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Story and photos by Nadin and Tom Abbott

February 27, 2023 (Julian, CA) -- We decided to go up the mountain to Julian yesterday because it’s beautiful after a snowstorm. So we woke up bright and early and packed the Jeep for an adventure in the mountains. We also wanted to introduce my service dog to snow. As always, we packed our press passes and camera equipment, the latter because we wanted to take photos of this amazing winter wonderland, and in this, we were not disappointed.

When we got to the Caltrans checkpoint just beyond Descanso, the highway  was open only residents, and chains were required. So we took out the press passes. We were allowed in after installing chains on the Jeep we also use for fire coverage, and off to the mountain we went. For the most part, the road up to Julian was empty of vehicles this eraly, with a few people playing in the snow here or there.  

On the way we passed  the turnoff to Sunrise Highway, where a roadblock barred access to Mount Laguna.

Cuyamaca State Park and the local store were closed. This was our first clue that merchants up the hill were going to have some issues. Moreover, as we drove up the mountain we came across areas of black ice. Having the chains and the tires made it  less hazardous.  It took much longer than usual to get up the hill, because we rarely hit over 25 miles per hour.

Once we reached Julian about 11 a.m. we decided to go find pie. No can do. The two pie shops on Main Street were closed. So we decided to have lunch at the Miner’s cafe, and the staff confirmed that for a snow day, it was a very light day. In fact, we had no issue finding parking either. However, we found plates from both Arizona and Baja California, as well as California. Most vehicles had chains.

As we had lunch, we saw that there was still chain control on the SR-78 at San Felipe Highway. That is down the grade towards the desert floor. We wondered if some of the few tourists we saw came via that checkpoint.

We found one store open, the Warm Hearth. We talked with Sherrill who explained to us why so many businesses were closed. It was partly the chain control; unless you have bought them, you would not be able to get though the check points due to the road conditions. At least on 78 there was black ice. )While it has likely warmed up today, it will refreeze overnight.)

Sherrill explained that “most employees are snowed in.” The plows are working the main roads, but no the secondary or. tertiary roads. We saw one private plow and a few Caltrans machines thought the day. This also explains why the school district is also closed due to snow. Because people are snowed in, they cannot get to work or school. Sherrill told us that her boss picked her up, because she cannot get there.

This is the most snow since 2011. Climate change, with more water in the atmosphere, is a key factor in this month’s heavy snow (including rare blizzard warnings issued in neighboring San Bernadino County) and other unusual weather conditions.

We decided to come home via State Route 79, and the Santa Ysabel side. As we came down. The mountain, snow started to get spotty at 3000 feet elevation. Then we came to the Ramona side CHP roadblock. This was about 1 p.m. The line to get to the road block was just around nine miles. They were still requiring chains and it was still only open to locals. The roadblock is at the San Ysabel store, still miles from Ramona itself. 

A word to the wise. We had chains, and we have a four-wheel drive vehicle that is lifted, with all terrain tires. We still had to put chains on. If you are planning to take the family car to Julian, be sure to carry chains and check conditions to be sure highways have opened to the public.

With another storm coming in early this week, road conditions are likely to remain challenging—though even before the roadblocks, you’ll find some snowy areas with opportunities for photos and fun with snowballs.


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