Spring along the San Dieguito River (8 photos, 1 video)

Heavy rains hit San Diego County on Monday and precipitation varied between 1.5 inches of rain in the desert to 9 inches at Palomar Mountain – for a single storm, these numbers are quite dramatic. Today was the first day that all of the various trails of the San Dieguito River Park were open again, and I was curious to see whether I could see the river proper for the first time.

I chose to take a morning walk/hike on the segment of the Coast to Crest Trail that connects Highland Valley Road with San Pasqual Valley. At San Pasqual Valley, Santa Ysabel Creek and Santa Maria Creek merge and form the San Dieguito River proper – except that I had never seen it flow there, anywhere. I supposed it must have flown in 2011 but I was not aware of its location back then.

Right at the access to the Coast to Crest trail is a river crossing and indeed – there was that river, at last! The water was brown and murky of course. The water level must have been much higher immediately after the storm – plant material was hanging off of the ropes that secure the river crossing, three feet higher. Incredible!

I continued in the other direction though, towards San Pasqual Valley. Some turkeys were on the trail, it was really funny to see and watch them as they slowly walked away from me, eyeing me suspiciously. :-) I like turkeys – their feathers are pretty, their heads are ugly, but they’re also cute. Then I saw the amount of debris in the river’s bed. I wasn’t really prepared for this. The sheer amount of water took out almost everything in its path, and ultimately piled it up where the riverbed makes a sharp turn, at Highland Valley Road.

I always walked along this riverbed, which was densely overgrown with a thicket of willows – and didn’t realize that the entire corridor that connects San Pasqual Valley to the upper end of Lake Hodges is essentially a floodplain for the San Dieguito River. When it floods, that is. I now understand why roads and farms alike only hug the surrounding hills, but are not at the center of the valley. Just look at this!

I continued on the Coast to Crest Trail because this of course piqued my curiosity. The trail leaves the valley floor after a while and ascends to a viewpoint called Raptor Ridge – I was hoping to get views down into the valley from there. Entire sections of the trail must have been flooded by the river. I saw water running across the trail from an ephemeral waterfall that I heard rushing on a nearby hillside, but couldn’t really see.

Nevertheless – all the rain we already had of course means that there’s an explosion of green right now. Grasses are as tall as a foot or more already, orange patches of poppies glow on the hillsides, wildflowers, liverwort and ferns are growing along the trail. It’s remarkable what “a little water” can do…

Here are some photos. As usual, you can either simply scroll down (if you’re on a small screen device), or click on one of the photos to see the photos slighly larger in the the slideshow viewer (if you’re on a desktop/laptop computer with a large display).

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