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Mesa Grande and Old Julian Highway Get You There In the Best Way

What’s your favorite road for a San Diego day trip?

For many two- and four-wheel driving enthusiasts that know this county, a pair between Ramona and Lake Henshaw are high on the list: Old Julian Highway and Mesa Grande Road.

Both have prerequisites for greatness: twists, curves, and a minimal amount of traffic, since their missions as through highways have long been supplanted by more direct bypasses.

Centering an online map or GPS system on the small settlement of Santa Ysabel shows several roads heading out in all directions. To the west is Ramona, north are Lake Henshaw and the historically important town of Warner Springs, east is the old mining town of Julian.

In the early days of the county, Warner Springs was an important stop for travelers in or out of Southern California through what’s now the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There, John Trumbull Warner built a store and ranch.

Although a bit north of today’s route, the popularity of Warner Springs lead to the improvement of small trails that ran to it. Both of our favorite roads were once part of the main trail between Warner Springs and Ramona.

Use your favorite route to Ramona, located about 45 miles from downtown San Diego. From North County, use state Route 78, past the Wild Animal Park; from East County, use SR-67 through Lakeside. And, from central and south county, take I-15 to either Scripps-Poway Parkway or Poway Road to SR-67 north. The two state highways meet at the corner of Main and 10th streets.

Head northeast on SR-78 along Main Street, making the right turn at the Sizzler to Third Street, which, after a few blocks, turns into Old Julian Highway. If you’re driving on a weekday, watch for construction delays.

Look on a map and you’ll see that this road mostly parallels SR-78. And while 78 is no straight line through this area, Old Julian Highway looks like it was drawn with a shaky hand. It has extremely tight turns, doubling back on itself in a couple of spots. Now mostly filled with ranchettes on lots of an acre or more, there are lots of horses, a few cows, llamas and even camels in the pastures.

The twisting roads are a lot of fun, especially if your vehicle is made for it. I took the trip in a 2007 Saturn Sky Redline roadster, which ate up the turns. It’s not a place for speed — nothing on today’s route is good for that — but a lot of enjoyment can be had at 25 or 35 miles per hour. You won’t want to go much faster than that, because between the sharp curves are a lot of driveways, an occasional pedestrian and a fair number of bicyclists, as well as horses and riders. Stay alert and keep the speed down.

Rejoin SR-78 at the Ballena junction. Mountain peaks in the area resemble whales, hence the adoption of the Spanish word for whale, ballena, according to author Leland Fetzer’s “San Diego County Place Names A to Z.” East on SR-78 from here is less challenging but still includes a fair number of kinks in the two-lane road. Traffic can be an issue so drive defensively, even though the speed limit is 55 mph.

Santa Ysabel is a must-stop spot, which I visited in both directions. A good break after the challenges of the Old Julian Highway, I just popped into Don’s Market, 30250 Highway 78, (760) 765-3272, for water and a snack. I kept the town’s big attraction, Dudley’s Bakery, for dessert on the way back.

From here, head north on SR-79, past Mission Santa Ysabel to Morettis Junction, which, according to Fetzer, was named for the Moretti family, who had a dairy here in the late 19th century.

SR-79 is a nice, fairly straight byway from Santa Ysabel to Morettis, a bypass of Mesa Grande Road, which we’ll drive later. At Morettis, travelers going south from Warner Springs would head east a bit to where I stopped for lunch, which today is a biker favorite, the Hideout Saloon.

Turn left at Center Loop, once part of SR-76, to the Hideout Saloon, 27413 Highway 76, (760) 782-3656. A cafe and gas station were here back in the day; it reopened as the Hideout in 1999, a favorite of the motorcycle crowd. Since it’s off the main highway, there’s lots of parking and on any weekend, bikes line the road. Yes, they welcome folks in four-wheeled vehicles and the food is good, so the Sky and I pulled in.

In fact, the bright yellow Sky was a big hit with the bikers. Rather than a quick stop for a burger and warmup (it was in the mid-50s, with cold, dry Santa Ana winds blowing up a storm), I spent more than an hour demonstrating the operation of the convertible top and showing off the Sky’s under-hood features, including the Redline’s turbocharger. Tough looking guys (probably conservative businessmen during the week) in leather were knocking on the plastic body panels and talking about how their wife wanted on. Somebody somewhere in the General Motors universe must have been smiling.

