Holiday 2008...Second  Stop: Wm Heise Park, San Diego County


William Heise Park,

San Diego County

We’d met Robin & Cynthia the first time we camped at Wm Heise.
It looked like a tornatdo had gone through the place.
We sucked it up 
and backed the Bambi into our “Site of Devastation.”
We were really glad that we had not been here when the storm came through. It would have been difficult to avoid falling branches.

Saturday was our day to pack up and move to San Diego County’s Wm Heise Park about a mile east of Julian, CA.  It’s only about 30 miles further east into the Cuyamaca Mountains on 78 & 78/79, so we didn’t hurry to leave. We’d also stayed at Wm Heise in May 07 so we knew where we were going. We’d met our Airstream friends Robin &

Cynthia with their 16’ Bambi at Wm Heise that trip. At that

time they lived in the LA area, but have since moved to the

Seattle area. Unfortunately they moved to Seattle before we

had a chance to go camping with them in southern California

… guess we’ll just have to go to the Pacific Northwest to

catch them again!

When we reached Santa Ysabel, CA, at the junction of Highways 78 and 79, we saw a sign that said “Chains Required 1 Mile Ahead.” Uh-oh. But wait — none of the cars coming down from Julian had chains — so we figured they had just forgotten to take down the sign from the week earlier. We were right, thank goodness. (By the way, we have since decided that if we ever find ourselves headed up a road where chains are required while pulling the Bambi, we are going to the wrong place, and will change our plans accordingly.)

About 5 miles before we got to the turn off Highway 78/79 to Wm Heise, we began seeing “old snow” along side the road (you know, that hard frozen dirty grey stuff that the lovely white fluffy stuff turns into after a few days of winter bliss) … and a lot of limbs and branches off trees along the road. Hmmm. The closer we got to Julian, the more traffic we saw ahead of us until finally we were in bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic that seemed to stretch for miles ahead. We didn’t know what was going on, but lots of folks were getting frustrated and turning around. Did htey know something we didn’t? It felt like maybe there was an accident or some other traffic obstruction.

Then about a mile short of Julian we got out of the traffic rat-race (still not knowing what the problem was … the answer was to be revealed a little later), as we took the turn south for Wm Heise County Park which is a good 6 miles off the main road. Just about the time you think you’ve missed a turn or something, there’s a sign pointing the way. It’s a winding road that climbs even higher and meanders through an area of out of the way homes and clusters of farm buildings. As we got closer we saw even more downed limbs and trees along the road. This did not bode well.

Then we were suddenly there. There was no one in the ranger station, so we pulled on in and made our way up the road to the electric loop.

                   Hmmm. More downed branches and trees.  We turned into

                       the loop and felt like we’d driven into a war zone. The

                       place looked like a tornado had gone through it. Our site —

                       which was the same one we had stayed in during May ’07

                        and that we had enjoyed so much because it was secluded

                          and surrounded by shrubs and bushes — was stripped of all vegetation. The cement curb at the back end of the site’s paved pad had been shoved off the pavement and laid half covered with more of the “old snow” and debris … apparently the victim of a bulldozer scraping the snow away. The site next to ours had yellow “do not enter” tape stretched across the entrance between the remains of what had once been shrubs, and the ground was scarred with tire tracks. The whole area had been bulldozed to remove snow, downed branches and trees from the roadway. The center of the loop was stacked with trunks of trees that had been cut up and stacked up in front of broken stumps, smaller limbs and piles of brush.

We stopped for a minute and just stared at our site, a little in shock. The whole loop was this way. Nearly every bush was gone, all the sites seemed naked and exposed and raw … we had obviously barely missed a devastating event. But there we were … and there was our site — the one we had reserved. Oh joy.

We were not alone, though. There were a few other RVs and trailers in various other sites in the loop, but — eerily — very little activity.

We were not pleased with what we found, having just left

a lovely park only to step into the “war zone.” However,

we sucked it up and backed the Bambi into the mess,

thankful that we only had 3 nights to get through. We

knew we’d survive and sill have a good time. We chose

to look at it as an adventure.

