Assuming the weather cooperates this weekend, it’s a beautiful time of year to try this mostly dirt drive through Tierra Del Sol and McCain Valley in the southeastern corner of San Diego County. But a warning… if the weather is bad, don’t attempt as this as these are some of the most rugged and unforgiving spots on the planet.

When I wrote this story back in March, 2005, the powers that be had commissioned yet another study to find a new spot for San Diego’s airport. Tierra Del Sol, home to cattle ranches and other stuff right next to the border, was one of them. It didn’t quite work out.

From there, you’ll head up to McCain Valley, and off-highway vehicle area just north. Check out the views of John Spreckels’ “Impossible Railroad” and if you’re lucky, you might see a train go by. Enjoy Tierra Del Sol»

Here’s an email from reader Bryan:

I just bought a 2012 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew 4X2 with EcoBoost and I would like to take it out and venture off the “Path”.  Can you recommend some articles or trips you have taken where the terrain was more rugged, but 4X4 was not a must. I have the optional electronic locking rear axel, and am pretty comfortable driving off-road (although I would consinder myself to be a novice).  I would like to explore, but don’t want to get myself into trouble without the 4X4.  Any recommendations would be greatly apprieciated.
Thanks,
New Truck Owner

Answer:

Congrats on your new truck! Any of the desert drives would work for you; the most recent drive is the “Train Stop to History” story that just ran this month. The Dirt Drives category also has a variety of terrain choices; most aren’t the Rubicon rock-crawler type.
One thing you’ll have to watch out for with the F-150 is its width. Some of the trails are going to have brush on the sides and you may end up with “Arizona Pinstripes,” scratches on your new paint.
Have fun and let me know if you take any of my trips!

Mariner on the road.
Mariner on the road.

Mercury might be gone, but for awhile it sold an upscale version of the hybrid Ford Escape, the Mariner. Back in 2006, I took one on the rugged mountains separating the coast from southern Riverside County.

Clean Climbing takes drivers on a ridge with spectacular views east and west, down some twisting, rocky and rutty roads, and talks about the unique experience of crawling down a hill with no engine.

This area is at the top of the Ortega Highway, the east-west twisty route from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore. Too much traffic for most, but get off the road and it’s one of those wonderful Southern California wilderness areas. Enjoy Clean Climbing.

It’s been a wet winter, which means our local desert is ready for a show. And for all of you with all-wheel-drive SUVs, its time to exercise those transfer cases. Spring in the desert, especially in rainy years such as this one, means the usual grays and reds of the sand and hills are accented with green, yellow, fuscia-red, violet and many other colors as plants grow and bloom.

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