Abandoned Homes of Hellhole Canyon: This was one of those spots that I had been shown many, many years ago before I had even created this website. I knew that it had to be included on here even though I wasn’t able to give the best directions. Very quickly this became one of my most popular pages and I was constantly getting emails from people saying that they tried to find the spot but couldn’t. THEN, the San Diego Reader emailed me for photos of the location but they had to be high resolution which I did not have. I knew that I had to go back in.
First off, they don't call it Hellhole Canyon for nothing. This place is hot (I don't recommend going in the summer) it's filled with ticks, brush which rattlesnakes like to hide in (we almost got bit by one and definitely pissed him the hell off almost stepping on him), poison oak and the hike is rather bland. Don't go unless you're really interested in finding these homes because the hike is not that fun! And please come prepared with a lot of water, food (in case you get lost) and all other proper safety gear for hikes that can go bad. With that said, this literally appears to be an abandoned commune. There are children's rooms with drawings on the walls, kitchens with pots, pans and canned food, letters, a well, work station and SO much more!
After posting an update on this spot I was notified by the granddaughter of the previous owners that her grandmother had built a house down there for large family parties. “There was even a concrete dance floor and bandstand at one time. This all occurred during the late sixties through the late seventies. They sold and abandoned the property when the wild fires became too much.” I hope to get even more info on this location in the future!
Lake Hodges Dam: It’s funny, when I was a teenager my friends used to hang out at the top of the dam at night doing teenager things. I never once went with them though. I am shocked that it took me this long to actually explore the dam at all though considering I grew up in this area. What an amazing spot! If you are a photographer, filmer or adventurer, you will not be disappointed. There are many different tunnels that take you inside the dam with a ton of graffiti if that’s your thing. It is extremely dangerous up top and I do not recommend going up there. This whole area is no trespassing so you are entering at your own risk.
Mushroom Caves: This is another no-trespassing area and also extremely dangerous. I had known about this place for years also but had never taken the time to find where it was. By chance one day when hiking the San Elijo Lagoon I looked across the lagoon and saw what looked like what the mushroom caves look like from photos I’d seen. So there the adventure began! First step was finding out how the heck to even get there! I now realize that photos cannot quite capture the enormity or true magic of this place. This is a must-visit spot for the true adventurers. There are secret caves and footsteps carved out of the delicate sandstone everywhere. It is super-slippery so I really don't recommend too much climbing. I didn't even begin to scrape the surface of this spot
This place is a no-trespassing spot, so enter at your own risk! You could get seriously injured, fall, slide to your death, hit a soft-spot on the edge and have it collapse, etc. So yeah, please be extremely careful if you go.
Rum Runners Cave: I waited about 6 months to visit this spot. First I had to figure out exactly where it was and once I figured that out my next step was figuring out how the heck to get inside! If you find it AND figure out how to get in, come prepared with proper safety gear, good traction shoes, flashlights and candles to light the hallways! There was a draft the day we went so our candles kept blowing out. There are dangerous areas where you could fall into the water or back down to the bottom of the cave. Be very careful.
Other than that, it's like San Diego's own little Goonie's cave! There are multiple hallways that have been carved out with candle holders for the smugglers to see their way through. It sure is a trip to know this little secret is right below an area that thousands of people walk over monthly!
Black Mountain Mine: The first time I read that there were old mine shafts hidden in the Black Mountain canyon, I could hardly believe it. I had grown up in that area, but the most interesting adventures I had known about were of two mediocre waterfalls: one in Rancho Bernardo and one in Rancho Penasquitos. An exploratory mine though? Sign me up!
After scouring the internet for as much information as I could find, I learned that the rumors were true. Back in the 1920’s, a lively mining district was created to excavate arsenic. Arsenic used to be a valuable chemical element that was used to eradicate boll weevils that were infesting Southern cotton crops.
Escondido rodeo cowboy and actor, Frank Hopkins, was able to get the funding back-up to set up his camp in Rancho Penasquitos and so it began. Within several years of cold winters and dry summers though, the South was able to eliminate the boll weevils, thus lowering the demand for white arsenic. By 1927, the mine had been abandoned, though the remnants and mine shafts still remain. Here is where we enter.
Thanks to technology, I was able to located the mine’s flume through Google Maps and used that as a GPS guide through my phone to easily track the necessary path to our destination. The tracking device helped to ensure us that we were going the correct way and I highly recommend using one if you decide to go.
There is the slightest evidence of a path which is just enough to let you know that you’re going the right way. This is a rugged, off-the-traditional trail hike and therefore it is extremely important that you come prepared. Cover up as there are ticks! I know this because when I got home one was burrowing itself inside my leg. Bring a backpack with regular safety gear and let someone know where you are going. I cannot stress enough the importance of thorough research before you go on these types of adventures as well as coming prepared for the variety of situations that could occur.
Personally, these types of hikes are my favorite because they are off the beaten path. It’s fun knowing not too many people have done this adventure and yet the slightly trampled ground tells you it has been explored before and to keep walking. We went the long way and later learned that there was a much quicker way to get to the flume. This is not a kid-friendly hike and these are old ruins that could potentially be very dangerous.