So we wound up following some other trail that seemed to be a bit easier that would up crossing Boulder Creek and continuing on the opposite side. But it didn’t take long before we had lost the “trail” and had to decide which boulders to scramble around and which ones to climb.
I knew that further progress would be painstakingly slow. I guess this might be how Boulder Creek got its name.
There were some sections where we had to climb higher around very huge boulders, and there was even one part where we went underneath some stacks of boulders forming a little “archway”. It was somewhat reassuring that we saw a few hikers going back the other way near us, which gave us a little more confidence that we were going the right way.
I guess that was the silver lining to such a popular hike – we almost always had a frame of reference whenever we weren’t sure which way to go thanks to other people either pointing out the correct way or watching their examples. Had it just been Julie and I on this hike, we could totally given us and turned back prematurely.
After a few more minutes of hiking, we started to realize that perhaps this side of the creek might have been a bit harder than the other side. We were looking for opportunities to cross the creek back to the left side, but the crossings didn’t look very secure. At least we were observing what other people were doing so we took mental notes that on the return hike, we’d do what they were doing and persist on going back on that side.
Furthermore, we started to realize the further we went that this trail seemed to want to climb higher as it was headed to the top of the topmost of the Three Sisters. That was not exactly where we wanted to go, but fortunately, we saw there was a spot where we could cross below the lowermost of the Three Sisters. And once we did that, we were finally besides the lowermost of the Three Sisters.
We then did a short sloped scramble on some very slippery rocks with some wet streaks on them. Clearly, those wet spots were probably dangerous as a slip and fall there could very well mean sliding down and over to first sister.
Still, we’d eventually get to the top of the first sister and be right in front of the second sister. Of the waterfalls that we saw, that second one was probably both the tallest and the most attractive of the three. It was now 11:45am when we finally made it to this point.
It was too bad that we were practically looking right at the sun as we were facing the second waterfall. That made photographing the falls a bit of a challenge. That said, despite how hard it was to even get to this point, Julie seemed to think this waterfall was every bit as good as Cedar Creek Falls. Come to think of it, this waterfall could very well have broken up our year-long losing streak of new Southern California waterfall experiences that disappointed and could’ve been deemed a waste of time.
I think Etiwanda Falls was the last waterfall we had done that we hadn’t done prior to that visit which had pretty good flow (thus didn’t feel like a lukewarm experience or waste of time). But I guess the drought caused all the new local waterfalls that we haven’t done since to not flow too well. So waterfalls like “Cold Creek Falls”, “Seven Falls”, Jack Creek Falls, San Juan Falls, and even Cottonwood Creek Falls from yesterday were pretty much duds. But now Three Sisters Falls seemed to be the new local waterfall that broke this losing streak. But boy did we have to earn it!
Anyways, we could clearly see that there were many people who were content to just enjoy the falls along the slopes flanking this second waterfall. But when we had our fill of this spot, we thought maybe we should try to get up to the third waterfall as we saw numerous other people make it up there.
So after crossing the creek between the first and second waterfalls, we then followed the path where it was obvious that some folks were returning. Again, without their hints, I don’t think we would’ve persisted in trying to find this path to get up to the base of the third waterfall.
Once we crossed the creek, we got a different and shadier perspective of the second sister before continuing with the hike. It wasn’t long before we were faced with a rope and a pretty steep climb again. This time, it didn’t look like the rope was necessary though that didn’t mean the climb around it was any less dangerous.
Once we were atop the rope, there was a particularly scary sloping rock section where if we slipped and tumbled with the slope there, it would probably be a fatal fall. Once we were past that, we were back on a brief section of narrow trail hugging more rock walls before we got to what appeared to be a turn where it wasn’t clear how to proceed forward. Some of the other folks there suggested that we could climb up the rock and slope before us to get right to the bottom of the topmost waterfall, but we also saw others scramble up on what appeared to be a narrow notch between rocks before scooting sideways with dropoff exposure until finally getting to the desired spot.
