Friday, December 5, 2014

Old Banner Grade

A few weeks ago, I woke my family early to take them on a fall hike in the Cuyamaca Mountains near our home.  I wanted to explore a short trail known as the Old Banner Grade, which was originally used as a wagon road in the 1800s.  I’d never hiked that stretch of trail, but I’d heard it led to the ruins of an old mine, the Warlock Mine, which was started in 1870, and I thought the kids would enjoy a taste of local history.

What I didn't realize is that a fire had recently burned through the area.  Wind gusted as we arrived at the trailhead, blowing dust off the bare ground and into our eyes.  What little vegetation remained was charred and dead.  My wife looked doubtful, like I was taking her on a hike into the apocalypse, and I feared the whole outing was about to flop.

But the kids didn’t hesitate, taking off down the trail, immediately imagining themselves as worn survivors in some long-ago battle ground, the dog at their heels, wagging her tail and sniffing.  Pam and I walked behind them, squinting against the wind-blow grit.  But doubtful as we were, the simple act of being outside eventually worked its magic on us too.  The burned and gnarled oaks captured our imagination, and after a while we made it through the burn area and into scrubby vegetation that ran down the hillsides to the desert below. Eventually we found the mine and explored a little before sitting on an old concrete slab to enjoy a simple lunch.

A small, collapsed mine shaft along the trail

Scrub vegetation beyond the burn area

An old shaft at the Warlock Mine

The Warlock Mine

Gone savage with charcoal face paint

Savage bird dance strut

On the way home we stopped in the town of Julian and ate apple pie with ice cream, and as I sat there enjoying the treat with my family, I felt satisfied.  We hadn't done anything extraordinary.  The kids had bickered some, and we’d even gotten dust in our eyes.  But it had been a good day.  Getting outside had done us all some good.  It energized us, painted our imaginations with old miners and wagon rides, and brought us together as a family.  And it was just one more reminder that it’s always good to get outside.  Even the simplest of walks can wake you up to all the small, wonderful things in life.

If you live near San Diego and want to explore Old Banner Grade and the Warlock Mine ruins, drive one mile east from Julian on Highway 78 and turn right at Whispering Pines Road.  Make an immediate sharp right on Banner Road, then a quick left onto Woodland Road.  After about half a mile on Woodland Road the pavement ends.  Park in the cul-de-sac and respectfully follow the private drive downhill to the trail.  One the way home, eat some pie!

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.