Area Information


Santa Ysabel Mission



Cris DanceThe Santa Ysabel-Julian area is located in North San Diego County, about 45 miles north of the city of San Diego and 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 15 miles north of Santa Ysabel at an elevation of 5,500 feet is Palomar Mountain, home to the famous Hale Observatory. Ten miles to the south is the Laguna Mountain Range, featuring Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The desert community of Borrego Springs, situated in the northwest corner of the Sonoran Desert, lies 20 miles to the east. The rural community of Santa Ysabel-Julian encompasses roughly 150 square miles, offering some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in the county. Moreover, few places in the world feature the diverse ecology found in this unique geographical area.


Joe BeresfordWhat is known about the human history of the Santa Ysabel-Julian area begins with Native Americans. The earliest native cultures leaving substantial archeological evidence of their presence in what is now San Diego County date to about 12,000 years before present. The oldest native tradition is referred to as San Dieguito Culture. The San Dieguito Culture was characterized by a nomadic, hunting lifestyle. This tradition endured until approximately 7,000 years before present, marking the beginning of the La Jollan Culture. People of the La Jollan Culture were seed gathering, small game and shellfish hunters oriented toward the coastal areas. The Yuman Culture appeared about 1,000 years ago. It is believed that this group of people came from the Colorado River area, subsequently spreading throughout the county.

JulianEmerging from this culture were Native Americans settling in what is now the Santa Ysabel-Julian area. Today, these people are known as the Kumeyaay (Hedges; 1984). There are six Native American reservations in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area, including: Santa Ysabel, Mesa Grande, La Jolla, Los Coyotes, Cosmit, and Inaja. In 1875, the Mesa Grande reservation was established with 120 acres for people of Northern Diegueno tribal descent. Approximately 100 people presently reside on the Mesa Grande reservation. The neighboring Santa Ysabel reservation was established in 1893 on 15,526 acres. There are about 300 residents of Northern Diegueno tribal ancestry living on the Santa Ysabel reservation as of this writing.

Joe BurroFurther north and east, the Los Coyotes reservation is situated on 25,049 acres. Los Coyotes is the largest reservation in San Diego County and was created in 1889 for descendants of the Cahuilla and Cupeno tribal groups. About 100 Native Americans now reside on Los Coyotes Reservation. The Cosmit and Inaja reservations are located near the southern boundary of the Santa Ysabel-Julian area. According to 1990 census data, no Diegueno tribal ancestors occupy the 852 acres comprising these two remote and rugged reservations.

Native Americans had sporadic contact with Europeans from the time Juan Cabrillo first discovered the area, in 1542, until the Spanish began building missions in 1769. Father Junipero Serra established the first mission at San Diego, marking the beginning of Spanish influence that would last until 1821, when Mexico gained its independence from Spain. Mexico controlled the area for a period of 27 years. The Mexican War (1846-1848) resulted in Mexico ceding to the United States the territory that is now the southwestern portion of the United States. A pivotal battle in the Mexican War was fought in the San Pasqual Valley near Santa Ysabel-Julian area.

The transition from the end of the Mexican War until American settlement in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area spanned a little more than a decade, during which the California gold rush and the Civil War occurred. The first American ownership of land in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area was initiated under the Homestead Act of 1862, although claims could not be validated until after the land had been surveyed and divided – sometime after 1875. The Homestead Act provided for the acquisition of land by settlers for a nominal fee, generally under $10.00.

Spencer SchoolThe history of the Santa Ysabel-Julian area has been, and still remains a description of activities associated with ranching and rural life. The town of Julian, however, has a long, rich community history, originating during the California gold rush era. Among the first Europeans to settle the Julian area were the Baileys and the Julians. On 30 July 1874, Drury Bailey homesteaded the land and, subsequently, laid out the town of Julian City. Although Drury Bailey founded Julian City, he named the town in honor of another Confederate war veteran that settled in the area at the same time, his cousin Michael Julian.

However, it was Fred Coleman that initiated the gold rush to the Julian area when he discovered gold in a creek downstream of the area that would soon become Julian City. On 20 February 1870, Drury Bailey, attempting to trace the origin of the gold discovered by Coleman, found gold on a nearby quartz ledge. Within days prospectors were working the area. Shortly thereafter, Julian City began to emerge and the Julian Mining District was formed by Michael Julian for the purpose of organizing mining operations in the area. The Julian Mining District continued operations until 6 July 1933, yielding nearly $5,000,000.00 during its 63-year recorded history (LeMenager; 1992).

The 5 Old OnesDuring the past 130 years, the population in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area has increased by an estimated 3,000 people, a negligible amount by Southern California population growth standards. What has noticeably changed is that the economy is now driven primarily by tourism rather than mining and agriculture. At the beginning of the new millennium, the estimated population of the Santa Ysabel-Julian area was approximately 3,500 people. Some estimates project the population of Santa Ysabel-Julian area to double during the next 25 years, as many young professionals seek the solitude, safety, and outdoor lifestyle that the Santa Ysabel-Julian area offers.


