SNOW DAY! WINTER WONDERLAND IN EAST COUNTY MOUNTAINS

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Story and photos by Miriam Raftery
View our fun-in-the-snow videos | View our "snow day" photo gallery

(Miriam Raftery)

December 21, 2008 — Something about snow brings out my inner child.  So on Thursday, the first clear day after last week's storm descended on East County, I couldn't resist taking a "snow day" and heading up to our beautiful mountain areas.  The snowfall was the heaviest I'd seen in this region, transforming dry brushy hills and even fire-ravaged areas into a winter wonderland.

All along Highway 79 and Sunrise Highway, families, couples, teens, seniors and even dogs all frolicked in the snow.  Beach dwellers from San Diego and even people from Mexico were out in droves, discovering one of East County's greatest delights: snow! In an era of so much grim news, it was delightful to see so many smiles and hear the sounds of laughter fill the air.   

Youngsters squealed with delight as they zipped down hills on sleds, tires and plastic disks, some going airborne over a bump on one particularly steep slope.   A man shoveled snow into a pickup truck to take back to his family in Chula Vista.  A San Diego grandmother helped her granddaughter build a snowman.   A woman glided across a snowy field on cross-country skis, while a pair of youngsters engaged in a vigorous snowball fight.    

San Diego family builds a snowman

The sun shined through a veil of white-coated trees, sending a cascade of powdery snow downward--along with one large chunk of ice that landed on my head with a resounding thud as I shot photos off a wooden platform.   I stopped in a gift store atop Mount Laguna, where icicles rimmed the lodge and ice crunched beneath my feat.  Later, I pulled off onto a desert overlook for a breath-taking vista of the Anza-Borrego desert valley with snow-coated slopes above.   A lone hiker and his dog took in the wilderness panorama.

Getting to Julian proved a challenge, since Sunrise Highway was closed off at one end.  So I back-tracked to Pine Valley and picked up Old Highway 80 through Guatay with its quaint wood and stone buildings including an old-time store complete with wooden Indian out front.  After merging onto Highway 79,  I discovered a pristine paradise at Lake Cuyamaca.  A thin sheen of ice transformed the water into a glimmering surface, except for the boats moored near a dock.  Feather-like clouds in the sky mirrored tufts and mounds of snow below in a picture postcard perfect setting.  Across the road, an alpine village nestled on a snowy slope, exuding character and charm.   

Lake Cuyamaca

In Julian, the historic Julian hotel was decked out in holiday trimmings.  No visit to Julian would be complete without a trip to Mom's for apple pie and hot cider, despite a line that wrapped out the door and down the block. Needing to rationalize taking a "snow day" off just for fun, I decided to do some holiday shopping. So I stopped in a shop on Main Street and bought an amethyst necklace for my niece and some sweet orange soap for another family member.  I also visited with some other merchants to let them know about East County Magazine's upcoming "Meals, Deals and Steals" section.  Several proved interested in advertising, assuaging my guilt at taking a day off work.  I snapped some more photos in the vicinity, from cozy cabins to the historic Julian library perched on a hill like a sentinel from a bygone era.

golden oak leaves in snow at Cuyamaca

All too soon, it was time to head back home, watching the sunset in a fiery pink-orange blaze as I wound my way back down the mountain.  By the next day, CHP had closed off access to Julian and Mount Laguna as traffic gridlocked; if you plan to visit, it's best to take your own "snow day" and head up on a weekday.  Fortunately, weather forecasts predict another storm coming soon, virtually assuring a white Christmas--and maybe even a white New Year--in East County's mountains.  Enjoy!