Again, I was pretty uncomfortable with this scramble, but since we had made it this far, we mind as well finish the job. So Julie did the scooting to get to the desired spot before I did. It was definitely an awkward scramble so I kept going up the notch to see if there was a better way. It turned out that I found another trail up there, but I was told by other folks on that trail that it led up to the very top of the third waterfall. That wasn’t where I wanted to be.
So when I realized that, I scouted around to see if there was a way I could get directly down to the ledge that Julie was on. It was a dicey scramble no matter which way I went except for going back the way I came. And so after figuring out the route, I summoned my courage and did plenty of sit and scoot maneuvers before I was finally alongside Julie before the front of the third waterfall. It was about 12:10pm when we finally made it there.
Now, we could finally enjoy the moment. We had no intentions of going up to the top of this waterfall as we were pretty content with the views (albeit shady and against the sun) of that third waterfall. And when we looked downstream, we could see the lip of each of the other two falls as well as the trail and steep scramble way back in the distance.
We took a few people shots as well as some movies of the scene. We tried to balance the savoring of the moment and accomplishment of finally getting this far to the falls. However, that was tempered by the fact that we still had to get back to the trailhead then have a late lunch as well as scouting out Ramona before finally going home. Indeed, it was getting late.
So at 12:35pm, we finally pried ourselves away from the turnaround point of the hike, and now we had to face the dangerous scrambling in the opposite direction. So first things first. We had to at least get back to the front of the second waterfall, which meant going through all that steep scrambling going downhill now.
There seemed to be a lot more people going in the other direction, especially at the rope. We saw other people sit and scoot their way down the rocky slopes away from the ropes, and we eventually did what they did to avoid waiting in the long queue to use the rope.
When we were back at the front of the second waterfall, our boots were wet from crossing the creek so we now had to weigh the risk of slipping and sliding on the steep and smooth rocks sloping downwards with wet soles on the boots or waiting for the bottoms of our boots to dry to get better traction. When we realized that the boots probably wouldn’t dry fast enough, we carefully made our way sideways towards some dirt patches amongst the sloping smooth rocks.
The descent from there was more or less more sure-footed, and then after a brief descent over the smoother parts of the rock (no way around those), we were finally below the first waterfall. Now, it was time to stick to this side of the creek and follow the spray-painted white arrows, which we could now clearly see on the rocks up ahead.
Somehow the “trail” and scrambling seemed a bit more obvious on the way back. However, we’d eventually get to a spot where the trail disappeared and we had to boulder scramble on some dicey slopes with dropoffs below. But after watching some younger guys do this part, we sat and scooted our way across until we could finally confidently plant our feet and continue walking and scrambling.
Once we were past that obstacle, we were finally done with the boulder scrambling and regained the trail. However, before we could gain any momentum, we both had to find a private spot so we could do a nature call. We really didn’t have any opportunities to do this throughout the hike. And when we finally did find a spot, we both did our thing, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw some lady scrambling amongst the bush (not sure how or why she was there) and said something to the effect of, “I see a burrito!”
Julie wouldn’t stop joking with me about this for the rest of the day.
Next, we were back on the trail, and then we waited in line to go up the nearly vertical rock wall with rope and tree with exposed tree roots. There were some folks with their dogs who managed to ascent the rock wall without the need for the rope, and I entertained the idea of doing what they did. But I figured the rope was easier, and I still needed to help Julie up just in case.
Once we got past this obstacle, we next had to scramble up the dusty gullies hand over foot. It was getting hot as it was the height of the day, and we even saw one lady who was laying down next to the “trail” seemingly in bad shape. One of her friends was next to her trying to tend to her, and we wanted to give them some of our water. Her friend said they were fine and we kept going.
