Return to San Diego

Santee, CA

Months ago we made a reservation at Mission Bay RV Resort in San Diego for a month stay beginning in the middle of December.  With nothing planned until then we thought about heading to Yuma for a couple of weeks.  But when our son, Kevin, called and said he had a few days off and could fly out from Atlanta for a visit, we changed plans and headed for San Diego early.  Since Mission Bay limits your stay to a month we couldn’t go there early, so we decided to return to Santee Lakes Regional Park, where we had spent a month two years ago.  Santee is just east of San Diego and the campground is located along a number of small, man-made lakes.  The park is well-maintained and the sites are wide and long.  The only negative is that the sites are dirt and gravel and can be a problem when it rains.

Our home in Santee Lakes

We picked Kevin up at the San Diego airport on Saturday and that evening enjoyed a delicious belated Thanksgiving dinner perfectly prepared by Chef Pam.  The next morning we headed west into the hills for a hike.  We drove out I-8 for about 20 miles then seven miles north on Rte. 79 to the Sweetwater River parking area.  That is the trailhead for the Airplane Monument/West Mesa Loop Trail near Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

John and Kevin head up the trail

After hiking up into the hills for a few miles we came to the Airplane Monument, an old Liberty 12-cylinder aircraft engine mounted on stones.

The engine is from a DH-4B biplane that crashed on December 7, 1922 (ironically our visit was on December 7th).  An Army pilot, First Lt. Charles Webber, volunteered to fly Col. Francis Marshall to Arizona from San Diego to conduct official military business in Fort Huachuca.  When the weather deteriorated, Webber turned back to San Diego.  Shortly after reversing his course, the plane experienced engine trouble, and without a radio to communicate their engine failure, Webber and Marshall crashed into the ridge below Japacha Peak.  Neither Webber nor Marshall survived.  Search-and-rescue teams failed to recover the men and their plane after months of searching.  Five months later, a local rancher by the name of George McCain found the burned remains along with the airplane wreckage.

The engine block of the DH-4B biplane was mounted as a memorial for the World War I veterans.  The memorial was dedicated in May 1923 and refurbished by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1934, who constructed the Airplane Monument Trail, and again in 1968 when the state parks improved the monument.

Looking west toward San Diego and the Pacific Ocean


As we crossed a ridge we were met by three hikers with riders on their backs.  Slick, Bandit, and Hoot stopped for a few minutes to allow their riders to talk with us.

When there are no dogs around to feed, a horse will do!


Kevin stayed with us for two nights before boarding a flight back to Atlanta.  He flies airliners for a living, so a cross-country flight wasn’t very exciting.

Friends, Hans and Lisa, (Metamorphosis Road) are also staying in Santee Lakes, so the day after Kevin left we joined them on a hike up Iron Mountain.  We met Hans and Lisa during our stay in Santee Lakes two years ago and haven’t seen them for about a year and a half, so it was great to re-connect.  They are avid hikers and are from the San Diego area and always have some great hikes for us.

Heading up Iron Mountain Trail


Not far up the trail we passed an open pasture where dogs undergo training to work as sheep dogs.  The dog pictured below needs a little more practice as when the trainer called out, the sheep returned to the barn but the dog stayed out in the field!

The main trail at Iron Mountain is a basic up and back hike.  We took an alternate loop trail that was a bit longer and gave us more elevation changes along with cool views to the east and west.

The view to the west . . .

. . . and to the east

The next morning we decided to hike up the canyon north of the park.  The area is heavily used by mountain bikers, so many trails wind through the valley between the hills.

Going from the park to the trail required a bit of scrambling

A few miles from the park, at a spot where many of the mountain bike trails intersect, someone is in the process of painting something on a large boulder.  At this point we couldn’t tell just what it would end up looking like.

Looks like someone has overstayed their parking meter time


The main trail was pretty flat so we took a side trail up the hillside for a change of pace.

Lunch under one of the few trees along the trail

Someone didn’t enjoy their bike ride!


Lisa has told us that she thought that the area was used as a training area for helicopter pilots, so we were not surprised when a chopper did some landing maneuvers near us.

We will be in Santee Lakes for about a week before making the short move to Mission Bay where we will spend a month.  The possibility of another family visitor looms large for Christmas morning, barring a blizzard in southern Pennsylvania.

More on that later . . .

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25 Responses to Return to San Diego

  1. cathy says:

    It looks warm there…send some of the warmth to Florida! I’m hoping I’ll be able to put on a pair of shorts when we get to Big Cypress this weekend!

  2. Looks like another nice hiking area, seeing monuments like that really make you think back to what life must have been like to those back then. We are in Lake Mead for a week and have been looking back at your blog posts to see which of the hikes we should take. Today we have Anniversary Narrows on our list!

    • placestheygo says:

      Enjoy the Narrows!! It is nice to park and hike the mile in to the narrows and check out all the mines along the way. We used this website for our directions, photos, and suggestions for hikes… It is a super site with a great map of the entire area so you can really see where all the hikes are. You won’t run out of hikes!