Volcan StatuesThe topography is varied in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area, ranging from less than 1000 feet to 6,533 feet above sea level. The rock unit on which the Santa Ysabel-Julian area is situated is part of the Southern California Batholith, a mountain belt extending from Los Angeles County to the tip of Baja California. About 10% to 15% of the landscape in the Santa Ysabel-Volcan Mountain PreserveJulian area features exposed rocks. Most of the rocks that one sees when driving through the Santa Ysabel-Julian area have one of two origins: rocks that have risen from several miles beneath the surface of the earth where they were formed over 100,000,000 years ago; or rocks that were created over 200,000,000 years ago w
hen ancient sea floor sediment was metamorphosed through heat and pressure. The most famous of the rock formations in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area is the Bedford Canyon Formation, generally referred to as Julian schist. This meta-sedimentary rock unit is the oldest exposed formation in the county, ranging in age from about 180 to 250 million years. Julian schist is the source rock unit from which several million dollars of gold was mined during the Julian Mining District era.

Four major rivers (San Luis Rey, San Dieguito, San Diego, and Sweetwater) originate from the Santa Ysabel-Julian area. Three significant lakes (Lake Cuyamaca, Lake Henshaw, and Sutherland Reservoir) border the Santa Ysabel-Julian area. On average, Julian receives about 24 inches of rain per year. Palomar Mountain, a short distance to the north, receives a county high 43 inches of rain annually, including a significant amount of precipitation in the form of snow. Palomar Mountain is also the coolest location in the county.

As a result of varied topography and desirable climatic conditions, the Santa Ysabel-Julian area – averaging over 250 growing days per year – features several life zones, including:

  • Desert
  • Chaparral
  • Riparian
  • Oak Woodlands
  • Yellow Pine Forest

The following list is a compilation of common plants and animals in the Santa Ysabel-Julian area. If you are interested in learning more about the natural history of the area, contact Dr. Bree for more comprehensive resources concerning the geology, climate, flora, and fauna of the Santa Ysabel-Julian area.


  • Telegraph Weed (Heterotheca grandiflora)
  • Black Mustard (Brassica nigra)
  • Slender Tarweed (Hemizonia ramosissima)
  • Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
  • Monkey Flower (Mimulus spp.)
  • Fiddleneck (Amsinkia menziesii intermedia)
  • White Sage (Salvia apiana)
  • ¬†Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
  • Locoweed (Astragalus douglasii)
  • Red-Stemmed Filaree (Erodium cicutarium)
  • Deer Weed (Lotus scoparius)


  • Flattop Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
  • Chamise or Greasewood (Adenostoma fasciculatum)
  • Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.)
  • Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
  • Creeping Snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis)
  • Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
  • Coffeeberry (Rhamnus tomentilla)
  • Mule Fat (Baccharis salicifolia)
  • Yucca (Yucca whipplei)
  • Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
  • California Rose (Rosa californica)


  • Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
  • Scrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia)
  • Canyon Oak (Quercus chrysolepis)
  • Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
  • Sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
  • Black Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)
  • Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi)
  • Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri)
  • White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia)
  • Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
  • Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis)
  • Tamarisk (Tamarix Spp.)


  • Mammals
  • Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • Coyote (Canis latrans)
  • Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
  • Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
  • Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
  • Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
  • Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis)
  • Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus auduboni)
  • Beechey/California Ground Squirrel (Citellus beecheyi)
  • Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)
  • Valley/Botta Pocket Gohper (Thomomys bottae)


Red Hawk
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
  • Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  • Raven (Corvus corax)
  • Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  • Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  • California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis)
  • California Quail (Callipepla californica)
  • Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
  • Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)


  • Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis helleri)
  • Red Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber ruber)
  • Gopher Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus annectans)
  • California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus)
  • Two-Striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchi hammondi)
  • California Striped Racer (Masticophis lateralis lateralis)
  • San Diego Alligator Lizard (Gerrhonotus multicarinatus webbi)
  • Western Brush Lizard (Urosaurus graciosus graciosus)
  • San Diego Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum)
  • Granite Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus orcutti)
  • Western Redtail Skink (Eumeces gilberti rubricaudatus)
  • California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra pulchra)


Mosquito Lake
  • California Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora draytoni)
  • Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
  • Pacific Treefrog (Hyla regilla)
  • California Treefrog (Hyla cadaverina)
  • Western Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus hammondi)
  • Arroyo Toad (Bufo microscaphus californicus)
  • California Toad (Bufo boreas halophilus)
  • Pacific Salamander (Batrachoseps major)
  • Southwestern Pond Turtle (Clemmys marmorata pallida)
  • Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa t