The Anza Borrego Dessert from Sunrise Highway


Laguna Triangle

Lake Cuyamaca, Sunrise Highway and Mount Laguna

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

Historic Route - US 80 Bike Route sign

This ride explores the Peninsular Ranges some 65 kilometres inland from San Diego.

The mountains rise to around 2,000 metres and effectively extract any remaining moisture from the air before it descends to the inland deserts.

Pine Valley Java ... biker friendly

I started from Pine Valley Village which is on old Highway 80.

Cycling the wrong way on the bike route

This is fortunately ... for cyclists at least ... now bypassed by Interstate Highway 8.

The local coffee store advertises itself as being 'biker friendly' ... let's hope it will be open when I return.

Pine Valley Fire Department Pine Valley Sheriff's Station
Pine Valley Store Pine Valley Branch Library
I'm going the long way round to Laguna Mountain Fancy homestead

I had chosen to ride the route clockwise. This meant that I had nearly 60 kilometres of hopefully gentle climbing ... before a steep 15 kilometre descent to finish.

On Mount Palomar I'd taken the opposite approach ... and got all the hard climbing done early in the day ... I wonder which way is easier?

Snow chains required? Only 3 miles to Guatay

I set off westward ... crossed Pine Valley Creek ... and pedalled up the short climb to Guatay.

Several signs warned of the dangers of snow ... and suggested that I should be carrying chains ...

Rocky surroundings The road signs didn't warn of snakes!

... but I was rather more worried about a couple of snakes sleepily soaking up the sun on the edge of the highway.

Wide shoulder for bikes on the climb to Guatay The climb to Guatay Guatay County Store
Frank's Well Drilling Primitive bicycle? Tractor ready for restoration
Just Yesterday John Deere fam implements for sale Tryyn Wooden Spoon Gallery
Turn off for Highway 79 Cuyamaca State Park this way

Guatay is a small sleepy town but has its own general store which also offers 'well drilling' ... a wooden spoon gallery ... and an antique store 'Just Yesterday' which specialises in old farm equipment.

Junction of old Highway 80 with Highway 79

None of the implements for sale looked to be of much use to a cyclist so I pressed on towards Descanso.

Fruit stalls this way

The junction with Highway 79 is festooned with signs pointing out a whole range of routes ...

... accompanied by a plethora of hand painted signs advertising the rival attractions of nearby fruit stalls.

Here I turned north to follow the signs towards Cuyamaca State Park.

Large tractor semis not welcome for the next 73 miles
Horse compounds with rocky slopes above Stall selling local produce Fruit stall
More fruit Syrups

The road passes several horse ranches ... as well as the promised fruit stalls.

I was well stocked with energy foods so did not need to take advantage of their offerings.

The road carving its way along the rock strewn slopes
The road continuing to carve its way along the rock strewn slopes
Turnoff for Oakzanita Springs Sleds, snowboots? Campsite by Oakzanita Springs
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

The road climbs steadily up alongside Descanso Creek passing the Oakzanita Springs Campsite and enters Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Dipping down towards Green Valley

Here the road bears away from the Creek ... crests a small rise ... and drops down into the Green Valley.

Green Valley Area

The Sweetwater River flows through Green Valley which at this point widens and has been cleared of trees to provide open pasture.

Crossing Sweetwater River
Swooping through meadows Fire damaged trees

Much of this area was devastated in the 2003 Cedar Fire ... and the forlorn burnt trunks of trees still stand alongside the road.

Road undulating through Green Valley Road undulating through Green Valley Road undulating through Green Valley
The Dyar Monument Manzanita

Soon the climbing resumes ... and just after an Indian Museum the road turns northwest to follow Cold Stream towards its source on Stonewall Peak.

Stonewall Peak Stonewall Peak Blackened, fire damaged trees

Stonewall Peak is almost perfectly conical and as the road twists from side to side you are left guessing as to which side of it you will pass.

More burnt trees

The road reaches a col alongside the peak where are sited the Park Headquarters and the Paso Picacho Campsite.

Paso Picacho Campsite School kids enjoying a picnic at Paso Picacho Campsite

A school party was at the campsite enjoying a picnic. They had arrived on a yellow school bus. I had seen these school buses driving all over southern California ... but they always seemed to be empty. This was the first time I'd seen one transporting school kids ... what do they do the rest of the time?

Beginning the descent to Cuyamaca Lake Swooping descent Another fire damaged tree
Cuyamaca Lake Cuyamaca Lake Watch out for ducklings!
Lake Cuyamaca Store and Restaurant Boat pontoon on Lake Cuyamaca

Beyond the campsite the road descends down to Lake Cuyamaca.

On the eastern lake shore is a recreation area supporting camping, fishing and boating.

Mural featuring Smokey Bear Steven Rucker Memorial Highway

I was rather more interested in the restaurant and store ... definitely time for a drink.

Cuyamaca Lake Cuyamaca Lake
North Shore Tackle Shop

Continuing on Highway 79 I passed the dam which impounds the lake.

Undulating along the lake shore

The highway runs round to the most northern point of the lake which ... given the dry weather of recent years ... has shrunk to a fraction of its normal size.

The dried up northern portion of Lake Cuyamaca
Mount Laguna only 15 miles away ... 15 miles of climbing Highway S1 ... Sunrise Highway Highway 79 Highway S1 Junction
Don't throw snowballs Heading north towards Mount Laguna

At the top of the lake I turned onto San Diego Highway S1 .. better known as the Sunrise Highway.

According to my newspaper sunrise was at 6:10 ... so I was approximately 8 hours too late to enjoy it.

Pedro Fages Trail

After a short flat section the road climbs for 24 kilometres along a ridge to Laguna Mountain.

Department of Corrections site Mountain views

After just 2 kilometres I crossed the Pedro Fages Trail.

Colonel Fages was dispatched from San Diego in 1772 to search for army deserters.

Sunrise Trailhead

I'm not sure whether he found any deserters ... but he did discover the Colorado desert.

Bill on his third day out from Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail

For much of its length Sunrise Highway parallels the Pacific Crest Trial ... the incredible 4,300 kilometre long hiking trail which runs all the way from Mexico to Canada.

Sunrise Highway closed by snow?

At the Sunrise Trailhead I met Bill who was on his third day out from the Mexican border.

Most walkers tackle the trail from south to north and this first section ... which crosses several deserts ... is generally reckoned to be one of the most difficult.

Sunrise Highway carving its way along the ridge
Rugged landscape
5,000' marker View west from Sunrise Highway

As I climbed above 5,000' I could catch occasional views out to the west.

From the ridge it is a 3,000' drop down to the Mason and Vallecito Valleys which lie within the Anza Borrego Dessert State Park.

More climbing
Rocky surroundings Rocky surroundings Rocky surroundings
More climbing More climbing ... followed by more climbing

Sunrise Highway winds its way from one side of the crest to the other as it finds its way up to the summit of Laguna Mountain.

Laguna Mountain Recreation Area Twisting ... and climbing

Next I entered the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area ... which indicated that the top was not far away ... and I started to dream about summit cafés.

Burnt tree stump Carving through the fire-damaged landscape

Just after I entered the recreation area I passed through another area ravaged by fire.

The trees were all blackened ... but the undergrowth below was being renewed with vigor.

Burnt trees Burnt trees
Burnt trees Burnt trees
Panoramic view with a glimpse of the desert floor
View down to the desert floor View down to the desert floor
View down to the desert floor View down to the desert floor
Laguna / El Prado Campground A fellow cyclist ... travelling rather faster than me.

After passing several campgrounds I arrived at Mount Laguna Village.

Inauspiciously the Visitor Centre and Post Office were closed ...

FAA Radar Dome Laguna Mountain Visitor Centre Don't leave your bike on the porch
Please no bicycles on porch Laguna Mountain Lodge

... but the store at Mount Laguna Lodge was open ...

... and it sold hot drinks.

Blue Jay Lodge

After all the climbing a rest and a hot drink were really welcome.

Mount Laguna Fire Department

I wasn't the only one taking advantage of the store ... another Pacific Crest Trail walker was also stocking up before heading into the trees to camp for the night.

Another fast cyclist

I also met a local couple who had previously cycled the Laguna Triangle ... so we were able to compare notes.

They warned me that there was still a modest climb to the road's summit ... but after that it would be all downhill.

As we were talking the store owner locked up ... I'd made it just in time!

View from near the top of Mount Laguna
Rocky hillsides Rocky hillsides Rocky hillsides
Caution cattle on or near roadway

I climbed back on my bike and set off past the Fire Station.

Soon after passing a sign warning of cattle crossing a rather well-fed fox lopped across the road ... followed not long after by a deer.

Mountain ridges stretching off into the distance Mountain ridges stretching off into the distance
Shadows lengthening
Road disappearing into the distance
Curves on the descent

From the summit Sunrise Highway descends at an almost uniform grade of 5% for 13 kilometres back down to Old Highway 80.

Back on Old Highway 80

I put on my wind proof jacket and sat up to enjoy the views on the way down.

As I descended the shadows grew longer and the distant mountain crests became simple silhouettes.

The final few kilometres along Old Highway 80 back to Pine Hills

Back in Pine Valley the coffee shop was still open ...


Shadows lengthening in the valley below

On the way back I returned along Sunrise Highway and was able to see the shadows lengthening on the desert floor.


Kirby James