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Thanks to the crusading efforts of Descanso cabinet-maker Duncan McFetridge, affectionately known by some as the "Robin Hood of Cleveland Forest," two inholdings (islands of private property inside public-domain lands) near Descanso are being added to the Cleveland National Forest. The former Roberts and Ellis Ranches, adjacent to Interstate 8 at Highway 79/Japatul Valley Road, were slated for subdivided housing until Duncan and his merry band of supporters -- the Cleveland National Forest Foundation -- helped raise money to finance their purchase. These are considered key parcels for preservation, as they stand at the gateway between the expanding suburbs to the west and the vast open spaces of the Cleveland Forest to the east.

Engelmann Oak, Roberts Ranch

To reach the Roberts Ranch, now open to the public, exit I-8 and drive south on Japatul Valley Road 0.2 mile to a pipe gate in the wire fence on the left, just short of a Caltrans maintenance station. Park on the road shoulder. Be sure to display a "National Forest Adventure Pass" (dial 619-673-6180 to obtain one) on your vehicle to avoid getting a ticket.

On foot now, push through the gate and follow an old roadbed north across a grassy flat, then east up through dense oak woodland. After 0.5 mile, stay left and bend north to enter an expansive meadow, dotted with statuesque Engelmann oaks. The scene is quintessentially Old West, save for the slightly annoying hum of cars on the nearby freeway.

If you walk all the way across the meadow, about half a mile farther east, you'll discover a century-old ditch, dotted with encroaching oaks, running roughly north-south. This is a remnant of a never-completed aqueduct and flume that would have shunted water from a proposed reservoir on Pine Valley Creek near Pine Valley over to King Creek, a tributary of the San Diego River on the west slope of the Cuyamaca Mountains.

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