Covid chronicles: Hike to the desert’s edge atop Jacumba Peak

I’ve been laying rather low with the documentation of my adventures as of late. It’s been a weird couple of virus-altered months for everyone — especially for those who rely on the outdoors and open space to remain sane.

My website’s silence hasn’t meant that I’ve been staying indoors and twiddling my thumbs. I’ve actually been getting out to recreate quite a bit, but in a rather strategic manner. I’ve been hitting the obscure corners of San Diego County, working within the state and county park closures, all while keeping my contact with the outside world to a bare minimum.

And to be honest, searching out these more remote areas hasn’t bothered me at all. I actually prefer them.

Now that the vast majority of the outdoors — campgrounds, state parks, national forests, etc. — are open for public use (at least in my area), I feel a little more comfortable sharing what I’ve been up to. As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t want to give people who can’t recreate responsibly any outlandish ideas to go take their reckless behavior outdoors to non-traditional trails.

The first adventure in what I hope is a series of ‘Covid chronicles’ posts to come takes place on a high desert mountain on the eastern edge of San Diego County’s peninsular ranges: Jacumba Peak.

How to get there and why it’s cheaper to wear clothes

Jacumba Peak stands 4,512 feet above the sea — the highest point in the Jacumba Mountains, which sit just a handful of miles north of the Mexican border. The range is defined by its aged weather granite boulders and endless views off into the low-lying Colorado Desert. The Jacumba Mountains are a transition zone from the coastal mountains down to the scorching desert, which gives them an interesting mix of flora and fauna from both ecosystems.

The route to Jacumba Peak uses a series of game trails, old jeep roads, and cross-country route navigating to complete the ascent.

The most direct route to gain the peak without a serious off-road vehicle starts at De Anza Springs Resort off Interstate 8.

This is a great launching point for exploring the high desert, but a quirky one at that since it is a nudist getaway.

Parking on their property requires a $5 fee, which I discovered jumps up to $17 if you want to hike nude.

I didn’t really ask why it costs more to simply remove your clothes, but I didn’t really care. Hiking in the desert nude is an absurd task. It’s a land where the plants don’t simply just defend themselves, but they fight back with an array of detachable spiky, barbed weapons.

There’s really no correct way to get to Jacumba Peak, so I won’t go into detail about which trails to take. From the resort, enter the backcountry to the northeast and take any combination of jeep roads and backcountry routes to arrive at the base of the mountain. Keep your heading towards the peak, which will be looming ahead at all times.

As the crow flies, it’s about 3 miles and 1700 feet elevation gain, but expect to do more like 5-6 miles each way due to the indirect nature of the various routes (not to mention the roundabout hiking style of circumnavigating cacti). There is one key to gain the peak: Aim for the prominent saddle just to the south of the ridge from which Jacumba Peak protrudes. This is the most reasonable way to the top.

We didn’t take a very conventional route to Jacumba Peak because I wanted to poke around some different areas in the backcountry. You can see the weathered granite that dominates the terrain, evidence of a once magnificent mountain range that has since become much more modest with the effects of time.
Evidence of the area’s original inhabitants abounds if you keep your eyes peeled. Here a Native American mortero is found on a rock.
Careful where you step because you might stumble upon artifacts, such as this potsherd.
Enjoying the jeep road before we dive back into the foxtails and cacti.
Mariposa Lily.
Getting closer to our destination.
Of course, people have been illegally shooting out in this area, and not cleaning up their trash. I’ve already stated my thoughts on this topic.
I always try to take some trash home with me.
Flowering cholla cactus.
The climb begins.
As we neared the peak we entered the elevation range of yucca, which were in bloom.
As is common with the high desert, the wind often blows relentlessly. The wind was pretty ferocious up on the peak, gaining speed as it raced down to the desert floor.
Jacumba Peak summit, looking north into Anza Borrego State Park.
View looking southwest towards the coastal peaks of Mexico.
Hunkering down from the wind to get a group shot.
The Salton Sea is visible to the northeast.
Looking southeast at the US-Mexico border. Excuse the over editing of the colors, but it was super hazy and tough to make out anything in the original photo.
Apricot Mallow flowering in the higher elevations.
Leaving Jacumba Peak behind and heading back to De Anza Springs.
A great collection of pottery seen on the way back. Do not take these artifacts if you find them. Leave them where they are so that others can enjoy them for generations to come.
Looks to be a prickly pear cactus.
We utilized just about every hour of daylight with many, many detours on the way there and back.

5 thoughts

  1. Great post! 😊

    From: Evan Quarnstrom
    Reply-To: Evan Quarnstrom
    Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at 2:30 PM
    To: Claudia Alvarez
    Subject: [New post] Covid chronicles: Hike to the desert’s edge atop Jacumba Peak

    Evan Quarnstrom posted: ” I’ve been laying rather low with the documentation of my adventures as of late. It’s been a weird couple of virus-altered months for everyone — especially for those who rely on the outdoors and open space to remain sane. My website’s silence has”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your posts! They give me some direction on where to schedule my next trek. Thank you! P.S. Where’s the pictures when you were in De Anza… LOL.


  3. Always love your writing about our beautiful and interesting natural locations! Especially pictures of wildflowers. I got a giggle over thought of naked hiking in desert among cactus!


  4. so near and yet so far… from me in la costa…keep writing!
    I’m taking the liberty of forwarding this to Andrea (Stanley and Dean’s friend) who enjoyed the last one immensely!


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