Well, you’d have to be Squirrel-sized or smaller to consider Mammillaria dioica cacti clusters a forest, but there are in fact many, many of these lovely miniature bouquets to be seen in the Yaqui Well Trail area, at least from the lofty view of human perspective. Be prepared to stoop a bit for a good macro camera shot of the March-April petals that adorn their foreheads. Yaqui Well Trail begins near the tall Fan Palm along Yaqui Pass Road near Tamariski Grove Campground.
Banner photo above: Hills above Yaqui Well, springtime 2019. This post was updated on 8-10-2020.
The trail to the west of the campground is a relatively easy jaunt, and within the first 200 yards along a sometimes rocky hike, clusters of Mammillaria begin to spread their way south to the lower vehicle access road in the bottom of San Felipe Creek. The road also offers easy access to hidden Yaqui Well about a mile and a half to the west, but the trail will also lead you there on higher ground. Mammillaria dioica like well-drained slopes, but they seem not to prefer the wind that at times blows down the canyon toward the Salton Sink. In windy conditions the flowers close to save energy and await calmer conditions when bees are more apt to be flying.
It should mentioned that during area thunderstorm activity, San Felipe Creek can quickly revive its reputation as a swift river and autos caught in the flow line, which shares the road near the campground, have been carried downstream. The soft sand along the shoulders can be a problem for 2‑wheel vehicles, too, even within a few feet of the paved highway at the dip section entrance to the trailhead.
Water wasn’t easy to come by in early San Diego County, as early explorations by the federal government returned survey maps to Washington showing scant resources. The San Felipe Creek was given high priority by the US Government shortly after the State of California was admitted to the Union. the 1850’s saw intense interest in creating road and railroad access to San Diego by virtue of its important naval port, thought to be essential to the defense of the nation. This became quite obvious during the Pacific Arena of WWII where San Diego Bay was crucial to the war effort.
Some natural groundwater basins do form in places due to local geology and one such desert spring enabled the Sentenac brothers to run a cattle operation in San Felipe Creek. The place had been a camping place for Kumeyaay people for centuries, where grass was abundant, food prepared and hunting organized. When the cattlemen arrived in the 19th Century, the grasses were found excellent for grazing and water sweet for drinking. The well drilled by the Sentenacs is said to be dry, but groundwater from the San Felipe Creek still feeds the needs of the Tamarisk campground nearby and eventually enters a groundwater subbasin to the east. The Sentenacs also lived and ran cattle in the Julian area west of the townsite where a natural spring was available. Many ranches in the area expanded their range during WWII to feed US forces.
Photos by Barbara Swanson except the coin, the moth and the sign (by Lee).
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