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Descend from the high desert to low desert on Anza-Borrego's California Riding and Hiking Trail.

The old, never-completed California Riding and Hiking Trail, pieced out of dirt roadways and previously existing trails during the post-World War II years, has never quite disappeared from San Diego County. One branch of this erstwhile trail splits from its main north-south strand in the Cuyamaca Mountains and leads over desert hill and dale toward Borrego Valley. One of the better-maintained sections descends from Ranchita, high on the west rim of the Anza-Borrego Desert, toward Borrego Springs. Treading this narrow pathway, you follow in the prehistoric footsteps of Native Americans, whose seasonal migrations between the winter warmth of the desert and the summer coolness of the mountains made feasible their hunter-gatherer existence. For several decades during the early 20th Century, the same route was used by cattlemen driving herds from the Mesa Grande area near Lake Henshaw to winter and springtime grazing grounds in Borrego Valley.

The somewhat abbreviated five-mile stretch of the trail I describe here is best done as a one-way, downhill hike. Devise a car-shuttle arrangement, or have someone drop you off at the start and later pick you up at the finish. The terrain is rough and rocky, so wear shoes or boots with ankle support.

Start walking at the north end of the Culp Valley Campground, which is found just north of Montezuma Highway (County S-22) between mile markers 9.0 and 9.5. Walk north 0.2 mile along the signed trail to the "Lookout" or vista point on the rim of Culp Valley, and veer right as the west branch of the riding and hiking trail joins from the left. Proceed up and over the nearby rounded hill (elevation 3520 feet) dubbed the Lookout.

Once past the Lookout, you thread your way downward along the undulating stair-step divide separating the shallow drainage of Dry Canyon from the deeper cleft of Hellhole Canyon. The pseudo-chaparral vegetation you saw at first grades into a low-desert type of vegetation -- mostly ocotillo, creosote bush, and brittlebush. When in full bloom this month and next, the brittlebush spreads patches of yellow across the stony slopes. On the clearer days, the near and far views of desert valleys and mountains are consistently stunning all the way down. The last mile of the hike features an unusually steep descent to the desert floor near the mouth of Hellhole Canyon. Turn right as the trail reaches near-level ground, and walk over to the major trailhead/staging area on Montezuma Highway, 0.7 mile south of Palm Canyon Drive, just outside Borrego Springs.

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The old, never-completed California Riding and Hiking Trail, pieced out of dirt roadways and previously existing trails during the post-World War II years, has never quite disappeared from San Diego County. One branch of this erstwhile trail splits from its main north-south strand in the Cuyamaca Mountains and leads over desert hill and dale toward Borrego Valley. One of the better-maintained sections descends from Ranchita, high on the west rim of the Anza-Borrego Desert, toward Borrego Springs. Treading this narrow pathway, you follow in the prehistoric footsteps of Native Americans, whose seasonal migrations between the winter warmth of the desert and the summer coolness of the mountains made feasible their hunter-gatherer existence. For several decades during the early 20th Century, the same route was used by cattlemen driving herds from the Mesa Grande area near Lake Henshaw to winter and springtime grazing grounds in Borrego Valley.

The somewhat abbreviated five-mile stretch of the trail I describe here is best done as a one-way, downhill hike. Devise a car-shuttle arrangement, or have someone drop you off at the start and later pick you up at the finish. The terrain is rough and rocky, so wear shoes or boots with ankle support.

Start walking at the north end of the Culp Valley Campground, which is found just north of Montezuma Highway (County S-22) between mile markers 9.0 and 9.5. Walk north 0.2 mile along the signed trail to the "Lookout" or vista point on the rim of Culp Valley, and veer right as the west branch of the riding and hiking trail joins from the left. Proceed up and over the nearby rounded hill (elevation 3520 feet) dubbed the Lookout.

Once past the Lookout, you thread your way downward along the undulating stair-step divide separating the shallow drainage of Dry Canyon from the deeper cleft of Hellhole Canyon. The pseudo-chaparral vegetation you saw at first grades into a low-desert type of vegetation -- mostly ocotillo, creosote bush, and brittlebush. When in full bloom this month and next, the brittlebush spreads patches of yellow across the stony slopes. On the clearer days, the near and far views of desert valleys and mountains are consistently stunning all the way down. The last mile of the hike features an unusually steep descent to the desert floor near the mouth of Hellhole Canyon. Turn right as the trail reaches near-level ground, and walk over to the major trailhead/staging area on Montezuma Highway, 0.7 mile south of Palm Canyon Drive, just outside Borrego Springs.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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