Have you ever driven down Interstate 8 east of Jacumba and, eyeing the immense boulder piles that rise on both sides, wondered what it would be like to clamber over them? Here’s your chance. Follow these directions and you’ll be on your way into a relatively accessible (for intrepid hikers, anyway) portion of the Jacumba Wilderness in westernmost Imperial County. This rugged and picturesque high-desert area, administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management, gets relatively few footprints from recreational hikers and possibly more of them from migrants heading north from Mexico. Due to formidable fencing recently installed along much of the international border, there’s not as much immigrant traffic as there used to be. Nevertheless, for safety, it’s advisable to travel in groups out there.
To get to the jumping-off point, exit Interstate 8 at Mountain Spring, a few miles east of Jacumba. At a point midway in the “island” between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the freeway, turn east on a rough dirt road. In 0.2 mile this road joins the abandoned concrete ribbon of old U.S. Highway 80. Drive (or walk if the road is too rough) east for an additional 1.3 miles and park near the road’s end — just before the brink of a road cut made for the eastbound lanes of I-8. What lies ahead is a four-mile loop hike or a shorter or longer reconnaissance of the area, according to your taste. Knowledgeable hikers will want to have a copy of the U.S. Geological Survey 7.5-minute In-Ko-Pah Gorge topographic map with them or perhaps a GPS unit and the knowledge to use one.
From the old road’s edge, scramble down the slope about 100 feet to the sandy bed of Myer Creek. Pass under the lanes of I-8 through the large culvert to the west and continue 0.1 mile in the wash until you come to the base of a rocky gully on the left (east). Scramble up the coarse-grained granitic boulders in this gully; after 400 feet of elevation gain you join a sandy wash. Continue east, passing over a saddle and then on down into Myer Valley. The half-square-mile valley, thickly grown with creosote-bush shrubs and ocotillos, sheds water to the north. A maze of long abandoned jeep roads (closed to vehicle traffic even before this area was declared a Bureau of Land Management wilderness) laces the valley.
Upon reaching the edge of the valley, you can turn south and skirt the west edge of the valley, following a minor wash. Pick up traces of an old jeep trail about 0.3 mile southwest of a peak labeled elevation 2033 on the topographic map. Follow this west-southwest to the top of a broad divide and then descend toward a ravine that leads west into a north-flowing tributary of Boulder Creek. After some moderate scrambling, you’ll arrive at a beautiful palm oasis, complete with a year-round spring. A dry fall (perhaps streaked with moisture if rains have come) and some Indian grinding holes are nearby.
From the palm oasis, it’s an easy 1.2 miles back to the culvert under I-8, via Boulder and Myer creeks — downhill in wash bottoms all the way.
At 0.3 and 0.4 mile below the palm oasis, two canyons come in on the left, inviting side-trips. The first of these, a rugged tributary to the south, is fascinating, with immense boulders, hidden cottonwoods, and palms. Some difficult scrambling is required to fully explore it. The second of these, upper Boulder Creek canyon to the southwest, is vegetation-choked and unremarkable.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Hike amid giant boulders in the Jacumba Wilderness area east of Jacmuba.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 72 miles
Hiking length: 4.0 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous