Yaqui Well is a small seep situated on the San Felipe Fault in San Felipe Wash that has been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans, cattlemen, prospectors, and travelers alike. Many lost-gold stories and legends of ghostly apparitions are associated with the area. The name of the well is said to have derived from a Yaqui Indian of Sonora, Mexico, who lived with a local Kumeyaay woman near the well. It was first developed as a cattle camp sometime after 1909 by Paul Sentenac.
Large, magnificent desert ironwoods and mesquite trees grow here, some heavily festooned with desert mistletoe. The Phainopepla, a black, silky, crested flycatcher-like bird with a long tail and white wing patches, visible in flight, is commonly seen and heard in the area as it feasts on the red berries of the mistletoe. This is the male of the species — the female is grey. Listen for the characteristic “hoooeet” sound of the Phainopepla, a bird primarily found in washes and riparian areas. An individual bird can eat up to 1100 berries a day, if available. They are responsible for helping to spread the hemi-parasitic mistletoe by defecating seeds on tree branches that later take root in the trees.
Yaqui Well is considered a birding hotspot. Over 80 species of birds have been observed in the area, including the roadrunner, California quail, Costa’s hummingbird, Bell’s vireo, cactus wren, verdin, loggerhead shrike, house finch, black-throated sparrow, black-tailed gnatcatcher, and common raven.
The Yaqui Well trail begins just west of the ranger residence across from Tamarisk Grove Campground. The trail follows a rocky ridge with typical creosote desert scrub. Plants found here include lavender, agave, jojoba, krameria, alkali goldenbush, trixis, brittlebush, chuparosa, creosote, and various cacti. Also found is an atriplex, or desert saltbush, which is indicative of the alkali soil. The habitat changes to a wash woodland as the trail drops into San Felipe Wash, where large ironwoods and honey mesquite are found along with acacia, palo verde, and smoke tree. The creosote is larger here and bush mallow is also present.
The water in the Yaqui Well seep can vary from year to year. In times past, the seep has been surrounded with cattails. In recent times, there has been very little surface water. From the seep, hikers have a choice of retracing their steps back the same way or completing the loop by following the trail south to the Yaqui Well primitive camping area and road. Camp toilets are visible before reaching the dirt road. Walking east along the dirt road, there are several large desert willow trees. From the junction with the pavement, it is only 0.2 mile to return to the trailhead.
Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 81 miles. Allow 1 hour and 45 minutes of driving time. From Julian, drive east on SR-78, down Banner Grade, across Scissors Crossing, to the junction with SR-3, the Yaqui Pass Road. Drive 0.3 mile to the entrance of the Tamarisk Grove Campground and park on the road. The trailhead is across the street from the entrance to the campground, on the west side of the ranger residence. Facilities available in the campground at Tamarisk Grove when open and in the primitive camping area for Yaqui Well.
Hiking length: 1.64 miles round trip. Allow 1 hour.
Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 70 feet. No dogs or bikes allowed. Good for children.