In any case, we and a lot of other folks continued our steep ascent. I was following Julie so as she was climbing, she was also kicking up some dust, which I happened to be breathing behind her. Not pleasant. Also, my hands were noticeably dirty given the amount of hand usage on these steep slopes. I don’t think my hands had ever gotten this dirty since elementary school.
With our calves burning, our breathing heavy, and our clothes wet with sweat as well as wreaking of BO, we finally made it above the hard part of the climb at 1:25pm. At that point, we took a bit of a water break knowing that the worst was finally behind us.
Meanwhile, we heard chopper sounds as there was a helicopter flying around the ravine. Since this wasn’t a hike that required permits, we wondered what the chopper was here for. But then we realized that perhaps these were choppers aiding in search-and-rescue. And in the case of the passed out lady down below, perhaps that was what these folks were here for.
Anyways, we resumed out climb until we eventually got up to the clearing that I thought might be the “helipad” where the choppers would make emergency landings or something. That was also where we got a few more parting looks back at the Three Sisters Falls with a little less shadow than what we had seen earlier in the morning. The time was now 1:40pm.
Continuing on with the hike, it was now gradually uphill. But with all the danger and challenges of the hike up to this point, this sunny and hot uphill hike was actually not too bad considering. It didn’t take long before we were finally in view of the trailhead at some time after 2pm. Up ahead, we could see that there were actually two helicopters here as well as a handful of fire engines, paramedics, and ambulances here.
I wondered if this was an everyday occurence on the weekends like today. I’m also certain their services aren’t cheap. So this further reinforces the notion that they really ought to require permits for this hike like they do Cedar Creek Falls. At least then, they might use those permit proceeds to help improve the trail itself as well as provide another opportunity to warn would-be hikers of the risks and the costs of being rescued.
Well, it seemed like just as we had finally made it back to the trailhead, quite a few of the emergency vehicles were on their way out. It wouldn’t be until 2:20pm when we were finally back at the car. And yet amazingly, it looked like there were a handful of people who were starting their Three Sisters hike at this moment. I don’t think they’d make it out of there by night time with such a late start. There was even a pair of girls who just pulled up and asked us whether this was the right trailhead.
At 2:25pm, we finally left the Three Sisters Trailhead, and now we were driving back towards Julian. We were actually catching up to one of the emergency vehicles who had a head start well before us. That vehicle looked like it said something to the effect of Julian-Cuyamaca. We also saw other vehicles looking like they came from Descanso to the south. Clearly, this was a multi-district problem that each of the respective emergency crews seem to respond to the events that happen here.
Finally at 3pm, we were back in Julian again. Even this late in the afternoon, it was quite busy in town. We were lucky to find a parking spot along the Hwy 78 just east of the four-way stop. Once we parked, we quickly got ourselves a torpedo sandwich (just something quick as we had no time to do sit down lunches). While in the deli at the corner, I was watching with the store clerk the TV which had the Broncos vs Patriots game. As Julie was getting some buckwheat honey further in town, I was glued to the TV watching the exciting end to the game.
The game was so entertaining that Julie came back in time for me to pick up the sub. That was when we continued walking around more of the town as Julie wanted to try some of the famous apple pies here.
Given the long line at Mom’s, Julie saw that there was the Julian Pie Company, which was a little offset from the center of town. It too had a long line, but we saw that there was a much shorter line around the side of the business if we were willing to puchase the whole pie. So we promptly did that to avoid the crazy long line. But that also meant if we wanted to eat the cinnamon ice cream with the pie, we had to purchase a pint of that ice cream.
So after paying about $20 for all those things, we then returned to the car so we could have our late lunch in the car. There was no seating available at the restaurant. So we quickly downed the torpedo (not that great), then we had the pie, which was delicious and crumbly. I guess we could now see why the Julian pies were famous. Unfortunately, Julie couldn’t each much of the cinnamon ice cream since it had milk and it also had corn syrup so it was me that gorged on the ice cream since we knew it would melt by the time we got home.
