Mountain Snow Leads to Sunny Proctor Valley

It’s hard to believe, but even in San Diego the weather can interfere with the best plans.

With a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee parked out front and a weekend plan to head up Nate Harrison Grade on Mount Palomar (and a Plan B to do some driving on rocks near Jacumba), our local dirt roads were going to be a great test to the latest generation of this “trail rated” SUV.

Unfortunately, also visiting that weekend was a big storm that dumped snow in the mountains, scattered semis over I-8 through near Pine Valley and caused authorities to issue warnings to stay off mountain roads. Not that the go-anywhere Jeep would have been stressed by a little snow, but roads that are full of sideways semis or require chains aren’t the place for weekend drives.

Rough Road Sign
The road’s not that rough.

Plan C for my San Diego day trip? Out came the map (one of those paper things) to spot a route closer to the coast, where by Sunday it was sunny and beautiful. Top on the list was one of the most accessible and beautiful drives in South Bay: Proctor Valley Road. A quick check with the weather radar and out Highway 94 I was headed to the east end of this historic strip of natural pavement. A right turn at Melody Road (Simpson’s Nursery — sorry, no time today to stop and look at the old cars) and we’re headed back toward Chula Vista.

Mention this road to anyone who grew up in the South Bay over the last century and they’d probably have a PV story. Proctor Valley Road is where they took their hot rod and first opened it up… first drove the family DeSoto there (at age 12)… saw space aliens there.

This connection between what is now Eastlake, the eastern district of Chula Vista, and Jamul is one of the oldest roads around. Although development is creeping eastward, it’s still dirt for about seven miles. Gentle, graded, packed dirt, county-maintained and public.

Along Proctor Valley Road
Along Proctor Valley Road

In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort to clean up the trash and block off the wildlife preservation areas that border parts of the road. When I last visited back in 2002, there was a lot of trash dumped by the side. My drive this year encountered only a couple of illegal dumps, so good job by local activists and the county although they need to keep on the job.

Its namesake valley is just south of Mt. San Miguel (the one with all the TV transmitters on top). Between the dirt and the meandering of the road, this is a very easy dirt road that drivers can enjoy. Starting from the Jamul end, the acre-or-two homes with ranch fences disappear with the pavement as drivers twist into the wide-open valley.

The hills are green, flowers are blooming and the birds are flying along this San Diego day trip. A couple of hawks circled overhead, ready to lunch on what is probably an ample population of rabbits, snakes and rodents this year. There are several unofficial hiking trails around and places to park, so visitors can enjoy the outdoors. However, this isn’t a park, so there aren’t amenities.

Back in civilization, it’s the Eastlake neighborhood of Chula Vista. I wound around to find the Eastlake Tavern and Bowl, sister to the downtown hot spot. The lanes were full on a Sunday afternoon and the food was good. It’s worth the zigzag to get there.

I headed back north on the South Bay Expressway, the toll road that runs from the Otay Mesa border crossing to Lemon Grove. If you haven’t been up this highway, take the drive, especially this time of year. South of Eastlake, it bridges the Otay River valley, north it crosses the Sweetwater, both open space areas that give drivers great vistas. From Eastlake, the toll is $3, a cheap admission price for a great view on a beautiful Sunday.

Back home, I found out that the storm had continued to mess up both Palomar and I-8. It was best to find another road with sunny skies, not difficult in San Diego. And while I might not have taxed the Jeep to its fullest, I probably pushed it as much as most owners will. And neither of those adjustments were a bad thing.

Route and Info


  • Easy-Moderate. The dirt portion is easier than the traffic and curves on SR-94 between Casa De Oro and Jamul.


  • About 35 miles round trip from the SR-94 and SR-125 interchange in La Mesa.
Wildlife refuge
Wildlife refuge protects area.


  • SR-94 east to Jamul.
  • Right at Melody Road.
  • Continue onto Proctor Valley Road and follow the turns.
  • To visit the Eastlake Tavern and Bowl, left at Hunte Parkway, right at Otay Lakes Road, right at Fenton Parkway to Showroom Place. From there, continue west on Otay Lakes Road to SR-125 north.
  • To go directly to SR-125 north, continue on paved Proctor Valley Road to expressway. Note $3 toll. Booths take exact change or credit cards.
  • Continue north to SR-94.


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