The start of today’s best road is just a few feet south of the Hideout. It’s the north end of Mesa Grande Road, and with all due respect to Old Julian Highway, it’s one of the top five enthusiast roads in the county. Running through parts of the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation and a few ranches, it ends up near Mission Santa Ysabel.

If this was a ski slope, it would be marked with a black diamond… it’s that challenging. Immediately after leaving the Hideout, it kinks up and over a ridge, then twisting down the other side. I lost count at a dozen on the number of turns, preferring to concentrate on throwing the Sky around the corners rather than keeping a running count. Lets just say this is a drive for the experienced curve-taker in a vehicle that is made for it.

The payoffs are a road covered in spots by a canopy of native oaks, gorgeous vistas of valleys green from winter rains and usually not a lot of traffic. Truly, it’s one amazing spot, considering it’s less than an hour’s drive from a dense, metropolitan area. Still, there are residences and an Indian reservation along Mesa Grande, so remember you’re in their neighborhood and be courteous.

The wind and cold were a bit much for open air driving so I kept the top up most of the day. The strong crosswinds didn’t seem to bother the Sky. The top was tight, the heater worked just fine and the tires stuck to the road.

Mesa Grande Road ends at SR-79, just north of Santa Ysabel and near the Mission. After lunch at the Hideout and the challenging drive over Mesa Grande, the reward was a stop at Dudley’s Bakery, 30218 Highway 78, (800) 225-3348. Long a San Diego legend, Dudley’s is known for its wide selection breads, pastries, cookies and other goodies. There’s also a swell curio shop with rocks, crafts and books on local subjects.

There are also antique shops, the Julian Pie Company bakery store and Apple Country Restaurant, along with Don’s Market, in Santa Ysabel. They’re all well worth visiting.

I headed back to Ramona over SR-78 which, although less challenging than Old Julian Highway, has its share of twists and turns, not to mention a fair amount of traffic. Take it easy and don’t tailgate.

These roads probably aren’t special to the locals that drive these roads every day. But for us city folk, a day in the country is something truly special. For a driving enthusiast, there’s almost nothing better than Old Julian Highway, Santa Ysabel and Mesa Grande Road. Hope you enjoy your trip.

Hideout Steakhouse
Busy day at the Hideout.

Route and Info


  • About 54 miles.


  • Severe twists on Old Julian Highway and Mesa Grande Road.


  • Use SR-78 or SR-67 to Ramona, which is about 45 miles from central San Diego.
  • From the SR-78/67 junction at Main and 10th streets, head northeast on SR-78.
  • Right at Third Street. Continue onto Julian Highway. Note that Old Julian Highway makes a sharp left at Vista Ramona Road; continuing straight puts you on Vista Ramona Road.
  • Right at Julian Road (SR-78).
  • Left at SR-79.
  • Left at SR-76.
  • Left at Center Loop.
  • Left at Mesa Grande Road.
  • Right at SR-79.
  • Right at SR-78 to Ramona.

The Car

Don't speed on his roads.
Don’t speed on his roads.
Tree-shaded Mesa Grande Road.
Tree-shaded Mesa Grande Road.
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Mustang Still Making It Happen After 40 Years

’07 GT Convertible is One Fine Ride On a Cloudy Day

I totally enjoyed my week with a Mustang GT Convertible. If you’ve clicked on the ’68 Mustang ad clip below, you’ve seen how the car was marketed in the years just past its ’64-66 heyday, when Ford had not only invented the Pony Car market, but had it to itself.

Car ReviewBy the time this ad was produced, Mustang was facing stiff competition from the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. By 1968, it was “the original” and “Only Mustang makes it happen…” Fast forward 40 years and Mustang stands alone. (Of course, since I wrote this review, the Dodge Challenger has returned and the Chevrolet Camaro is just around the corner.)

Sure, there are the imports and plans for revivals of the Camaro and the Dodge Challenger, but the other ponys went out to pasture a few years ago. Only Mustang still chugs along. And it still “makes it happen.”

My sporty GT convertible on loan from Ford was all loaded up, with leather, the big engine and other goodies. As a boulevard cruiser, freeway flyer and even on twisting turns, it was fun. The car’s very comfortable, as long as you’re in the front seat, and visibility was great for me (I’m 6’1″).

Power was instant and it always reminded you it was a Big American V8. The folks at Ford did a great job of tuning the sound so even though this wasn’t some souped-up hot rod, it makes a good rumble-rumble-rumble. The 4.6 liter V-8 even looked good under the hood.

