As we head out of winter and into spring here in southern California, riding into our deserts becomes more appealing. This ride encompasses both mountain terrain (Palomar Mountain) and desertscape (Borrego Springs).
To begin this ride, head south on the 405, then CA-5S. Exit onto CA-76E. Wide, sweeping turns facilitate a quick ascension toward Palomar Mountain and Lake Henshaw. This stretch of road is very popular area with sport bike riders, so if you are on a cruiser, beware.
Continue north on the 76 until it meets the 79 where you will turn right. The road will flatten out and the atmosphere will become more arid as you get closer to the desert. Shortly, you will reach highway S2. Turn right here and then about five miles later, make a left onto S22, also known as Montezuma Pass, a very straight highway. Once you pass the town of Ranchita, you will descend very quickly into Borrego Springs. This portion of the ride is known as The Glass Elevator and is San Diego County’s longest sustained grade road.
The Glass Elevator name describes the rapid descent and ever-widening desert views as if one is seeing everything while riding in a glass elevator. The sweeping desert floor views are breathtaking here.
In Borrego Springs, you can refuel on both gas and food. From here, you’ll head out to S3, which will take you across the desert and though Yaqui Pass to CA78. Turn right here. The road will slowly ascend 5000 feet into beautiful forested mountains toward the old mining town of Julian, passing through Scissors Crossing at the S2 and then climbing up the Banner Grade. For a bit more of a scenic drive, turn right onto Wynola Road (before Julian). This is a nice, single land road that will end up back at CA78 where you can turn right to resume the loop back to Orange County.
Take the 78 down through Julian and into Santa Ysabel where you’ll find the great, long-standing bakery, Dudley’s. A stop here is a must. They have a large selection of freshly-baked breads and pastries, a gift shop and restrooms. This is a pleasant descending road with some nice, sweeping turns. As you continue west, there is another alternate side road to take if you bear left onto Old Julian Highway. This passes through beautiful ranch country and will drop you into downtown Ramona where you can pick up the 78 again by making a left where it “T”s.
Continue on the 78 where you will pass the San Pasqual Battle Museum and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Follow the signs toward the I-5 N freeway and then hop onto CA-73N, then CA-55N back to Orange County.
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