So we set up camp. It was pretty cold (the park is about 4200 feet) about so we didn’t spread too much outside. There was more “old snow” along side and behind the site and down the hill into the woods. The fire ring was filled with charred logs and ice chunks. It, too, had been relocated thanks to the bulldozers. It was all a little sad and forlorn looking. But we knew we would be warm in the comfort of the Bambi.

Once we got settled and the shock had worn off, it was interesting watching others pass through the loop … some were just visiting the park for the day, perhaps to see the aftermath of the storm, but some were towing trailers or driving RVs. Many shared the same look of dismay that we had when we came in. One of the RVs parked in the site beyond ours. We spoke with the folks and welcomed them to the war zone … they, too, had made their plans and reservations in advance, and were somewhat surprised at what they found there. Their son and his wife were arriving later that day, so they, too, were determined to make the best of it.

And we all did. Despite the scars on the land, we did get into our routine and out to take walks with the Girls … once unhitched, Terry drove back to the ranger station to make ourselves “official.” Terry commented to the

                      ranger how bad it looked compared to the last time we were

                            here. He apologized (sort of) and said that the wet,

                              heavy snow had just been too much for the trees to

                               support and that he hoped we would look beyond the

                              debris and piles of branches and downed trees to enjoy

                                our stay. Uh … OK. (He did not offer to refund our

                                reservation costs.)  Terry asked if he knew what was going on down at the main highway and learned that it was simply heavy traffic from San Diegans who had heard there was snow in the mountains near Julian … and they were here to see it. The traffic had been that way ever since chains were no longer required on the road up from Ramona. Julian is a tourist destination in itself, and it is also on the way to the Mt. Laguna area, which is even higher. (Mt. Laguna had been to the north of I-8 as we came over Tecate Pass into the western slopes of the mountains east of the larger San Diego Metro area.) So all that bumper-to-bumper traffic we were caught in was simply gawker traffic heading into Julian and beyond. No accident, no nothin’… just snow flockers.

Early in the evening we drove into Julian to get gas and look around a bit. We were astounded at how crowded the town was, even into the evening. It was a party in progress. There were too many cars in the street to make simple maneuvers, and despite the very cold weather (high 30s once the sun went down) people were standing in lines to get into restaurants. The streets were busy with both shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian and bumper-to-bumper car traffic. It was interesting getting into and out of the small old-fashioned gas station at the other end of town. We were glad we had unhitched the trailer before seeking out gas or we’d still be there ... and we didn’t stay any longer than it took us to gas up. We drove back to the solitude of our quiet little corner of the war zone and got all toasty warm in the Bambi for a very cold night. We had electrical hookups at Wm Heise, so we used our small ceramic electric heater rather than the propane furnace. Totally adequate, quieter, and on their dime.

Sunday we ventured out into the park to see what the other areas looked like. The roads seemed narrow and compromised because of all the debris shoved to the sides of the roads which would make it difficult for larger rigs to get through. However, the large open grassy area beyond our loop didn’t look too bad … pretty much the winter version of what we remembered of our trip during the summer season. The pine trees seem to have survived the heavy snows better than the old oak and

mazanita trees … the latter simply not being built to stand up

under heavy wet snow. As we looked around we were very

glad that we were not in the park when the snow hit. It

would have been very difficult to avoid getting hit with a

limb or tree trunk. Several of the campsites had been so

compromised that they were simply closed down until they

could eventually be cleared. The amount of damage was

overwhelming as we walked through the park. As the

ranger had said, they had a lot of work ahead of them to get the park back into shape. It will take significant manpower and at least a couple of years for the vegetation to regain what had been lost. The silver lining is that they will have a lot of firewood to sell to campers once it has had a year or so to dry and cure!