Eventually at 4pm, we were finally left Julian and followed the long caravan of cars towards Ramona. With the fading light in the day, I wasn’t sure how much of the Cedar Creek Falls hike I could do before it got dark. But I was still determined to see what that trail was like before going home.
The Nuvi wanted us to take some crazy back roads towards the Thornbush Rd at the San Diego Country Estates, but we stuck to our guns and stayed on the main highways entering Ramona, then leaving Hwy 78 at the lighted intersection with 10th Street. Turning left onto that street, it was then pretty straightforward driving as it became San Vicente Rd, then turned left becoming Ramona Oaks Rd.
This drive was fascinating as it seemed to go through a series of country clubs before passing through what seemed to be a new housing development or community. The homes here looked pretty upscale, and given how the road so far had been all paved, it became pretty clear why the Ramona side of the hike was so much more popular! Indeed, the drive to the trailhead was a breeze!
Eventually, after passing through a residential neighborhood and turning right onto Thornbush Rd, that road would dead-end past some houses, and that was where we could see there was a parking lot, some cars still parked on the street, and some restroom facilities as well as a picnic table with shelter with a fine view back towards the expensive homes here. There was even a big water tank, which I’m sure was for the residents here. We ultimately parked next to the orange cones and trailhead at about 4:45pm.
Looking down towards the San Diego River, it was clear that this seemed to be a very scenic view towards those mountains we had skirted on the Saddleback Hill Trail yesterday. I guess if I had to evaluate which was the more scenic trail, I’d have to say that the Ramona side had more scenery even if we would be looking against the sun in the morning and at midday.
I also noticed at the trailhead that there was a table with sign-in sheets and a chair. I’m betting that that was where someone watching the trailhead would check for permits and ensure that people were fit to do this hike. Since no one seemed to man it at the time, I kept taking pictures then running onto the trail quickly trying to see as much of the trail that I could before it got dark.
With the fading light of the day, the orange glow on the mountains before me were very attractive. The trail itself seemed quite easy and well-used. They even had flagged poles with signs attached to them tracking the progress typically in 0.25-mile increments.
I’d eventually descend the switchbacks of the trail down to about the 1.5-mile post. At that point, I knew that going any further down would be futile and would merely delay our ability to go home with no pictures to show for it (due to darkness). So that was my turnaround point.
Eventually at 5:35pm, I was back at the car. Julie told me that there was a lady here who asked her what I was doing. I guess she was the person who watched over this trailhead. But I guess when she told her that I was just scouting the trail and not going down to the falls, they chatted a bit about her working arrangements here as well as some of her stories about some of the folks she had to turn back – e.g. some without permits, one guy who showed up drunk, and others who came without enough water!
And with that, we promptly drove off and headed for home. The drive was still without its dramas as we had to continue to descend along the Hwy 78 from Ramona to Escondido along some pretty twisty mountain roads even though it seemed like the average speed was around 40-50mph.
When I was being tailed by some cars who seemed to be going very fast (because I thought I was gunning it), I eventually found a shoulder to pull over and let them pass. That was when we realized that the cars tailing me seemed to be some kind of car club as there was one Mustang after another that would pass by. It took quite a while before I could finally get going again, and I managed to follow the last of the Mustangs so they were my frame of reference and I wouldn’t have to react to the curves from being ahead of the pack.
Still, those guys were going really fast for such curvy roads!
Once we got into Escondido, the driving was much smoother and more straightforward. With it being pretty late on Sunday night, the traffic was moving swiftly even though I was still surprised at the volume of vehicles still out on the I-5 at this time.
Eventually at 7:40pm, we finally made it back home. We had fancied doing a dinner along the way home (possibly a Brodard takeaway), but we decided against it given what a long day we had. And with tomorrow being a workday, we pretty much called it a day.
I guess as much as we wanted to take Tahia on this trip but couldn’t, it was nice to be away from her for a little bit. But as Tahia’s note indicated, I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder, and indeed it went both ways in this case…
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