14 June 2017

Barker Valley Spur Trail

I had found a few descriptions online of Barker Valley Spur Trail in the eastern Palomar Mountains, but there weren't many details about this hike online, and barely any videos of it on YouTube (specifically a lack of videos of the swimming holes or waterfalls that a few people had mentioned online), and those who did write about this hike said the trail to the water was difficult to find and many had ended up trying the hike without ever getting to the waterfall. Sounded like a great adventure to me!  I read all I could about it online and took notes of peoples' directions until I felt pretty well prepared. 

We had a great day on this trail -- once we finally got to the trailhead. First our GPS took us up a different dirt road where we eventually came to a locked gate. But then we got on the right road (take the 79 to Palomar Divide Road and that will get you to the trailhead). The road is partially paved and partially dirt, and our minivan has made it on much rougher roads than this without any problem, but when we were 2 miles short of the trailhead we happened to hit a rock in just the right way to cause a flat tire. We're grateful to Kyle the mountain biker who stopped and helped put on our spare tire!  Since the trailhead was only 2 miles away, we drove very carefully up the rest of the road with our spare tire and still did the hike. 

The correct road

Kyle the mountain biker saved the day!

Finally at the Trailhead!

Because of our difficulties on the road, we got there late and started in about 11:30am. It wasn't too hot out (high of about 75 degrees that day). The long descent downhill at midday without too much shade was a little hot for the dogs, especially Harley was panting a lot -- and I'm even more cautious about the dogs being ok on big hikes since they didn't do too well the last time I took them to Three Sisters.  But I kept giving them plenty of water to drink, and we just pushed it and got down to the stream as soon as we could, and they were fine as soon as they could take a swim. The trail down to the stream bed  was easy to follow. 

From the top of this trail you can see Lake Henshaw in the distance (I pointed it out to the boys and showed them that one of our other hiking spots, Black Canyon, is in the mountains not too far on the other side of Lake Henshaw).  

Courtland "dabbing"

A shady spot for lunch along the stream

The dogs sure liked swimming and running through the water!

Once we got to the bottom of the hill at the dry stream bed we made sure to follow the little foot path to the left, rather than following the main trail crossing the stream bed to the right. There were so many comments from other hikers about this trail being really difficult to find and follow, but we didn't really have a problem. I admit that there were a couple times that I doubted we were going the right way, but I was just second guessing myself, and we continued on.  This part of the trail is a narrow, winding foot path with grassy weeds growing along it -- but just keep an eye on the path and if you're in doubt take a moment to look around and you'll see where the path continues.  There were a couple times that a small dry stream bed crossed the foot path and we were unsure which way the path went, but I just told the boys to watch closely for shoe prints in the sandy path and then we'd know we were going the right way (because there weren't any signs of people off the trail in this area at all).  We took much longer on this portion of our hike than we had to, because after we stopped for lunch the kids insisted on putting on their water shoes and making their way downstream through the water. It was slow going, but the kids enjoyed it. Some of the rocks in the water were slippery, even with water shoes. We also found a few portions of the stream that were deeper -- deep enough for the kids to get in all the way if they wanted, and for the dogs to have to swim to get across certain sections of the stream. On our return hike we stuck to the foot path the whole way back, and found it easy to follow. 

Deer tracks in the sand near the stream

Saw this ladybug floating downstream on an oak leaf raft

We saw hundreds of tadpoles

We really liked this cool tree with it's roots growing out over the bank of the streambed

"Mom, can we take a funny picture?"

Once you come to a meadow and then come to some rocks at the end of the meadow, climb up and over the top of the rocks (not around to the right side of the rocks closer to the stream). When you see a cactus at the top of the rocks (the only cactus we saw on the whole trail) you know you're going to right way. Just keep going straight and you will see a little path beyond the rocks, which will then lead down the little hill to the water at the small dam and the weir. The kids had fun climbing inside the weir, until they saw that there was a small beehive inside and they left it alone. There were a few spots here where it would be deep enough to swim, maybe even deep enough to jump from the rocks into the water. 

Up and over the rocks at the end of the meadow

"Look what we caught!"

alligator lizard -- watch out, they'll bite when you try to catch them

If you look closely, just left of center, you can see the roof of the weir. 
Drying off in the sun

Checking out the weir

Hello up there!

We continued downstream and found gradually larger cascades over rocks and mini waterfalls and pools, until we ended up at the top of a tall cascading waterfall with the rectangular pool in the rock just beside where the waterfall dropped down steeply. If we had gotten out there a lot earlier in the day we may have tried to find a way to carefully climb down to the pools below this falls -- I climbed the rocks to the top of the ridge to get a good view of the surrounding area, and could see some more pools further down stream around the bend. It looked very tempting to continue exploring more, but I didn't want to risk staying too late and having to drive down the mountain on the rocky road with our little spare tire in the dark, so we decided to leave that for another trip. (Maybe backpacking in and camping in the meadow before the weir, then having a whole day to explore around the water?)  

Courtland loves to have me take photos of him that look like he's falling off the edge of a cliff.  :)

Just relaxing in their pool on the edge of the falls

Looking down at the boys resting on the rocks after I climbed to the top of the ridge.

We hiked back out, and stuck to the trails the whole way out. It took us 3 hours to get from the falls to our car. It's a long ascent at the end of the day when you're already worn out from a day of hiking & exploring, but it ended up being perfect timing as we hiked uphill in the late afternoon/early evening, arriving back at the trailhead at 7:30pm -- it would have been a lot less comfortable doing that in the heat of the day. (Even though the boys are experienced hikers for their ages, it was still pretty slow going for them as they were tired, and the trail just kept gradually going up and up and up). I personally thought it wasn't too bad hiking out up the hill, especially that time of day. But we did take occasional short rest breaks for the kids, so I defiantly wasn't straining myself at that pace. 

Fortunately for us, the bugs were not a problem like some previous hikers had commented about. We carried bug spray, but never had to take it out of our packs and use it. We only saw a couple of bikers and a motorcyclist on the dirt road as we drove the whole way to the trailhead, and passed no one on the road the whole way out. We spent 8 hours out there that day, hiked a total of 8.8 miles, and we didn't see another soul on the entire trail (we hiked it on a Monday), and we only saw one piece of trash the entire time, and no graffiti. In fact, other than the trails themselves, a couple small wooden signs along the main trail, and the dam & weir, we didn't see any signs of humans the whole time. It was amazing!  There was little to no cell reception throughout the hike. We took a water filter, but didn't end up needing to refill our water bottles in the stream because it wasn't too hot out. Overall a wonderful day.  And this hike has so much potential for further exploring in the future.  

I asked the boys what they would rate this hike, and they all said between a 7 and a 9 out of 10. (Of course I was smart and asked them about this just after we left the waterfall and started hiking back to the car -- they may very well have given it lower ratings when they were worn out after hiking back up the mountain at the very end).   :)

It was a very nice day for us, and a great start to our summer adventures!  And all day today I just keep thinking about how I can see the Lord's hand helping us throughout the day all that day -- from the mountain biker who "happened" to ride by as soon as we had a flat tire on a road where we hadn't passed another person for miles and miles until that point, and helping us find Berkley when she wandered away from us on the trail for a while and we didn't know which way to go to find her and the boys prayed that we could find her and she came running back to us down the trail, and how we got back down the mountain safely even with driving that little spare tire down the rocky road, and how there were so many ways things could have possibly gone wrong and someone could have been injured but we were all protected and safe. Feeling pretty grateful today. 

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