Jan. 5 2016 02:58 PM

The year’s highlights of an intrepid San Diego explorer

Gopher Mine
Photo by Jessica Johnson

It was a year filled with night excursions, tunnels, mines, caves and mountains. From the scores of adventures documented by Hidden San Diego in 2015 here are five highlights:

Jamul Kiln

Five of us headed into the wilds of Jamul with little direction. Our goal was to find the remains of a kiln that dates back to the 1880s. We started off on the wrong trail and went up and over a mountain (at this point no longer with a trail). Heading down the mountain wasn't easy and required walking through bushes, but with the kiln finally in sight at least we could see we were walking in the right direction.

The kiln was amazing, and we had the brilliant idea of taking night shots of it during a new moon. Leaving at night meant we had to find our way back home in the dark. Since there was a new moon there was no light in the sky. The area is rumored to be haunted, and has a history of bloody battles between Native Americans and Western pioneers. After dealing with a pack of coyotes that were celebrating a kill nearby (which was freaky enough for me) soon a deep, rhythmic drumming began. It sounded like native drumming and felt as if it was all around us, including beneath us. We were out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from civilization, and this truly creeped us out. It was our cue to go home.

Still with no correct path out, we made our way back up the mountain. This time we couldn't see what was right in front of us. It was pretty darn scary and horrendously annoying. Navigating through shrub and trees we often had to go well out of the way. I'm surprised we found our way back and still had our wits about us. One friend mentioned he was never coming out with us again. And he hasn't.

Half Moon Tunnel

I can hear one friend laughing about this trip making it into my Top 5. He does tunnel trips regularly. I, on the other hand, had never gone all the way through a tunnel or anywhere even near going all the way through. This trip didn't start off with intentions of going tunneling. We were planning on hiking in a nearby canyon but there it was (near 5988 Mission Center Road), beckoning us to come in. We were only going to go in a little ways but I guess exploring with someone who had already gone through it before and was experienced put me at ease.

I had no clue that these tunnels open up into complete underworlds, just like out of a video game, with multiple levels. I knew there were super-cool tunnels in San Diego, but I didn't realize that so many start off looking basic and then turn into this.

Gopher Mine & Migrant Camp

I am not a huge fan of mines because, well, they can collapse at any time. I end up in them several times a year, and when I do go in one it's kind of a big deal. Gopher Mine in Julian was my favorite this year because of the beautiful hike and all the cool abandoned-looking homes nearby. People do live in those homes—despite the state they're in—so if you head out here, please come with respect. This mine had multiple levels, which I completely wussed out on, but we did find old scrawlings from the miners on the first level that seem to date back 100 years.

Smugglers Cave

What makes a perfect trip to me is an unknown, mysterious location that I have never been to, paired with great company. That's what this trip was. Just the drive to the cave in Campo was an adventure. Our guide, Coyote, owner of Coyote's UFO Repair Shop, made everything special and entertaining. The caves were first used by border bandits back in 1875. After being raided, a store owner created a stone fortress to protect himself. In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants were smuggled across the Mexican border and hid in the caves.

Rattlesnake Mountain

What made this trip unique was that 95 percent of it was done at night. And this mountain in Santee lived up to its name. While exploring that night we encountered five rattlesnakes! This hike very quickly became like a survivalist movie, but we still had a blast. We found an old exploratory mine, a cistern and a stone dam, and we had to cross over a 10-foot-deep ravine connected by tree branches to finish the hike.

To get more details about these and other out-of-the-way spots in San Diego, go to hiddensandiego.net.


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