North County Cruisers Motorcycle Club

Ocotillo / Desert Tower Trip Description

As of 1/15/2013, there is no gasoline for sale in Ocotillo. Try East on I-8

Click Here for Ocotillo Route Instructions

Vallecito Map

This is one of our longest rides and is more limited for dates that we can ride it. The desert heat can climb to 120 degrees and winter snow can block the route thru Julian.

The route includes most of highway S2 and part of Rt. 79 that are not included in other rides. The route follows part of the Great Southern Overland Stage Trail.

The ride begins at our usual starting point -- the parking lot next to the Mobil gas station as I-15 and Rt. 76. The course heads East on Rt. 76 past the Pala Casino and the orchards. This is also the first portion of our Palomar ride. Continue East on 76 as it climbs into the mountains and continue straight past your opportunity to head up to the top of Palomar mountain. Rt. 76 then takes you thru the LaJolla Indian reservation and past Lake Henshaw. This is another scenic stretch of road with wide sweeping turns. Rt. 76 ends at Rt. 79 where you will turn right.

Rt. 79 is very straight and flat but will quickly bring you into Santa Ysabel. Rt. 79 will end at Rt. 78 where the route turns left to head Southeast on 78 toward Julian. Follow Rt. 78 into Julian and turn right at the stop sign in downtown Julian. There is usually a lot of pedestrian traffic so you will have to be quick to make the turn. At the far side of Julian, you will find the only gas station within 20 miles. Make sure that you have a full tank because it will be another 80 miles until you reach another gas station. Julian is also a good place to load up on water and snacks while making a restroom stop. The ride continues East on Rt. 78 down Banner grade. The Banner grade portion of Rt. 78 features about 10 miles of tight turns following a long canyon on your left. You eventually work your way down to the desert floor.

Rt. 78 now continues directly East and becomes straight and flat. Your route continues along Rt. 78 until you reach highway S2. As you turn on S2, you should notice a plaque commemorating the site of one of the many Overland stage coach stations. These stations were located every 20 miles. Highway S2 follows part of the stage coach route.

As you follow S2 south, you will pass thru the tiny town of Shelter Valley. You will then continue past the Stage Coach Trails RV Park on your right. You can stop here for snacks and drinks but there are no restroom facilities. Highway S2 now begins to wind thru the valley and you have mountain ranges to your east and to the west. The shoulder will vary from sand to hard packed gravel so be careful if you choose to pull off the road.

S2 Map

As you continue South on S2, you will pass a sign on your left identifying Box Canyon. This is a location where, in 1847, the Mormon Brigade used hand tools to open a box canyon to become the main stage coach route. The road is sand so you won't be able to explore the canyon. If you continue straight, the road becomes flat and straight while mountains recede.

Vallecito Stage Station

You will pass the Vallecito County Park on your right. This park includes a recreation of the old Vallecito Stage Coach Station which was part of the Overland stage route. This can be an interesting stop to tour the station. There are also restroom facilities. However, you may be asked to pay the park fee so check to see if Rangers are there to collect the fee.

Sometimes, we stop at the County Park and then backtrack to Julian. This will give us a shorter ride of around 150 miles. If you continue South, you can stop at the Agua Caliente General store which is about 4 miles South of Vallecito just down a side road. Just before you reach the town of Ocotillo, they are now erecting a lot of wind turbines for the purpose of generating electricity. The Ocotillo Wind Project currently has 94 turbines and generates 265 Megawatts. Another 18 turbines will be erected in Spring of 2013.

Ocotillo is pretty desolate as a town. There are Shell and Union 76 gas stations but their grills are closed. You can get snacks or microwave sandwiches from their mini-marts. There is a small "restaurant" called Gordo's but we chose not to stop. Your main goal is to get gas, take a restroom break and head back North.

Option 1: Retracing to Temecula

The route now doubles back Northward on S2. You have another opportunity to stop for snacks and water on the way back. When you reach Rt. 78, turn right and watch to turn left on the next section of highway S2. This stretch of road will take you North thru another isolated plains area. Follow S2 all of the way until it ends at Rt. 79. The terrain changes from desert to rolling hills with mountains in the distance.

Turn right on Rt. 79 to head Northwest towards Temecula. Gas and food are available in Sunshine Summit. As you continue Westward, you will pass the Glider Airport on your left. Some times you can see gliders or parachutists in the air. Rt. 79 continues to wind its way thru the hills while the mountains in the distance present a great view.

Once again continuing West on Rt. 79, you will reach Temecula where you will find additional places to get food, gas, etc. The last section of the ride turns left on Pechanga to head South. The route will take you past the Pechanga casino so watch out for casino traffic. The road now gets more interesting with wide sweeping turns with the canyon following on your left. At the end of the canyon the road will flatten and straighten as you enter the Pala village. The speed limit will drop to 25.

At the end of Pala Road, you should turn right and follow the road until it ends at Rt. 76 at the Pala Casino. Heading West on Rt. 76 will bring you back to I-15 and the end of the this ride. We hope you enjoyed it.

Option 2: Continuing to the Desert Tower

Desert Tower

Another choice is to get on Interstate 8 Westbound and take it back to the San Diego area. There is an interesting stop as you ride West on I-8 near Jacumba. The Desert View Tower can be seen on your right. If you take the next exit, you can double back to the tower. For a modest fee, you can climb the tower for a nice view Eastward towards the desert. There are also a set of small caves that you can explore. You can also simply stop and look around for free.