Unusual weather is no stranger to Volcan Summit Trail in Julian, and when 95 degree heat was predicted one late-Spring day in 2012, an early arrival to the trailhead helped spare some of the perspiration.
We squeezed our vehicle onto the east shoulder of Farmer Road, about 3 miles north of town and the only immediate parking area that is made available (a warning: parking can be limited on busy days). We then made our way by-foot-and-by-orchard some 900 feet to the east to the sign announcing the entrance to the Volcan Mountain Preserve.
Just beyond is the magical gateway to the mountain, a sculpture created by area artist James Hubbell and itself a destination.
Informational signs relating to the ensuing hike are just beyond the gate. The Gateway is a beautiful and functional entrance of wood carvings and a mosaic compass built from some of Hubbell’s most traditional construction materials, rock and glass.
The trail leads steadily up, first through an oak forest, and then into open grasslands. On a warm day, be sure to carry plenty of water, as it can be hot in the open areas of the trail. The wind can blow briskly on one section of the trail, and be still on another. The trail divides part way up; we took the newer sidehill trail on the right when going up, and the old dirt road on the way back down. The old road is a steeper surface and can be slippery, although it is shorter in length than the sidehill trail. The raptors and reptiles tended to be seen more on the old road, in fact a rather large rattlesnake crossed the road as an interested hawk watched.
One reason to take this hike is to reach the comfortable hand-hewn bench at the top of the mountain. Here is a hiker’s resting place in memory of Clinton Powell, naturalist and writer who lived in Julian his entire life, who hiked Volcan Mountain countless times from the Shire-like setting of his meadow home at the foot of the mountain, and whose efforts to educate the community about the environs of Volcan Mountain were central to the early formation of the Volcan Mountain Preserve Foundation and its subsequent success. The restful bench, facing south along the the Pacific Crest, is hand-carved by some of his many friends out of a cedar tree that grew nearby.
(Post update 6–2019: The Clint Powell memorial bench was recently refurbished by its original wood artists, bringing back to life its carvings and the rich grains of its parent tree. In the works—an upcoming post on this website: “A Tribute to Clinton Powell, Julian’s Own Naturalist.”)
The elevation gain from the gateway at 4,175 to the brow just above the memorial bench, at 5,340, is nearly 1,200 feet. A leisurely 2.5 hour ascent with equal time for the return was the perfect pace for a hot day while affording time for some of the photographs seen here.
Being late spring, there were still flowers blooming, especially in the lower parts of the trail. Some of the flowers we observed were mule ears, monkey flower, white sage, mariposa tulip, buckwheat and clarkia. In the open grasslands area there were cream cups (members of the poppy family) blooming in the middle of the trail. The stunning purple mariposa tulips, the variation scientifically called Calochortus splendens, were still in bloom, interspersed among the high grasses.
Our return was all downhill. Near the bottom we could hear music coming from the Menghini Winery, where a music festival was happening that afternoon. It felt good to sit on the Tuscany-like back porch of the Menghini Winery, enjoying a bit of refreshment and music. And with the little lunches we broke out from our coolers, well, we added back all the calories we had burned on the hike.
Clarkia and winery photos by Barbara Swanson, used by permission.