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Cottonwood Canyon Trail Professional Review and Guide
"V-shaped Cottonwood Canyon once provided Kumeyaay Indians with a direct, but very steep passage between the desert floor and the lush meadows of the Laguna Mountains. Springs and seasonal flows of water in the canyon undoubtedly served its travelers well. For a time Cottonwood Canyon was mistakenly believed to have been the route of the Jackass Mail (part of a pioneering mail route between San Antonio and San Diego)—hence the naming of Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. Later research showed the true route of the Jackass Mail to be Oriflamme Canyon. Like hikes into the Grand Canyon from the rim, this route is a down-and-back-up affair. Since private land lies on the desert floor below Cottonwood Canyon, you should retrace your path after descending. Unlike hiking the Grand Canyon trails, there’s no established path, so even the downhill part is slow going. There are lots of tricky little descents—especially if you’re carrying extra gear—over small waterfalls."
--Jerry Schad, Afoot & Afield: San Diego County (Wilderness Press).
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