Apple Days have been a local fall mainstay event in Julian for decades now, but I remember when I went up there in 1970. It was a quiet event that featured local varieties of apples at the few fruit stands that were up there. Very quaint and low key. Of course now, fall time is crazy with tourists and weekenders all trying to get a taste of this event....no parking left and big crowds of people all over the main drag. Just lately I have been looking for that quaint, low key, old timey experience again....
On my way up to Heart Bar about three weeks ago, I noticed a little sign along the highway that read: U pick apples. It was down a road that I never even knew was there. My friend that I was meeting up with also had spotted the sign and mentioned it to me. "we should go find that place" she said....but we rode too late to swing by and investigate on that day. Fast forward to yesterday. KJ and I were ready to go pick us some heirloom varieties of apples from the 100 year old orchard at Stetson Creek ranch. We meandered across the valley on familiar trails, cut back east on the highway, then dropped in on the dirt forest road. Two and a half miles later (with some side trail investigations thrown in) we found ourselves at the orchard, which was filled with Rome Beauties, Macintosh and Winesap apples...all the ones that I used to see in the markets when I was a kid, but have since been replaced with all the new"improved" varieties such as Honeycrisp, Gala, etc.....
A lady named Patty owns the place along with her husband, but she seems to be the one who handles the groups of excited apple pluckers who brave the dirt road in their Prius passenger cars for a few bags of old time apples out of an organic orchard that is frequented by the local bears at night. You have to be careful not to step in any of the big piles of bear poop that that are scattered all over the orchard while you are scouting about for the best picks. So Karen and I each bought a bag, grabbed a stick and sauntered off to fill our bags up. Karen went for the larger apples, while my approach was to get a lot of little ones that created less air gaps between them in the bag. After foraging around a while and filing our bags, we found a clear patch of grass (bear poopless) and plopped down to take in the view. There were probably a twenty other people there, maybe four or five vehicles. We could have just taken a nap in the warm sunshine, but after some time, we were on our bikes again to finish our loop. Karen was in charge of carrying the load of apples and brought a roomy backpack for just that purpose. We really didn't have an itinerary, so we just sort of moseyed along, played in a creek, and investigated whatever path struck our fancy. It was a laid back day, and our loop ended up being less than 50 miles. But the day wasn't about putting on miles, or conquering technical stuff...it was just about relaxing and being spontaneous....and getting apples.
We started at Heart Bar and went directly over to the Santa Ana River road.
It was a beautiful day in the mountains with clouds rolling across the peaks, pushed by a cool breeze.
We traversed the mountainside on some well traveled trails and snaked our way up to the highway. From there we worked our way back east until we came to an obscure forest road with an apple sign pointing the way down it. We dropped off the pavement and into the trees, but we didn't take the direct route to the orchard. We kept taking side routes that mostly dead ended, but were very scenic. There was one that looked like it should go through to Glass road that I saw on Google maps. I had heard from locals that it was not passable due to a rock slide, but we, being on bikes, decided that it was worth a look. The road turned out to have been well traveled, and when we got to the spot where the rock slide was, we found that most of the large rocks had been moved and stacked along the edges of the route. I'm guessing that a 4X4 club did this. A passenger car wouldn't have been able to make it through, but Jeeps and motorcycles would have no problem. We rode easily through and were immediately rewarded with a beautiful little creek.
We played around there for a little bit and then went back to find the orchard.
There were little apples.
and big apples....just kidding, most of the apples weren't very big.