The Great Go Away or Maca The Most Of It

Going camping isn’t a common weekend activity in San Diego. We’re mostly city folk ‘round these parts who couldn't care less about going out of our way to leave the comforts of home behind. Computers, televisions, cell phones; we work all day to afford these things, right? So why, when we finally get a chance to relax and enjoy them, would we decide to go sleep in the dirt? Turns out it’s nice to get a reminder that we get along pretty well without plugging ourselves in. It's also nice to get away from the bustling pace of a major California city for a while. I didn’t see a single sketchy meth head while camping and I can’t remember any point during our trip where I got into a screaming match with a homeless person. Absolutely fantastic. Of course, roughing it is a lot easier when you realize you’re only about thirty minutes from home.

Summer is obviously the most popular time of the year to go camping. Since the season was coming to an end, my wife and I ran off into the woods with a few friends while the weather was still superb. We decided to reserve a weekend spot at the Green Valley campgrounds in Cuyamaca State Park, located between Viejas Casino and the small, pie-centric mountain town of Julian. While the drive there takes you through the badlands of El Cajon, the State Park is technically a forest. You can’t help but feel a world away when you are surrounded by trees, rivers, flower-filled fields, and a heap of mountains. Lucky for us, the weekend we reserved lined up with a full moon which makes for an eventful night sky and maybe even a fresh pack of werewolves.

Green Valley is loaded with campsites with almost seventy total. Each site has a unique layout and varies in size, but despite their individual differences, every site contains several basic comforts: a fire pit, a picnic table, and a fairly clean bathroom within walking distance. Obviously this makes the whole camping thing a lot easier to swallow for city folk. Though the majority of these campsites are tent only, there are a handful locations catered to RV travelers. You know, if you want to feel like a princess. With so many sites available, you can count on having neighboring campers just a few steps away. While this certainly doesn’t help to create the illusion that you’re really “out there” in the wilderness, it does make for a friendlier, open environment. It also makes it a lot easier to get accustomed to your new low-pressure survivalist lifestyle.

We ended up settling down at Site #61. While it had a distinct size advantage on many of the other grounds and a fairly remote location considering the circumstances, it was also built on a delightful incline. As it turned out, the slope hardly hindered our good time and only resulted in two tumbling beer bottles and a few inches of mid-sleep sliding. We had an ample amount of room for two tents and other assorted frills. Our companions were kind enough to bring a propane grill, which was very convenient compared to our only other option of starting a bonfire to cook breakfast over. Of course, that's because we didn't already had a fire going. Let's face it – it's a cooler way to cook food. This option becomes even more viable as the sun disappears.

After a full night's rest and a delicious meal, it all starts to feel like home. You began to get protective of your space as the days go on, greeting wayward hikers walking through your campsite with an evil eye until they acknowledge their mistake. Now we're cool.

The curfew was supposedly 10:00PM, but as long as you aren’t running around drunk, lighting the place on fire (again), and screaming the lyrics to “Livin’ On A Prayer” like a jackass, you can probably get away with hanging by the fire as late as you’d like. The ranger will do a drive around during this time and sometimes park his truck awkwardly close to your campsite. Probably a threat, but let's face it – he's too lazy  to get out of the car. He’s just trying to establish his dominance like any other woodland animal. During this time you can turn your radio down a touch, give him the ol' wink and the gun and he’ll likely be on his way. Here’s a tip: since the bathrooms can be heavily occupied during the day, night time is the right time to sneak in a quick shower if you find it necessary.

There are plenty of trails at your disposal while visiting the Green Valley campgrounds, including waterfalls within walking distance. These trails range anywhere between four to fourteen miles in length, with some of the horse trails going on for even longer. Most of them loop back to the campsite but they also interlock with each other, which can make for a long day of being completely. Unless you stick to your route. Pay attention, because the road markers aren’t completely reliable and you definitely don’t want to die in the woods. Not with the embarrassment of knowing you can’t be more than ten miles away from a jam-packed campground. That said, for our first hike we chose a path completely at random and zigged and zagged up the mountains at our leisure. We had no idea where we were going but enjoyed marveling at the constantly changing landscape Cuyamaca has to offer. Since we weren’t sure which trail we were on, we eventually decided to follow a marker for an “Airplane Monument” that wasn’t very far away. Turns out it wasn’t very there either, as we were eventually lead to an empty clearing. We decided to head back before this turned into a canoe-less version of Deliverance.

Lake Cuyamaca is also a ten minute drive down the road and makes for a fun excursion if you want to check out a marshier landscape or do some fishing. There is a nice, flat trail that leads around the lake and makes for a fun walk where you’re sure to see all sorts of crazy creatures. You can also find an oddly placed rock maze named the “Labyrinth” somewhere behind the lake. We made our way through this random obstacle together and hopefully pleased the ancient spirits who created it. In case you didn’t already know, the city of Julian is just a few more minutes north of Lake Cuyamaca and it makes for the perfect place to grab one of their famous, freshly baked apple pies before you head home. Or strawberry rhubarb if you're not a cookie cutter.

While Green Valley may not be kind of camping hardcore outdoor enthusiasts are into, it made for an ideal weekend getaway. It also made for one of the cheapest getaways we have ever taken, as reservations come cheap and there isn’t a shopping mall within striking distance. You probably won't even get reception. The Green Valley campground walks the line between a full-fledged outdoor experience and making camping too easy. Chances are you won’t be upset if your goal is just to get away from your routine for a weekend. You’ll return home with a clear mind and either a new appreciation, or possibly a kindled hatred, for your original surroundings – all in under thirty minutes.