The Charms of Julian

There is always a reason and a season to visit Julian

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79, about 50 miles northeast of San Diego and 100 miles south of Palm Desert. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the beautiful Cuyamaca mountains and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original mining-era buildings in Julian are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of this small town and the famous apple pies of the region.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confederate veterans from Georgia headed West to seek their fortunes in a new, mostly unsettled land. Among these were cousins, Drue Bailey and Mike Julian, who found a lush meadow between the Volcan Mountains and the Cuyamacas to their liking. The town was named Julian, in honor of Mike, who later was elected San Diego County Assessor.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town was never big, at the most it boasted a population of about 600. Rumor has it that Julian almost became the San Diego County seat.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A cattleman, Fred Coleman, found the first fleck of gold in a creek in early 1870. It was San Diego County’s first and only gold rush. The gold rush was short lived, near over in less than a decade. But the pioneers stayed and turned to the land for their livelihood. While many crops were planted and animals pastured, the rich land and mountain weather proved to be ideal for apples and orchards cropped up around the town.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apples continue to be produced in Julian. Their sweet, fresh flavor lures thousands to the mountains each fall, when visitors will find fruit stands overflowing with crisp fruit, homemade cider, pies, and other delicacies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 4,235 feet, Julian’s high elevation provides clean air, blue skies, and four distinct seasons, unusual in sunny Southern California. The first cold spell of fall prompts a blanket of color as the trees prepare for a winter of gentle snowfalls. Sledding and snowball fun add to the season’s activities.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its tiny, four-block-long Main Street is home to country stores, wineries, bed and breakfasts, galleries, and fine restaurants.

A year-round getaway, Julian has a wide variety of activities for visitors. Enjoy a cool summer evening riding down Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage or explore the many gems that dot Main Street.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a tour, sample wines from the local wineries, visit the historical museums, ride a horse through serene meadows or hike to the top of Stonewall Mountain for a panoramic view that goes on for miles. Julian has something for everyone’s taste regardless of the season.

The entire township of Julian is a Designated Historical District. Its image as an early California frontier town with pioneer store fronts, historic sites and guided tours of Eagle and High Peak Mines accounts for much of its modern appeal.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Housed in the restored walls of the Treshil blacksmith shop, Julian Pioneer Museum offers artifacts from the Julian of yesteryear―wall to wall photos of local pioneers, examples of mining equipment, an old carriage, clothes, and household items. You’ll leave with a taste for what life was like when the town was established.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike other gold rush towns, Julian never became a ghost town. Maybe it’s just too pretty to leave. Whatever the reason, today’s Julian exudes small-town charm and country friendliness.

I enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and the delicious apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our recent visit, we bought four pies, one each at Julian Pie Company, Mom’s Pies, Julian Cafe, and Apple Alley Bakery. It’s all for the sake of science; taste testing required to determine a favorite. And, that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

Explore Arizona’s Spooky, Haunted Ghost Towns

You need not travel far in Arizona before encountering a ghost town or two. These quirky towns make the perfect spooky road trip.

Arizona’s 19th-century mining boom gave rise to numerous towns that bustled with near-instantaneous commerce, but whose rapid growth ended abruptly when precious metals were depleted.

Today, many of these outposts are little more than abandoned buildings. Yet others have taken on new life, drawing artists and free spirits who embrace their town’s haunted past and welcome visitors in search of spooky tales and Old West lore.

In a state full of ghost towns, you have your pick from the famous (Bisbee) to the infamous (Tombstone). Below are some of Arizona’s most distinctive ghost towns, each with its own quirks and curiosities.

Bisbee

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Delve deep into Arizona’s mining past in Bisbee, a town of colorful architecture and equally colorful characters, and a ghost or two—many of the town’s locales are rumored to be haunted.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you stroll through Bisbee’s winding, narrow streets and alleys, the town’s historic mining role resounds through remarkably preserved architecture, museums, and the underground Queen Mine Tour. Beautifully landscaped parks, cultural activities like the Bisbee Farmers Market and Arizona’s oldest baseball park, along with unique events like the Bisbee Stair Climb, Sidepony Music Festival, and Alice in Bisbeeland embody a community dedicated to entertainment for locals and visitors alike.  

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those interested in the town’s spookier side, an evening walking tour with Old Bisbee Ghost Tour will introduce the towns dearly departed.

Oatman

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This tiny town in a rugged area carved out of the wilderness by determined miners is now populated by more wild burros than people. Good-humored shops line the street and the furriest residents—small donkeys descended from miners’ beasts of burden—contribute to the annual fall Burro Biskit Toss.

Oatman Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history. The town prides itself on maintaining a Wild West feel, down to the wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and kitschy shops.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard allegedly honeymooned at the 1902 two-story adobe Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. Some say the lovebirds’ spirits as well as other former lodgers still vacation there.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1876, Jerome was once home to the wealthiest mine in the world owned by one man; the whole town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third largest town in Arizona at its peak, the boom town was called the Wickedest City in the West in 1903. A local count showed 37 bars, 13 bordellos, and four churches. Jerome was the largest producer of copper, gold, and silver in Arizona in the 1920s before the mines closed in 1953 and it became the largest ghost town in the west.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 1960s, the town was restored with historic accuracy and revitalized as an arts community.

Jerome and the red rocks of Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley with spectacular views of the Red Rocks of Sedona and the distant San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff, Jerome is a clear ‘don’t miss’ stop in Arizona.

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the OK Corral.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late 1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine, becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. In 1886, the mines flooded and the miners moved on to the next claim.

Boothill, Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the “Town Too Tough to Die” didn’t earn its nickname name for nothing. Now a tourist hotspot, you can still hang up your cowboy hat and dust off your chaps in the numerous saloons, restaurants, and shops that line Allen Street.

Worth Pondering…

The undiscovered places that are interesting to me are these places that contain bits of our disappearing history, like a ghost town.

—Ransom Riggs