Road Tripping to Julian
An adventure in eastern San Diego
In 1869, visions of gold and good fortune drew Confederate veterans to unsettled land in the West. Less than a decade later, the gold rush ceased and settlers, recognizing that the enduring value of the land was its rich soil and ideal elevation for growing fruit—especially apples—stayed on.
I was drawn to Julian on a rather humid Friday afternoon not because visions of gold saturated my psyche, but because I was itching for a road trip. I had been to apple country only a few times—typically during the winter, when the appeal of hot cider was high and a glimpse of snow only an hour away—but never during summer, Julian's low season.
My friend and photographer, Erika, and I head out on the I-15 and take Via Rancho Parkway east, which becomes Bear Valley Parkway. A right turn on San Pasqual Road, towards the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and we are on our way. Traveling on that road, we traverse the hilly San Pasqual Valley—the northernmost community of the city of San Diego—passing several potential stops for our next trip: San Pasqual Battlefield Museum and Historic State Park, San Diego Archaeological Center, Orfila Vineyard, expansive trails and many farms. In 1964, the area was designated as an agricultural zone. Today, it is comprised of orchards, avocado and citrus trees and other crops.
Driving along, we look for a side street called Old Milky Way Road, distinguished by a large sign that reads "Ostrich Eggs and Jerky." This is the most scenic route to Julian, unless perhaps you have the good fortunate of owning a helicopter. You'll soon end up on Highway 78 and on your way to the quaint town, population 300ish.
Before arriving in Julian, you'll spy Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, recently featured on Discovery Television's Dirty Jobs. Camel milk contains massive amounts of insulin and other nutrients, but cannot legally be sold for human consumption in the United States. The owners of Oasis Camel Dairy pitched a tent at the San Diego County Fairgrounds over the summer and subsisted on only camel milk, dates and water for two weeks.
First Things First: Lunch
Our first stop is lunch at Jeremy's on the Hill, 4354 Hwy. 78, in Wynola. At 23 years old, executive chef Jeremy Manley, a graduate of the esteemed Cordon Bleu culinary school, sources only organic, seasonal produce, a significant portion coming from local growers and meat purveyors.
Manley is also a Julian native.
"I was raised here; I was arrested here," he laughs. "I'm educating people on food."
Manley took an interest in cooking at age 10 and by 13 he was catering weddings. At 19, Manley cooked under award-winning chef Martin Woesle at Rancho Santa Fe's Mille Fleurs. Now manning his own post, the culinary prodigy's specialty of the house is a half-pound grass-fed bison burger, with meat sourced from Star B Ranch, less than a 10-minute drive from the restaurant. Fun fact: Bison meat contains 75% less cholesterol than conventionally raised beef or pork and 2/3 the cholesterol of conventionally raised chicken. Even spicy food cowards, myself included, will be awestruck over the California white cheddar, avocado and jalapeño burger.
"This is [one] thing I never thought I was going to do: flipping burgers," he jokes.
Shopping with Albert Lewis
A quick dab of the napkin on the crease of the lips and on to the next stop: Wynola Farms Marketplace, 4470 Hwy. 78.
Formerly owned by Orfila Vineyard, but now manned by locals Albert Lewis and Lydia Frausto, the marketplace is home to 10 shops featuring art, soap and jewelry from local artisans, locally produced wine and cider, antiques, educational activities and, on Sundays, the Julian Certified Farmers' Market.
According to Lewis, who also operates hempys.com, manufacturer and distributor of clothing and accessories made from only sustainable materials, the focus is on local, high-quality products made with materials and ingredients sourced in America. It should be noted that, when Erika catches wind of Albert's affiliation with hempys.com, her jaw drops. She runs an Etsy store that specializes in vintage clothing and has known about hempys.com for years.
Lewis grew the marketplace into the local hub it is today, housed in a building erected in 1942 from mostly salvaged materials. The allure of the marketplace soon becomes apparent as a local flower grower approaches Lewis, asking if he will buy her flowers for resale.
"I'll take 'em," he says with a smile.
Eight months ago, Lewis started a community garden on the land behind the marketplace, where locals have free access to grow what they wish.
"There's no formal structure," he says. "People just coordinate, and it works out."
My compadre and I purchase a bottle of apple cider and head with excitement for our next destination: O'Dell's Organic Orchard, 1095 Julian Orchards Dr.
An Idyllic Orchard
As the name suggests, O'Dell's sells organic fruit but, more specifically, six different varieties of pears. Owners Camille and Carl O'Dell are Long Beach transplants who didn't know one pear from another when they purchased the property, which now consists of 450 pear trees, a herd of Nubian goats and cage-free Araucana chickens that lay beautiful colored eggs and reside in a Tuff Shed with outdoor access—except for Shorty who, picked on by the others, has free range of the property.
"[When we purchased the property], we knew nothing about pears except that you ate them," Camille admits.
The goats are milked twice daily, at dawn and dusk. Carl retrieves them, one by one, from their large pen, brushing each before guiding her into the milking barn. When it's her turn, the goat eagerly jumps onto a platform where a bucket of grain awaits. Her udders are sanitized and, as she aggressively consumes the tasty morsels, Carl milks her. The rich white liquid is immediately poured into a contraption immersed in ice. I try my hand at milking and find that I'm better suited for writing.
Because the FDA has not approved raw goat's milk for human consumption, the milk is marked for animal purposes. O'Dell's sells eggs and goat's milk year-round, but pears are only available during Julian's U-pick season from September to October.
After perusing Carl's incredible antique collection, we leave O'Dell's, grateful for the load of eggs, goat's milk and cheese now in the car.
A Rare Glimpse of Wildlife
We're on to the final leg of our trip: A drive out to the California Wolf Center (CWC), a nonprofit facility that hosts educational and conservation programs and funds critical research on captive and free-ranging wolves. CWC is home to several packs of Alaskan Gray and highly endangered Mexican Gray wolves, the latter of which are 2/3 the size of the former.
The trek to CWC is mildly tricky. It's not on the main drag in Julian, so drivers don't just happen upon it; in fact, I'm told that entering the address into a GPS will leave me thoroughly lost. Access to CWC requires a reservation which, thankfully, we have. Once at the gate, which shares an entrance with a KQ campground, we wait for a truck to guide us in.
One of the rarest land mammals in the world, only 42 Mexican gray wolves exist in the wild today, according to Erin Hunt, general manager of CWC.
"[Prior to the international captive breeding program], there were only seven unrelated individuals around the world," Hunt says, adding that the program is "the only reason the Mexican [Gray] wolves are alive today."
Erin guides us to the animals, which live in vast enclosures across the property laden with brush so that they can remain as anonymous as they wish. Some serve as ambassadors, while others will eventually be released into the wild. The guidelines for release are extremely rigorous.
We are fortunate enough to glimpse both breeds during our time at CWC and we are floored by the work the organization is doing to ensure the salvation and propagation of the species.
Heading home, we already begin planning our next trip, hopeful that it will include a bison burger, a gallon of goat's milk, a bottle of cider, a visit to the majestic ones and time to reminisce with our new friends of Julian.
Oasis Camel Dairy
26757 CA-78, Ramona, CA 92065
Jeremy's on the Hill
4354 CA-78, Julian, CA 92036
Wynola Farms Marketplace
4470 Julian Rd, Julian, CA 92036
O'Dell's Organic Orchard
1095 Julian Orchards Dr, Julian, CA 92036
California Wolf Center
K Q Ranch Rd, Julian, CA 92036