My daily driver is a 1991 Mazda Miata, so I’m used to a small car. For me, the Mustang was huge. It’s not small, filling a parking space almost like a midsize. I’d prefer a bit tighter turning circle, as getting into the parking spot in the tiny underground garage in my condo complex took a couple of minutes of maneuvering.The trunk’s big enough for a good day’s grocery shopping and certainly the back seat is available for storage, something I don’t get in the Miata.

There’s just nothing like driving a convertible every day. With my home base in San Diego, It’s a rare occasion when I put the top up on the Miata, and although it’s really easy to do in a Miata, mine is still a manual top. It was a real pleasure to turn the crank on the windshield header, push a button and presto… the top goes down. Another push and the top’s back up. What an innovation… a power top.

There’s an old saying that folks drive convertibles so others will look at them. I don’t believe that, since I don’t really care if anybody checks me out in the Miata (but the car does look pretty good, you know?). But the Mustang did attract attention. Maybe it was the bright tangerine color. Maybe it’s the successful melding of the retro look, with many second-generation (1967) styling. But it was mostly the stuff in that old TV ad from 1968: “What is it about a Mustang…” End

Watch a vintage Mustang commercial

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Even a Half Day’s A Treat On Highway 94

Chocolate, Old Trucks and Pie Add Fun To Twists East of Campo

With the county home to so many twisting roads, parts of some of the best can make for great San Diego day trips. Such was the case a few weeks back when daylight started to run out in the early stages of a planned east-to-west mountain crossing over state Route 94.

But it was still a great day of spirited driving, old vehicles and great eats. What else is needed?

Wanting to see what a 2007 Infiniti G35 coupe would do on some serious curves, the backcountry mountain segment of Highway 94 was selected not only for its sometimes hair-raising turns and twists, but also for the sites along the way.

First on the list was chocolate shopping at the Wisteria Candy Cottage in Boulevard; a visit to the Motor Transport Museum in Campo because it was Saturday, the only day of the week the museum is open — for sure; the old stone store in Campo; and possibly the train museum.

Further west, if the timing was right, lunch at the Barratt Junction Cafe or Dulzura Cafe, and a pop-in to drool over the restored classic cars and travel trailers at Simpson’s Nursery in Jamul.

It’s been a few years since I took the whole trip and I was looking forward to exercising the Infiniti.

But, after getting a late start, I just made it a loop from Boulevard to Campo, then north on Buckman Springs Road and back to I-8. Disappointed? Not on your life.

The eastern end of Highway 94 is one that I haven’t been able to really enjoy, since it’s usually at the end of the the drive. After passing under the old steel railroad viaduct at Campo Gorge, fatigue usually has set in and I haven’t been able to enjoy the end of the trip.

But those last five or six miles are some of the most challenging driving and most beautiful.

So, the east-to-west trip went on the schedule.

Heading east on I-8, the G35 coupe proved itself to be a fine freeway performer, if a bit noisier than I expected. The 3.5 liter V-6 turning the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission gobbled up the mountain grades on the freeway. The 60-mile trip from central San Diego passed in no time.

Exit at Ribbonwood Road, SR-94, then head south to Boulevard. Highway 94 ends in this small mountain town, where the two old main highways to the Imperial Valley once met. U.S. 80, replaced by I-8, and SR-94, which was originally an trail used by the Native Americans, have a long history in linking San Diego to the east. By the 1880s, today’s 94 was a wagon road connecting the small farming communities. The numerical designation came in the early 1930s, with the familiar highway signs in the shape of a miner’s spade marking the route ever since.

I couldn’t pass through Boulevard without making a stop at the Wisteria Candy Cottage, 39961 Old Highway 80, (800) 458-8246. It’s one of those nostalgic roadside attractions that folks think have completely disappeared in Southern California. And the  chocolate is great — made right on the site.

Loaded up with supplies, I headed west, making sure I took the left at the fork just past Ribbonwood Road. Although Highway 94 has been improved in places (especially west of Jamul), out here it’s not much more than the old Indian road. It hugs the sides of the hills, leaving the fertile farmland in the valley floor for production. And hug it does. The 13 miles from Boulevard to the Motor Transport Museum in Campo are a lot of fun, but take it easy on the speed.

You’ll want to keep it at or under the speed limit not only because of all the sharp curves (I lost count at a dozen), but so you can enjoy the view. The valley isn’t wide, and the jagged, rocky hills do a lot of protruding into the flat.

