The old Vallecito Ranch is now part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and has been designated a preserve known as Hawi-Vallecito Cultural Preserve. Hawi is Kumeyaay for “the place where tules grow” and vallecito is Spanish for “little valley.” The Vallecito Valley has been a seasonal home to native Kumeyaay for thousands of years. As the desert heated up, the Native Americans would move up into the Laguna Mountains on the Portrero trail leading out of this valley.
This hike concentrates more on the ranching era, featuring the Olin Bailey Cabin, described in 1916 by a young lady visitor named Chabelita as ”a neat, trim looking little affair with the most heavenly pale blue door and window casings.”
The cabin is a unique example of an earthen adobe structure built around the early 1900s. It was an upgraded version of cabins built in the valley for ranchers trying to raise cattle in the harsh desert. The cabin was built from local soil, wetted and packed between forms, poured or puddled in lifts. One of the window casings looks like it was made from an old axe handle. It is a testament to Bailey’s care in building his desert home that it has outlasted all other adobe homes from over 100 years ago.
Although this trail is more shaded than most trails in the desert, it is best to avoid hiking in summer because of the heat. The best time of year to visit is late fall, winter, or early spring. Most of the trail to the Bailey Cabin cuts through a ciénega (marsh). Any amount of rain will make it difficult to walk through.
Begin this hike after crossing S-2. Step over a horse gate on the south side (a horse gate allows for horses and hikers to enter, but not vehicles). Follow the trail straight ahead on a deep sand farm road lined by beautiful and abundant screw-bean and honey mesquite trees that create refreshing shade. Note also the abundance of desert mistletoe found on the trees. On the east side is what used to be a large, productive melon field, evidenced by the black plastic sheeting in abandoned rows. Continue walking toward the west until a fork in the road with signage noting three choices: Portrero Canyon, Campbell Ranch, and Bailey Cabin. Turn left (east) to follow the trail to the Bailey Cabin.
This part of the trail continues over a ciénega where you can feel the spongy, crusted mud giving way as you continue. Walk past an abandoned corral, complete with a cattle chute. Turn to the left and continue past a large cowbird trap that looks almost like a dog cage. The cowbirds are trapped to help keep them from laying eggs in other native bird nests.
After traveling approximately 1.5 miles, the path leads to the fascinating Bailey Cabin, now protected with fencing and a roof structure. There is a nearby kiosk providing interesting facts about living in the Vallecito Valley during the early 1900s. The west end of the valley is the historic Campbell Ranch, soon to become a National Historic Site.
If time permits, after returning to your vehicle, drive 0.8 mile south on S-2 to the historic Vallecito Stage Station County Park, which has a fine camping area with 44 primitive camping sites and equestrian camp sites. The county park features the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Station. Stagecoach service began in 1858. This station became a “Home Station,” providing good meals from produce and meat supplied by farmers on Mt. Palomar. Continuing down the road is Agua Caliente County Park, which also has camping and geothermal hot springs.
Bailey Cabin in Hawi-Vallecito Cultural Preserve
A hike to a historic cabin is one of many features of this preserve .
Distance from downtown San Diego: 89 miles (Vallecito Valley). Allow 2 hours driving time. From State Route 163N, take I-8E to exit 40 State Route 79N Japatul Valley Road and turn left (north) toward Julian. Turn right on State Route 78E/Banner Rd. in Julian, and then drive approximately 11 miles. Turn right (south) onto S-2 Great Southern Overland Stage Route for 17 miles then left (north) into the Vallecitos Equestrian Staging Area. Parking fee is $3 for day-use only from 6 a.m. to sunset. Carefully cross S-2 to the gated trailhead slightly to the left (west). No facilities.
Hiking length: 2.9 miles out and back.
Difficulty: Easy, with 55 feet elevation gain/loss.