Two hundred twenty-seven years ago, a small party led by the Spanish Colonel Pedro Fages chased after army deserters from the Presidio of San Diego, trekking through a narrow declivity known as Oriflamme Canyon on their way east from the Cuyamaca Mountains. This was the first recorded passage by Europeans into the low-lying, arid region now called the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Today, Fages and his men would find the trek down Oriflamme Canyon somewhat easier. No pavement has ever been laid down here, but a graded dirt road, open only in part to motorized vehicles, makes walking or mountain-biking easy -- especially when done in the downhill direction as described here. The entire trip measures 8.5 miles, with a descent in elevation of more than 2000 feet. Since this is a one-way trip, you'll have to arrange for a pick-up at the end of your walk or ride. There are 28 miles of narrow highways to drive between the start and end points. Perhaps your volunteer shuttle driver can while away three or more hours in Julian during the time you're hiking (or spend less than an hour there if you're busy biking). With summer's heat building fast, you should either do the trip soon or else wait until October. Don't forget to take along plenty of water.
Start at the Pedro Fages historical monument along Sunrise Highway, 1.7 miles east of Highway 79. From the turnout there walk 300 yards west down the highway shoulder to reach the California Riding and Hiking Trail. Follow the trail northward through a broad meadow. Pass through a cattle gate and turn right at the next road. Now choose between two alternate routes. The left branch, including a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail into upper Chariot Canyon, is harder. The right branch, Mason Valley Truck Trail, offers a more gradual descent.
On ahead, the truck trail cuts more sharply down the precipitous north wall of Oriflamme Canyon, losing about 1000 feet of elevation in a mile and a half. From far above the canyon bottom, you'll probably hear the sound of rushing water, at least before the summer's heat silences it.
After a junction with Rodriguez Canyon's jeep trail on the left, Mason Valley Truck Trail skirts the base of massive Granite Mountain. Cholla cacti glisten on its slopes. Then the road swings right, away from the mountain, but a remnant of the California Riding and Hiking Trail continues east along the mountain's base and strikes Highway S-2 at mile 26.5 -- a good place for you to be picked up. This point on the highway can be found 0.8 mile west of Anza-Borrego's Box Canyon Historic Site.