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Airplane Monument

Trail to past tragedy in the Cuyamacas

The remains of an aircraft engine commemorate the lives lost.
The remains of an aircraft engine commemorate the lives lost.

Spring is the optimal time to visit Airplane Monument. Chaparral and coastal sage scrub brighten the landscape with an array of beautiful flowering plants, such as chaparral white thorn and white sage. Checker blooms and golden yarrow are prevalent wildflowers during spring, which are another aesthetic feature on your walk. Majestic granitic rocks dot the landscape with aggregate chunks of white and black, making it a fairly difficult landscape to navigate in remote spots on the trail. 

The trek to Airplane Monument begins on the north side of SR-79, immediately after crossing Sweetwater Bridge. Go north, then left to the southwest, paralleling SR-79 on the West Mesa Trail in a beautiful oak-forested area of the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Just short of a half-mile into the hike, turn right to take the Monument Trail. Summers snow, or Linanthus, decorate the walk with beautiful white flowers. Be sure to listen for Steller’s jays, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers. Birds such as the black-headed grossbeak and lazuli bunting have also been observed on this hike. As you ascend, the scenery changes from an oak woodland to a dense chaparral with patches of coastal sage scrub. Evergreen shrubs become the dominant scenery.

After a winding 2.5 miles through various habitats, you reach the hike destination, Airplane Monument. The 1000 feet of elevation gain provides a panoramic view of the surrounding Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Be certain to bring binoculars so you can see the geologic beauty of Stonewall Peak from the monument. The monument is a Liberty 12-cylinder aircraft engine mounted on stones. The engine is from a DH-4B biplane that crashed on December 7, 1922. An Army pilot, First Lt. Charles Webber, volunteered to fly Col. Francis Marshall to Arizona from San Diego to conduct official military business in Fort Huachuca. Due to inclement weather, Webber turned back to San Diego. Shortly after reversing his course, the plane experienced engine trouble, and without a radio to communicate their engine failure, Webber and Marshall crashed into the ridge below Japacha Peak. Neither Webber nor Marshall survived. Search-and-rescue teams failed to recover the men and their plane after months of searching. Five months later, a local rancher by the name of George McCain found the burned remains along with the airplane wreckage. The engine block of the DH-4B biplane was mounted as a memorial for the World War I veterans. Beware of bees that have taken residence inside the engine. 

You can either return by the same trails or extend 0.5 mile as a loop by continuing north from the engine where the Monument Trail continues as the West Mesa Loop Fire Road. Turn south on Japacha Fire Road (or Pipeline, depending on the reference map used) after crossing Japacha Creek, continuing south on West Side Trail. Just north of the Sweetwater Bridge, turn left to cross SR-79 to the parking lot. Note that trails may have multiple names as they merge (i.e., Japacha and Pipeline Fire Road). Neither route is recommended to hike in winter. However, the trail is well defined and can be navigated by advanced hikers when snow covered.

  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 47 miles. Allow 60 minutes driving time. (Cuyamaca Mountains) From I-8, exit north onto SR-79. Continue to the large parking area on the right, just before the Sweetwater Bridge, one-half mile past the Green Valley Falls Campground. Chemical toilet may be at parking lot.
  • Hiking length: Approximately 5 miles.
  • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous with over 1000 feet of elevation gain. Adequate water, trekking poles, and good hiking shoes with traction are recommended, as the Monument Trail is steep, narrow, and rocky in places.
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The remains of an aircraft engine commemorate the lives lost.
The remains of an aircraft engine commemorate the lives lost.

Spring is the optimal time to visit Airplane Monument. Chaparral and coastal sage scrub brighten the landscape with an array of beautiful flowering plants, such as chaparral white thorn and white sage. Checker blooms and golden yarrow are prevalent wildflowers during spring, which are another aesthetic feature on your walk. Majestic granitic rocks dot the landscape with aggregate chunks of white and black, making it a fairly difficult landscape to navigate in remote spots on the trail. 

The trek to Airplane Monument begins on the north side of SR-79, immediately after crossing Sweetwater Bridge. Go north, then left to the southwest, paralleling SR-79 on the West Mesa Trail in a beautiful oak-forested area of the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Just short of a half-mile into the hike, turn right to take the Monument Trail. Summers snow, or Linanthus, decorate the walk with beautiful white flowers. Be sure to listen for Steller’s jays, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers. Birds such as the black-headed grossbeak and lazuli bunting have also been observed on this hike. As you ascend, the scenery changes from an oak woodland to a dense chaparral with patches of coastal sage scrub. Evergreen shrubs become the dominant scenery.

After a winding 2.5 miles through various habitats, you reach the hike destination, Airplane Monument. The 1000 feet of elevation gain provides a panoramic view of the surrounding Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Be certain to bring binoculars so you can see the geologic beauty of Stonewall Peak from the monument. The monument is a Liberty 12-cylinder aircraft engine mounted on stones. The engine is from a DH-4B biplane that crashed on December 7, 1922. An Army pilot, First Lt. Charles Webber, volunteered to fly Col. Francis Marshall to Arizona from San Diego to conduct official military business in Fort Huachuca. Due to inclement weather, Webber turned back to San Diego. Shortly after reversing his course, the plane experienced engine trouble, and without a radio to communicate their engine failure, Webber and Marshall crashed into the ridge below Japacha Peak. Neither Webber nor Marshall survived. Search-and-rescue teams failed to recover the men and their plane after months of searching. Five months later, a local rancher by the name of George McCain found the burned remains along with the airplane wreckage. The engine block of the DH-4B biplane was mounted as a memorial for the World War I veterans. Beware of bees that have taken residence inside the engine. 

You can either return by the same trails or extend 0.5 mile as a loop by continuing north from the engine where the Monument Trail continues as the West Mesa Loop Fire Road. Turn south on Japacha Fire Road (or Pipeline, depending on the reference map used) after crossing Japacha Creek, continuing south on West Side Trail. Just north of the Sweetwater Bridge, turn left to cross SR-79 to the parking lot. Note that trails may have multiple names as they merge (i.e., Japacha and Pipeline Fire Road). Neither route is recommended to hike in winter. However, the trail is well defined and can be navigated by advanced hikers when snow covered.

  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 47 miles. Allow 60 minutes driving time. (Cuyamaca Mountains) From I-8, exit north onto SR-79. Continue to the large parking area on the right, just before the Sweetwater Bridge, one-half mile past the Green Valley Falls Campground. Chemical toilet may be at parking lot.
  • Hiking length: Approximately 5 miles.
  • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous with over 1000 feet of elevation gain. Adequate water, trekking poles, and good hiking shoes with traction are recommended, as the Monument Trail is steep, narrow, and rocky in places.
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Comments
2

It sure would be nice if The Reader would post Summer hikes in the Summer; Winter hikes in the Winter, etc.. The writers for this hike recommend it be done in the Spring. It is now October. Spring is long gone. Just a suggestion, but it would be a nice touch and I'm sure the Canyoneers would be happy to accommodate you.

Oct. 23, 2013

So wait until NEXT Spring. No biggie. ;-)

April 27, 2018

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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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