The Lassitor Hay Road Road Building has been around from the dawn of the wheel and the need to transport commerce between people and cultures. Some of the roads are long gone; some are in use still today. The Native Americans were not without networks of trails to transport goods between tribes. One of these trails for a moment in time became the link between San Diego and the country to the east. Coming to San Diego from the east we think of as relatively easy today but for the early travelers this was a logistical and practically impossible journey if you didn't know your way. There are only a couple natural routes into San Diego.
Coming from the north or south is easy but to the east is a mountain range that proved too steep to build a road up from the desert. You don't realize how impassible most of the terrain is until you go over it on foot and you can't really make it to the desert like that. Before modern earth building there were animal trails and Indian trails that work their ways over hostile terrain. The most famous was what the San Die gans called the San Antonio to San Diego Mail. Our neighbors to the north made fun of this trail calling it the 'Jackass Mail.' The problem with this name is that the animals that we ran over the trail were mules, not donkeys, but the name has seemed to stick. The San Antonio to San Diego Mail route was the first overland mail route to San Diego.
Before that they would have to wait for the occasional ship to leave from New York, arrive in Panama, cross Panama, then come up to San Diego. This was a long and tedious route, with problems of malaria and other tropical diseases. The Panama canal wasn't built until the 20 th century. An alternative route would be to round the horn of South America and come back up. Neither route very desirable. The mail trail wasn't a natural route that you could run wagons or buggies up.
If you try to go to San Diego you go against the grain of the mountains so it is almost impossible to find a descent route trying to avoid climbing as many mountains as possible. The Natural routes in the mountains run northwest toward Los Angeles. The Jackass Trail runs across the grain and is believed to start at the base of a canyon that today is called Oriflamme Canyon. The canyon has steep walls and is quite a feat to climb up to the mountains, fairly hard to make it down for that matter. The trail ran up a steep ridge into the Mountains east of Julian. The original trail is probably lost forever with all the modern roads around the area except that through my grandfather and my own personal exploration we have found another road that ran approximately over the old mail trail, the Lassitor Hay road.
The Hay road was built to support the new Butterfield stagecoach that ran up the natural route that ran from St. Louis cross-country into the deserts of California, up the Carrizo corridor and into Warner Springs and then continued up to San Francisco. The Lassitor Hay road was built to bring hay from the Julian area in Green Valley to the Vallecito station, one of the many stations on the stage route. If you go along the Lassitor Road approaching the desert from the mountains the trail is still fairly visible.
A modern road parallels and sometimes crosses the hay road. As you approach the final ridge coming from the mountains into the desert, the road hits a T intersection under the peak of Chariot Mountain, The Road disappears into the brush as it heads up to the top of the ridge. From the air you can faintly see the old road continue on over the ridge of Chariot Mountain and if you know exactly where to look you can actually still walk thorough the brush down the old hay road. Another trail of interest in the area is the Pacific Crest trail, which crosses the hay road Near the T intersection The hardest part of the journey to the desert was the initial decent into the desert. The ridge of Chariot Mountain is so steep that they had to convert their wagons into sleds and slide or winch them part way down the mountain into a depression in the mountain. The hill has an impressive 36% grade.
It is doubtful that they ever got their sleds back up the hill with it being that sleep. The steep section is approximately 200 feet almost strait down. Chariot Mountains characteristics in the area of interest (where the Lassitor Hay road and possibly the Jackass trail is located) are as such. At the base of the Mountain the hill rises steeply in till it breaks into a bowl. The bowl is located between the Pass and a small ridge that piggybacks down to the bottom of Oriflamme Canyon. My Grandfather decided to try to find the old Jackass mule trail and Lassitor hay road.
He being an explorer he went into great research into this topic, trying to find any and all leads as to where the trail actually lies. After reading first hand accounts of people that traveled over the trail he found that the accounts don't all agree with each other and it leads to debate as to where the actual mail trail is located. He decided that he should perform an aerial surveillance of the area and he brought back almost priceless photos of what latter lead to the discovery of the actual route of the Lassitor Hay road. When he could see what looked like a road on the side of Chariot Mountain, he decided that we should walk over the line on his photograph.
So He my Brother and I set out to walk the route on foot and see if it was the old road. We started at the top of the trail approaching the T intersection in the road. After getting out of the car we proceeded into a tunnel in the brush. We soon realized that the small tunnel of brush that we were running down was the remains of the road.
As we approached the ridge the road disappears into even thicker and impassable brush so we turned around and got back in the car. We decided to come up from the desert side so we went around on the modern road system to the head of Oriflamme canyon. Up the canyon to the point where his aerial photos showed the road should be. We were exploring the face of the mountain approximately where my grandfather and the photos lead us. The bottom of the hill was also thick with brush so we started our way into the Jungle of chaparral once again. Walking part way up the hill I happened to notice that there was what appeared to be a roadbed that we were walking in and we followed it up till it hit a fan short of the lowest ridge.
At this point the defined road disappears and then we thought it might be a mining road. We explored the area for a mine or evidence of tailings, there were non. The road then picked up shortly after the break. The road continues around the other side of the ravine leading up the mountain and at a certain point it stops. It was quite evident that the trail didn't meander along the side of the mountain anymore, the brush was so thick and there was again no road bead ahead. We looked up the mountain and found our answer.
The earth in this area looked to be badly disturbed at one time, just like they sent sleds down the hill at this point. So we decided to walk strait up to the top of the hill and when we got there we found that we were almost lined dead up with the road coming from the mountains. One other find in this exploration was there is a single-track trail that runs along the piggy back of the mountain, not down in the fan of the mountain. We walked along this trail as well. It follows approximately the same path and there is no reason that there would a trail in that area.
There is no recent sign of anyone traveling over any of the trail either. A mule trail or old Indian trail would have probably taken advantage of the piggy back running up the mountain and that seems to be a logical spot for the Jackass Trail. The only other theory for the single track is it could be a trail that the CCC (civilian conservation corpse) built in the 1930's during the depression. One of the most famous trails that the CCC built is in use today by hundreds of foot travelers every day.
To get to the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon you have to take one of three trails. The best is the Bright Angle trail, but it is located a mile or two down the canyon from Bright angle creek and the ranch. They cut a notch in the cliff side connecting up the trail. The San Antonio to San Diego mail route was the first Mail route to San Diego.
Thought the actual route of the trail may never be found, we shouldn't forget the History of our city of San Diego and we should celebrate our heritage. The Lassitor Hay Road is still a great place to feel what the people of the time had to go through to make life happen, bring people out west, and bring about the greatness of what is now the largest state in the union economically. We owe it to the builders and pioneers of both roads for the first connection overland to San Diego and the rest of California.