Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cycling Around Town: Mt Helix

I went out for a cool and leisurely morning bicycle ride a few months ago, heading east on relatively gentle El Cajon Blvd toward the mountain range that looms over the San Diego skyline. At about 11 miles mark (now on La Mesa Blvd) I spotted a lone hill dominating the south side of the road.
Mt Helix partly hiding in a low cloud in the unincorporated area between La Mesa and El Cajon
This, of course, was Mt. Helix, the steep 1365 ft (416.05 m) hill that presides over the Casa de Oro - Spring Valley area. Its tall peak punctuated by a cross at the top, making it a prime locale for a smorgish investigation! I pulled out the area road map and steered my bike onto Jackson St and then headed up Lemon St straight to the mountain.

Mt. Helix from Lemon St
The area is unincorporated, though the road surface is very well kept. A good thing since the road's shoulder is really narrow and there is no bike lane. Once past the intersection with Bancroft St, though, my ride became decidedly non-leisurely! Lemon St climbs steadily up and becomes steeper closer to the mountain, and the only real rest spot to be had is at the bend as it passes over the Helix Reservoir, where the road shoulder widens for a few meters. I don't know if one can get to the lake if one doesn't live there (the entrance is gated), but from the top of the Lemon St curve one can get a pretty good look at it while catching one's breath and rubbing some sense back into the legs.

A brief pause to admire Lake Helix.
That rest spot really is the last flat-ish bit of road you'll find on your way up Mt Helix, I found. Lemon St kicks up again as it runs into Fuerte Dr, the main roadway through the area (and a narrow and steep one at that!). Turning right on Fuerte, and then immediately turning right at Mt Helix Drive, there was no rest in sight as I pedaled up the long 8% grade entrance stretch. One rest stop under a small shade and more panting, I made it to the junction where one-way driving begins, and turned right up the first ring of the road...

Arrrgggghhh! Why does one have to go up a mountain before coming down it???
It's still all uphill, though this section is the mildest slope on the whole climb and serves as a bit of an active-rest stretch. The road kicks up as it curves north... though provides an excuse for a quick stop in the form of the famous Mt Helix rotating house! It wasn't turning at the time, but as you can see from the video, it must be quite spectacular living in a pad like that. You can go for a spin any time you want without even having to leave the house at all!

Mt Helix's rotating house, private road ways, Mt Helix drive.
The whole hill/mountain is pretty much privately owned, and many of the side roads are privately maintained... with 'proceed at your own risk' signs at intersection. I passed a few joggers making their way up or down the same road. Everybody was nice and very encouraging so that even though much of the view was still obscured by the lingering marine layer I felt compelled to keep on pedaling up the ickily tilted road.
Mt Helix nature theater.
And was rewarded by the sight of the magnificent nature theater at the top of it. I mean... have a look!

The park, like the rest of the mountain, is private, but is open to the public during daylight hours. It was privately built and dedicated on Easter 1925 to the memory of Mary Carpenter Yawkey by her children. I don't know anything about Mary Yawkey, but she must have been a really remarkable person, at least to her family, to warrant such a magnificent monument at such a location. And that the place is open to the public only makes it more grand! I looked up the Mt Helix Park Foundation after a good coast down the hill on delightfully wiggly Alto Dr. Will post a little chat with the park's director in a bit.

PS: Since my first multi-stop ride up Mt Helix on my old heavy mountain bike I have been riding up that hill once every week or two. Finally managed to go up it in one nonstop push yesterday on the lighter road bike, so now I'll turn to pick a fight with Mt Soledad - a bigger hill - instead. I'll still ride up Helix once or twice a month, though. It is a really great spot to hang out and soak in the atmosphere. It's like a great hidden gem in a touristy town. You can walk down the Yawkey Trail and spend a hour or two on its benches without seeing anyone at all!


Anonymous said...

I visited there 10 yrs ago. Good for you cycling all the way up. That's a work out!


Smorg said...

Hey Soren: It is a work out, tho a really good one with good rewards (nice view on top, cool twisty descend back down). ;) And there are several good restos in La Mesa to refuel, too. Next time you come to town we should ride up it. :D

yvette said...

This stone wall has a 'Provence' look, almost Roman... How can you manage all that energy? My total admiration... and thanks for VK latest news(I missed her birthday)

Smorg said...

Ciao Yvette: It definitely is an extraordinary look for this part of the world, mon amie. :) When I first got there I thought they must have gone for the ancient Jerusalem look or something (like from a historical Christian film, you know), especially since the park was dedicated at Easter. If it had a strong religious undertone before, Mt Helix Park's become quite religion-neutral now - with the exception of the prominent cross (but this is a private park, so they can put whatever they like in it for all I care). There's a nice little nature trail around it with really good view of the surroundings, too. I'd go up there more if only I live a bit closer.

Oh, I'm afraid I've been overindulging on the sweets a bit, so I've gotta go on these long bike rides to keep from having to buy new clothes. ;o) Thanks!

I almost missed VK's birthday, too. Got to get back into opera/classical music a bit. I think she's in St Moritz now doing a concert... And I still haven't finished reading her book yet! :o( Sometimes I wish I have 2 extra heads and a few more extra arms... like those Hindu gods, but then that might freak Sassy the-cat-next-door out. :oP