During their walks the Girls were very interested in the recently cut wood. We don’t know if it was because of the smell of the freshly downed limbs or if they were heavy with the scent of workers, but they both had an unusually high number of “spots of interest” at which they insisted on lingering. Annie and Sadie have not seen a lot of snow, so that, too, was a curiosity for them. Sadie learned quickly that she could lick it and wet her whistle. She licked the icy snow like it was her own personal snow cone. Of course, Annie saw that and joined in … “monkey see, monkey do.”

Sunday afternoon several more campers came into the park and claimed their spaces. Nobody seemed too happy with what they found, but all went ahead set up camp to enjoy it as best they could. We all like to have nice scenery but we have also found that, like most campers, we are able to enjoy ourselves in most situations, simply because we are all together in our little silver trailer, and we are armed with the knowledge that we will be moving on in a day or so to new horizons and new adventures. It’s just that this particular adventure had turned out quite differently than we had anticipated.

We woke Monday to the sound of buzz saws ringing through the park. The San Diego County Chain Gangs were out in full force in their bright

                               orange jump suits with “prisoner” printed prominently

                                     across their backs working on clearing the mess,

                                       cutting the fallen trees into manageable pieces,

                                       and either stacking them along the sides of the

                                      roadways or loading them onto trucks to be

                                      moved elsewhere. We took a walk into the park,

                                        again, then back to the ranger station area to check out the progress. And progress was being made, but it will take them a long time to clear the woods and campsites of everything. Sadie was pretty vocal with the guys with chain saws, but they didn’t seem too bothered by it. Some even barked back.

That day we took a drive back toward Santa Ysabel, as we’d seen some antique shops and a couple of candy shops that we wanted to visit. Unfortunately, the antique shops were closed on Mondays and the candy shops were obscenely expensive, so we looked and moved on. We enjoyed the drive and stopped to take a few pictures of the countryside. It’s quite pastoral in this area — valleys of rolling hills spotted with horses and cows, and surrounded by steep inclines to heavily wooded areas. We saw lots of motorcyclists enjoying the winding roads and cool air.

Before going back to the park, we drove into Julian again, hoping that the crowds had subsided enough to look around. It was slightly less busy, but still too crowded for us to stop and explore. We don’t enjoy large crowds in touristy places. We drove through town to locate the road we would be taking the next day to head down into the Anza-Borrego Desert. Then it was back to the campsite for another quiet evening.

Tuesday morning we got up and had a leisurely morning getting the trailer ready for our departure to Anza-Borrego Desert. That day the Chain Gang was in our loop with their chain saws. The crew’s overseer apologized for the noise they were making but said they really needed to do this. Again, Sadie gave them a good tongue lashing. They were, after all, in what she perceived as her front yard, but they didn’t seem to mind. We guessed that the guys from the prison welceomed the chance to interact with dogs that don’t have pointy ears and big snarling canines for a change — Annie & Sadie are Cocker Spaniels after all, and they aren’t the most intimidating dogs one can imagine.

We got finished packing up and pulled out to head for a new place and a new adventure. We can’t say we wanted to linger at Wm Heise. We had survived, but it was a disappointment after having come so far. We know it will heal, but we also felt that if we had known the park was going to be in such bad shape we would have either stayed longer at Dos Picos or found another place to stay before we continued our trip. We also felt that the park personnel should have taken it upon themselves to contact those who had reservations, alert them to the situation and offer alternatives. Again, we learned that we probably didn’t have to make advanced reservations for this park at this time of year either.  So adieu, Wm Heise, until next time … and it will probably not be during the winter and only after the area has recovered.

Below are pics of this visit to Wm Heise as well a links to the previous and next legs of our trip ... see you at Anza-Borrego!

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>San Diego/Dos Picosholiday08_dospicos.htmlholiday08_dospicos.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0
>Picacho Peakholiday08_picacho.htmlholiday08_picacho.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0
We woke Monday to the sound of buzz saws ringng through the Park, manned by “Men in Orange.”
“Welcome to Wm Heise Park .. and enjoy your stay!” quoth the Ranger.
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