  3. Love the group selfie! You sure got a nice capture of the dog herding the sheep.

    Last year that rock was just a big white blob, we hadn’t walked close to it yet this year…I kinda like the art work in progress!

    • placestheygo says:

      I loved finding that rock. It looks like it had something painted on the back previously and it was painted over. Yes, the design looks like it will continue. I am very curious what it will be when finished. It looks like something from Dr. Seuss. There is a hand in an ear on the one side. Very strange!

  4. Sue says:

    I loved this post, so much going on, not so much rock scrambling! It was great to see the group selfie, we miss all your happy faces. You found the perfect hike for Kevin it seems and I would have loved coming across the 4 footed hikers. Pam, do you carry horse cookies in your pockets too?
    The weather in those shots looks about perfect but I know you’re having a wet and windy time right now….thank goodness for all the pavement there at Mission Bay! Enjoy your time in San Diego, one of our favorite places.
    Love, Sue

  5. Ingrid says:

    San Diego is on our radar as a consideration for next December. It’s a great place to have the kids come visit us with a lot to see and do to keep everyone happy. You’ll need to let me know the best sites as Mission Bay to reserve. Have fun!

  6. Nancy says:

    The car, the bike… the sheep herder… WOW !! What a neat hike.

  7. Jodee Gravel says:

    How fun to catch some time with Kevin. He looks just like his dad in the photos 🙂 Wow, you two and Hans and Lisa hiking together must be like an Olympic event – glad you were able to get out there together (great selfie). Maybe they were training the sheep? I’m thinking there’s a message in the car, bike and horses about who’s welcome on the trail and who isn’t……. you were probably relieved not to find old, rusty hiking boots!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Jodee, Kevin does look like his father:) He’s not big on appearing in the blog. We really enjoyed our few days together.

      We enjoyed our hike with Hans and Lisa and look forward to many more over the next month and a half.

      Yes, the dog was being trained to herd the sheep. He must have been very new because the sheep were better trained than he was at this point:)

  8. Sherry says:

    Now that is a lot of hiking but then you guys are professionals. That selfie makes it clear what a great time you are having. We sure would like some of that shorts weather here in not so sunny Florida.

    • placestheygo says:

      We have been spoiled with perfect weather for so long now that we won’t know how to react when it changes. We are expecting rain, wind, and cooler temps tomorrow. Sure hope your weather improves in Florida.

      We’ve been very busy with several great hikes in the area. We want to take advantage of the pleasant weather:)

  9. Gay says:

    Looks like a great time with Kevin and with Hans and Lisa. We had so wanted to stay at Mission Bay for January ( provided Joe gets the OK to go), but they have a 2 dog limit. We run into that problem with some regularity! Anyhow, looking forward to your hikes in the area! Enjoy….

    • placestheygo says:

      It was great having Kevin visit for a few days and we are thrilled to be back hiking with Hans and Lisa:) Too bad you can’t stay at Mission Bay. We’ve never stayed there but are looking forward to a great time on the water. Maybe you could look into Santee Lakes Regional Park!? We aren’t too far from San Diego. It’s very nice here with large sites and beautiful lakes with lots of ducks.

  10. LuAnn says:

    Welcome to sunny So. Cal! Well, maybe not so much today but the much needed precipitation is great to see. Glad you were about to see Kevin for a couple of days and reconnect with Hans and Lisa. Hope to see you both soon. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Lu, our weather has been wonderful until today:) But this area does need rain so badly it is nice to see it. I am struggling with the higher humidity. After dry desert I really notice the difference. Looking forward to getting together soon:)

      • LuAnn says:

        It has been very dry here until just the other day so I am noticing the humidity as well. However, we are not as close to the water as you so I’m sure you are feeling the difference after being desert rats for so long. See you soon. 🙂

  11. Laurel says:

    Another sunny locale! You guys sure know how to pick the right place at the right time. How wonderful to spend a couple of days with your son, and then to reconnect with Hans and Lisa. I can only imagine the great time you four have hiking together — actually, it’s very evident from your group selfie. 🙂 The Iron Mountain hike looks especially beautiful.

  12. pmbweaver says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! So happy Kevin made it, and you had your big traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I am sure no one left the table hungry. What a hoot finding that airplane appropriate.

    Now those are a couple of beautiful hikes. The views are awesome. I love the gorgeous blue sky.

    How neat to meet up with friends…yet again. Another cute selfie!

  13. frankeeg says:

    I could not help but comment on your umm err comments about the van park sites being of dirt and gravel and can be a pain in wet weather. Welcome to 90% of van parks in Oz. We rarely used van parks anyway preferring to Free camp in bush locations. With free camping everything is dirt and gravel. But we loved it. Sadly our motor home has been sold and we have no plans to replace it.

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