Journey into the wilderness along Pine Creek Road

Photo by Cynthia Robertson. Pine Creek parallels Pine Creek Road in the back country of East County where a long wet season has supplied an abundance of wildflowers and a full creek bed.
Photo by Cynthia Robertson.
Fringed Spineflower grows in along Pine Creek Road after a very rainy winter in San Diego County.

If you are craving to get away from the crowds—really get away—there is a surprise in store for you right in our own back country. A friend and I discovered it last weekend. Originally, we were going to do one of any number of festivals or special events in the city, but I had grown tired of the crowds and needed some peace and quiet.

Somebody in one of my online photography groups had posted that there were still plenty of wildflowers on Mount Laguna. He said that he found them on the Wooded Hill Trail and also at Pine Creek Road. My friend Meagan was intrigued by Pine Creek Road since she had driven kids out to Bible camp that way.

So off we went, with Meagan driving and me relaxing, taking in the sights. We passed by the Bible camp and discovered the road kept going and going. Eventually, we came to a one-lane bridge which crossed over a creek. We got out of the car to look at and listen to the gentle rushing of water. Meagan pointed out the Mickey Mouse shape of a water skimmer’s shadow. Tadpoles darted through the water so clear that the rocks looked like gemstones shimmering in the ripples and sunlight. 

Shortly, we got back in Meagan’s Toyota Corolla and, coaxed by the beauty of flowers, trees, rocks and the creek, we continued down the road.

It began to get narrower and narrower. We laughed about not being on the broad road anymore.   

Photo by Cynthia Robertson.
The view of back country San Diego spreads out in the sunshine of early summer.

Admittedly, we were both a little scared—two women out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. We were also thankful to be with each other. And for the flowers everywhere.

We alternately said, “Oh, God, please give us a push here,” groaning as Meagan forced the car over huge potholes, and then laughing and praying thanks when we made it. At the wildflowers, we breathed prayers of thanks, too.

The scenery was unbelievable. Everywhere there were vast valleys and green mountains. We were the only souls around for miles.

“This reminds me of something you’d see in a western, even ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” I said as we turned yet another hairpin curves, Meagan honking at the blind corners.

“Well, that program was filmed in southern California,” she said, laughing.

For an hour and a half, we traversed the rugged dirt road, though it was only about six miles to Mount Laguna.

We saw giant yucca plants, amazing carpets of wildflowers, and baby squirrels and rabbits. We saw giant boulders and racks of trees that had burned in the fires a decade ago now covered with new growth. A white puffy cloud followed us over the terrain, reminding me of the way that the cloud of smoke must have appeared to the Israelites as they crisscrossed through the wilderness away from Egypt.

Finally, we began recognizing some of the back country of Mount Laguna, close to the Penny Pines area which had burned horrifically in the 2003 Cedar fire.

Skeleton trunks and branches stood in stark contrast to the green mountains. By the time we came across a couple biking on the road now turned to concrete and another car, we were pretty sure we were headed towards Mount Laguna.

“I can’t wait to get back to civilization,” I exclaimed.

“Oh, you are now? Good, so am I,” Meagan said.

When a car drove on by us casually, I asked Meagan to have him stop. She did and waved him back. Graciously, he backed up, smiling at us. I asked him how far we were from the Sunrise Highway.

“Oh, just about 100 yards,” he said. Meagan and I breathed sighs of relief.

Just half an hour later, we nearly stumbled into the Pine House Café, so hungry and overcome with relief we were.

Over our BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches with fresh green salad drizzled with maple-mustard vinaigrette, we recounted our blessings.

It had been an afternoon—a journey through mountain wilderness—to remember. We really had discovered that peace and quiet I was needing in my spirit. But next time? We are borrowing or renting a Jeep.

To go on your own journey along Pine Creek Road, take the exit into Pine Valley, turn left on Old Highway 80, turn right on Pine Creek Road and keep going until you reach Mount Laguna.