The crop out here seems to be mostly horses, although you’ll see a few cows and chickens along the way. It’s dry and windy, cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The area has among the most extreme temperatures in the county.

The Infiniti didn’t disappoint, hugging the road as a sports car should. I didn’t quite get the hang of the six-speed manual, though, and one downshift I ended up in second gear rather than fourth, sending the tachometer spinning wildly.

After passing the Campo Gorge viaduct, the road climbs a bit and twists some more before gliding into the Campo valley. Just after crossing the Imperial Valley Railroad tracks, I pulled into the Motor Transport Museum, a spot where the posh Infiniti really looked out of place.

The grounds of the 1924-vintage feldspar mill are covered with 150 trucks, buses and other old vehicles, a few in really good condition, others in varying degrees of decay. Included in the collection is a Nash Quad, arguably the first commercially successful four-wheel-drive vehicle, and a truck used in the 2004 movie, “The Aviator.”

With the museum open, the volunteers’ latest project, restoration of a 1924-vintage bus on a Cadillac chassis, was available for viewing. On my visit, the restored wooden body was just about ready to be reinstalled onto the pristine-looking chassis. Paint and interior touches are still to be finished, but this rolling bit of history is getting close to test-drive. It once ran the route from the end of the railroad in Lakeside or Foster (now under San Vicente Reservoir) to Julian, and is the second vintage Julian coach that’s been restored at the museum.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; 31949 Highway 94, (619) 478-2492.

It was getting late in the day, so rather than pushing on, a dinner stop was made at the Campo Diner, 1367 Dewey Place, (619) 478-2888, where the fish dinner was good, but the homemade pie was even better. By the way, the address is Dewey Place, but it’s at the corner of Highway 94; you can’t miss it. And while the post office says this is Campo, the locals know this area as Cameron Corners. (Update: I understand the ownership has changed and the pie is gone…)

From there, with the sun starting to set, it was north on Buckman Springs Road and back to I-8. Because of the late start, there just wasn’t time to go by the Gaskill Brothers’ Store or the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum. Not even time to check out the new tract homes being built way out here.

Buckman Springs Road is mostly straight, but the curves tend to pop up unexpectedly. Watch the area around Mountain Empire High School.

It wasn’t dark yet, so I popped over Old Buckman Springs Drive and Old Highway 80, before joining I-8 at Sunrise Highway.

I didn’t leave San Diego until 2:30 p.m. but still had an afternoon of spirited driving, transportation history and good eats. Now, if I could only get the hang of that six-speed manual transmission…_last]

Bucoloic country road is the east end of Highway 94.

Directions and Info


  • About 30 miles.


  • Moderate to difficult, with challenging curves.


  • Interstate 8 to Ribbonwood Road/SR-94 exit, about 60 miles east of central San Diego (I-8/I-15 interchange). Go south (right when exiting from eastbound I-8) on Ribbonwood Road.
  • Right at Old Highway 80 to Wisteria Candy Cottage. For detour to Wisteria Candy Cottage, turn right; cottage is about a half-mile east.
  • Left at Campo Road/SR-94.
  • Right at Buckman Springs Road (County highway S1).
  • Left at Old Buckman Springs Drive.
  • Left at Old Highway 80 (County highway S1).
  • Left at Interstate 8 to return to San Diego.
Motor Transport Museum is in old mineral mill.
One of the few running trucks at the Motor Transport Museum.
Time for eats at the local diner.
Nice road for an afternoon cruise in the country.
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2007 Saturn Sky Roadster: Drives fun, but it’s a choice of your honey or your lunch

Something you have to know right from the outset.

Since 1991, my daily driver has been a roadster… a Mazda Miata. Bought it brand new.

So you can guess that I like two seat roadsters. Cars that run like roller skates and fit like a glove. And I’m 6’1″, 230 pounds.

I’ve lived with the Miata, made trips to Costco, even drove back from the old IKEA in Tustin, CA – almost 90 miles from home in San Diego – with the top down so a couple of cabinets could stick out the top. I’ve taken vacations where she gets the trunk for her stuff and my little bag goes on the package shelf behind the seats. Even too some closet doors to the lumber yard… again, sticking out of the top.

But I found the Saturn Sky too small. Even though it’s a few inches longer than a Miata.

They say you don’t buy a roadster for practicality. Well, I have lived with the Miata. I couldn’t live with a Sky.

There’s just no room.

