Frog bridge on Pine Creek (from 2002).
Frog bridge on Pine Creek (from 2002).

Here’s something I never expected… a trip up Mt. Laguna last weekend in the family Volvo S40.

So you say that’s not such a big deal, just take the freeway (I-8) to the Sunrise Highway exit, twist up the hill and there you are.

We didn’t take that route. It was Pine Creek Road, a rocky, rutted road when I drove it a decade ago in the early days of the Weekend Driver newspaper column. It was even in Weekend Driver San Diego, the collection of columns that was published in 2003. At the time, I said about Pine Creek Road:

Another two miles and what’s left of the pavement becomes just another lump adjacent to a pothole. You’ll really want to slow it down on this stretch so you don’t ruin the suspension on your vehicle. The pines have disappeared and you’re in an open but rugged area of the Cleveland National Forest.

When we drove up there last Sunday (Sept. 16), it was all paved. All the way from Old Highway 80 to Sunrise Highway. Google Map

And what a beautiful drive.  This is a twisting, rugged route that goes from an elevation of 3,625 feet all the way up to 5,361 feet where it meets Sunrise Highway. It’s narrow — generally wide enough for only 1½ cars or less. It’s sometimes steep, sometimes a bit of a roller coaster. Trees — pines and oaks — are thick in spots. A couple of arid ravines have nothing but our coastal sage scrub.

The surprise was how far we went — all the way to the top. With my brother and sister-in-law in town, I promised them a country drive. They live way above 8,000 in the Rockies and were tiring of the city. We headed out Otay Lakes Road to Honey Springs Road, then north over Lyons Valley Road, Japatul Valley Road to Descanso. From there, it was a leisurely drive over Old Highway 80 (no traffic on a Sunday!), turning at Pine Creek Road just before we entered Pine Valley.

The idea was to go up the canyon a bit, showing off the pines and the cabins. The thing was, the first gate, less than a mile from the “frog bridge” was open. The second gate, less than a mile north, was also open. The pavement that disappeared two miles farther along… never disappeared. We’re not talking glass smooth — there were a couple of nasty potholes and vigilance is recommended — but the road was smoother than most of the streets in downtown Potholeville — I mean San Diego.

The Volvo S40, a 2007, did great on all the roads. Power was no problem with three in the car, the a/c is cold, the leather seats comfortable. Mom picked a good car.

It was a wonderful trip. Just shows you what can happen on a day with no plan.


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