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Explore a relatively unknown canyon of Anza-Borrego

Head to Hornblende Canyon if you wanna rock

Start of the trail into Hornblende Canyon
Start of the trail into Hornblende Canyon

Hornblende Canyon twists and turns as it climbs the shoulder of Granite Mountain. It has a great variety of plants, some dry waterfalls, old mines, plus Native American sites with morteros. As part of the Granite Mountain complex, the dominant rock here is hornblende-biotite tonalite, a granitic, which is an intrusive igneous rock consisting of feldspar, quartz, mica and/or amphibole minerals (like hornblende). Hornblende is a dark rock-forming mineral. Biotite is black mica. Another rock found here is the gray-brown Julian schist, a metamorphic with twisted, streaked bands of darker and lighter material that originated as seafloor sediment millions of years ago and underwent great pressure and heat to recrystallize into its present form, which is a biotite mica schist. This area sits in the Elsinore fault zone and is subjected to major tectonic forces.

Hornblende Canyon trail map

The canyon walls quickly rise from the trailhead. About a mile up the canyon is the first dry waterfall that needs to be scaled. Soon after passing the waterfall, begin looking for tailings from an old mine on the left. This mine and others in the area are probably digs from prospectors looking for gold or tourmaline in areas of Julian schist and pegmatite dikes. Do not enter the mines, as they could be dangerous or you could disturb bats that might reside in them.

Just over two miles from the trailhead is a second dry waterfall. Carefully climb up the waterfall to view the many morteros found at the top that indicate use of this area by the ancient Kumeyaay. Although this is the recommended turnaround point, the canyon can be explored for another two miles to its end, which would require scaling more dry waterfalls.

The dark canyon rocks are hornblende biotite

What makes this canyon so special, besides the varied colored minerals, granitics, and Julian schist, is the variety of plants including desert apricot, jojoba, California juniper, Mormon tea, Parish’s viguiera, Gander’s and pink teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia fosbergii), brittlebush, creosote, milkweed, agave, barrel cactus, and ocotillo. The barrel cacti are especially large. In spring, this canyon rivals Plum Canyon for a display of wildflowers, and because of its higher elevation, it can be hiked late into the desert season. June is not too late, especially if hiked early morning or late afternoon.

Milkweed bugs

On a late seasonal hike one can see the green curling seed pods on catclaw acacia, fruit on the desert apricot, berries on the juniper trees, and desert willow in bloom at the parking turnout across from the trailhead. Milkweed seedpods will be open, and if you look carefully, there may be small orange and black milkweed bugs clustered on the seedpods.

Hornblende Canyon

Distance from downtown San Diego: 81.3 miles (Blair Valley/Box Canyon). Allow 2 hours driving time. From SR-163N, take I-8E to SR-79N/Japatul Valley Road. Turn north toward Descanso and continue just under 3 miles; turn left to remain on SR-79N until it ends just past the post office in Julian. Turn right on SR-78, go approximately 11 miles down Banner Grade to Scissors Crossing, then take a right onto SR-2; after 9.1 miles there is a small pull-out on the south side of the road for parking, 0.4 mile past the Box Canyon Monument. Carefully cross the road to begin the hike.

Hiking length: 4.4 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate with elevation gain/loss of 900 ft. Dogs not allowed. No facilities.

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Start of the trail into Hornblende Canyon
Start of the trail into Hornblende Canyon

Hornblende Canyon twists and turns as it climbs the shoulder of Granite Mountain. It has a great variety of plants, some dry waterfalls, old mines, plus Native American sites with morteros. As part of the Granite Mountain complex, the dominant rock here is hornblende-biotite tonalite, a granitic, which is an intrusive igneous rock consisting of feldspar, quartz, mica and/or amphibole minerals (like hornblende). Hornblende is a dark rock-forming mineral. Biotite is black mica. Another rock found here is the gray-brown Julian schist, a metamorphic with twisted, streaked bands of darker and lighter material that originated as seafloor sediment millions of years ago and underwent great pressure and heat to recrystallize into its present form, which is a biotite mica schist. This area sits in the Elsinore fault zone and is subjected to major tectonic forces.

Hornblende Canyon trail map

The canyon walls quickly rise from the trailhead. About a mile up the canyon is the first dry waterfall that needs to be scaled. Soon after passing the waterfall, begin looking for tailings from an old mine on the left. This mine and others in the area are probably digs from prospectors looking for gold or tourmaline in areas of Julian schist and pegmatite dikes. Do not enter the mines, as they could be dangerous or you could disturb bats that might reside in them.

Just over two miles from the trailhead is a second dry waterfall. Carefully climb up the waterfall to view the many morteros found at the top that indicate use of this area by the ancient Kumeyaay. Although this is the recommended turnaround point, the canyon can be explored for another two miles to its end, which would require scaling more dry waterfalls.

The dark canyon rocks are hornblende biotite

What makes this canyon so special, besides the varied colored minerals, granitics, and Julian schist, is the variety of plants including desert apricot, jojoba, California juniper, Mormon tea, Parish’s viguiera, Gander’s and pink teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia fosbergii), brittlebush, creosote, milkweed, agave, barrel cactus, and ocotillo. The barrel cacti are especially large. In spring, this canyon rivals Plum Canyon for a display of wildflowers, and because of its higher elevation, it can be hiked late into the desert season. June is not too late, especially if hiked early morning or late afternoon.

Milkweed bugs

On a late seasonal hike one can see the green curling seed pods on catclaw acacia, fruit on the desert apricot, berries on the juniper trees, and desert willow in bloom at the parking turnout across from the trailhead. Milkweed seedpods will be open, and if you look carefully, there may be small orange and black milkweed bugs clustered on the seedpods.

Hornblende Canyon

Distance from downtown San Diego: 81.3 miles (Blair Valley/Box Canyon). Allow 2 hours driving time. From SR-163N, take I-8E to SR-79N/Japatul Valley Road. Turn north toward Descanso and continue just under 3 miles; turn left to remain on SR-79N until it ends just past the post office in Julian. Turn right on SR-78, go approximately 11 miles down Banner Grade to Scissors Crossing, then take a right onto SR-2; after 9.1 miles there is a small pull-out on the south side of the road for parking, 0.4 mile past the Box Canyon Monument. Carefully cross the road to begin the hike.

Hiking length: 4.4 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate with elevation gain/loss of 900 ft. Dogs not allowed. No facilities.

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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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