Let’s start with the trunk. With the top down, there’s only a little space around the edge, which during my week with a 2007 Sky Redline Roadster. My Weekend Driver column trips are part driving, part photo shoot. My camera gear just squeezed in the gap between the outer rim of the trunk and the folded top.

And inside the cabin, there’s only a small compartment between the seats and a glove compartment that manages to be smaller than in my first-generation Miata. The little compartment requires drivers to twist around and reach back, so it wasn’t even a practical spot for the garage-door clicker. And the glove compartment was mostly filled with the owners’ manuals. The clicker ended up on the seat.

So, your weekend drive day-trip options in the Sky:

  • Take your honey along, keep the top up and take a picnic basket.
  • Drive with the top down, take your honey along and stop for lunch.
  • Leave your honey at home, put the top down, take lunch. The lunch goes on the front seat.

Don’t ask me what you’d do on a weekend trip. Because even with the top up, there’s a big lump in the middle of the trunk – I believe it’s the gas tank. And thanks to the recessed back window, there’s not much space behind the front seat. I guess you Express Mail the luggage ahead.

Performance? Great. The turbocharged engine has more than enough power… almost V-8 like. Push on the accelerator, the turbo kicks in and off you go. No problem on mountain roads, passing on freeways. Handling? Enjoyable. The roller skate. Put my loose, slightly rattly, sweet 16 Miata to shame (but we’ll see how the Sky is in 2023).

On one of my favorite byways, Mesa Grande Road near Santa Ysabel, it ate up the curves like nothin’. The seats provided plenty of support, and, with lower seating than the Miata, the transmission hump is more prominent. In short, driver and passengers are both wedged between door and gearbox.

My verdict on the Sky? If you can have an extra car, just for day trips and commuting, go for it. Otherwise, keep looking. After all, even a Porsche has a trunk. End


Vehicle Info

  • Vehicle: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline Roadster
  • Reviewed: February 2007.
  • Time with car: One week.
  • Vehicle supplied for review by General Motors.
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Hybridding Through The Desert

Green SUV Up To Task On Easy Anza-Borrego Roads

  • From December 2006

Coyote Canyon, in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, has enough history to fill a book. It’s the stuff of controversy, human civilization, geology, plant and animal life, and convenience.

It’s also a good place for city-dwelling desert newbies to get a little off-road time, get advice from Anza-Borrego experts, make it out to the sand and back to San Diego in a day. That there are fun, twisting mountain roads along the way makes it just that much better.

Coyote Canyon is a wide valley heading north from the town of Borrego Springs. It’s home to bighorn sheep and other wildlife, attracted to one of the few streams in the area that runs year-round. Today’s human visitors like it because it’s close to Borrego Springs, making it one of the busier areas in the desert.

Getting there involves going over some of the narrowest and most twisting highways in the county.

They’re the type of roads favored by driving enthusiasts; since the destination is the desert, there can be a lot of traffic from fat-tired pickups with toy haulers filled with desert bikes. Throw in a few motor homes and a weekend drive can be less than enjoyable.

But hang in there, as the desert’s always a prize.From wherever you are, get to Julian, whether it’s on state Route 78 or 79, via Pala Road, Ramona or, the route I chose, up Cuyamaca Highway from Interstate 8. Allow at least two hours, more if you stop in Julian for apple pie. Then it’s down Banner Grade and another turn or two to Borrego Springs.

My first stop was at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, (760) 767-5311. Knowledgeable rangers, staff members and volunteers can help plan a map for the day. A status board also lets drivers know the state of the roads. Winter rains can rough up the dirt trails, so it’s always a good idea to check the board before heading out.

I also stopped for lunch and supplies in Borrego Springs before traveling the five miles north to Coyote Canyon. Even though I’d left home early in the day, it was now nearing 2 p.m. and the sun sets fast in desert canyons. So, maybe I didn’t go as far up the canyon as I planned, but I still had a good day and was back home in early evening.

A little background on the canyon, courtesy of Anza-Borrego A to Z, Diana Lindsay’s dictionary-style book on everything about the park. Named for the Wiamiistam (which means people of the coyote), the Native Americans who once lived here, the canyon leads north from Borrego Springs. The San Jacinto Fault — yes, an active earthquake fault — created this valley. It has been preserved over the years despite plans ranging from running highway through it connecting to Los Angeles, to building a dam and filling it with water.

Trails and roads connect north to SR-371, then onto SR-79 and I-15. Controversy and court cases have raged over the years. Currently, the road is closed completely from June 1 to October 1, according to the official State Park map.On the warm, sunny day I visited, the trail was very much open. It was busy with off-roaders, hikers and folks just sitting around enjoying the sun.

It’s just a few minutes up the road from Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs. Once the pavement ends on DiGregorio Road, the trail was sandy but, except for a few spots, in decent shape.

This was my second off-road trip in the 2007 Mercury Mariner hybrid; the automatic four-wheel-drive handled the sand just fine. Its ground clearance was adequate to avoid most of the rocks in the road and the suspension soaked up many of the bumps.

Along the way was Desert Gardens, with picnic benches and hiking trails. If I’d been smart, I’d have packed a lunch at home and eaten it here. A couple on horseback were enjoying the day, as were several carloads of visitors. There’s a parking area here, so drivers can pull off the narrow, sandy road. Past Alcohol Pass, the road gets a bit rocky, worn from the traffic, occasional rains and wind. It can get a bit bumpy and this is where a car’s suspension might have trouble — or end up with trouble after a drive over the bumps.

The road up the canyon crosses Coyote Creek in several spots. With water running here almost all year, I was warned that it at the first crossing it can be as high as two feet deep. When I visited in November, there hadn’t been much rain yet, but water still flowed. If your visit comes after winter storms, be careful.

Between the first and the second creek crossings, the road was packed with rocks… very bumpy and requiring some maneuvering to avoid the biggest rocks. The road also runs through its own rut, higher than the bottom of the Mariner’s side windows. Since it’s narrow, be alert to passing vehicles… and I found more than a few that weren’t interested in yielding. In one spot, a group in a Saturn sedan sped by with barely enough room for both vehicles between the dirt side walls. They looked like they were having fun.

I only went as far as the second crossing, where a family was enjoying the day, kids splashing around, mom and dad enjoying music and cold beverages. The Mariner didn’t have any trouble in the mud. Beyond, Visitor Center volunteers advised the road narrows considerably.

On the trail, I wasn’t driving more than 25 mph most of the time, so the electric motor was powering the wheels. The only sound was the crunch of the tires, one of the benefits of driving in a hybrid. Power from the gasoline engine kicked in instantly when needed, so with its high ground clearance and automatic 4×4, the Mariner was just fine navigating this easy trail. And I got around 30 miles per gallon on my round-trip.

On the way back, I was surprised to see a Toyota Prius parked off to the side. I hope that meant that its owners were off hiking, not that the Prius got stuck. I wouldn’t take one out there, as it rides close to the ground.

Because it’s so near to Borrego Springs and a through route to the north, Coyote Canyon is popular and can be a busy place on the weekends. There’s camping at Sheep Canyon and a horse camp. For those looking to drive on a little sand and get an introduction to the desert, it’s a great place to start. ⚙

Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Note that I tested a 2007 Mariner hybrid. The SUV was redesigned for 2008 but was discontinued along with the rest of the Mercury brand. Ford still has an Escape hybrid.

Directions & Info


Easy to difficult. Cuyamaca Highway and Banner Grade can be challenging with twists and turns. Narrow Coyote Canyon road can be rocky, sandy, muddy and crowded.


About 22 miles from Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is about 90 miles from central San Diego.


  • Interstate 8 to state Route 79 North, Japatul Valley Road. After exiting, left onto Japatul Valley Road.
  • Left at Cuyamaca Highway to stay on SR-79.
  • In Julian, right at Main Street onto SR-78. Continue onto Banner Grade.
  • In desert, left at Yaqui Pass Road.
  • Left at Borrego Springs Road to Christmas Circle.
  • To Park Visitor Center, take Palm Canyon Drive west (exit toward business district) in Christmas Circle. Visitor Center is at the end of Palm Canyon Drive.
  • To Coyote Canyon, exit Christmas Circle east on Palm Canyon Drive.
  • Left at DiGregorio Road. Continue on to Coyote Canyon. Retrace your route to return.

Web Sites

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See where you can visit on a Joyride Guru journey.


Old Highway 80 The well-preserved former U.S. 80 in eastern San Diego County has all the charms of driving on an old country highway. It's Chapter 1 in Joyrides Around San Diego.
Blair Valley Take an easy, off-pavement drive on the western edge of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It's good for off-road novices with all-wheel-drive vehicles. Discover beautiful desert vistas, history and have fun all in a couple of hours from San Diego. Chapter 9 in Joyrides Around San Diego.