Breathtaking views and unique history can be enjoyed during a hike on the Helix Flume Trail in Lakeside.
In 1889 a 35-mile long wooden water flume was completed that brought water from Lake Cuyamaca in San Diego’s East County into the rapidly growing city.
This morning I enjoyed an amazing walk up the historic Helix Flume Trail in Lakeside!
The moderately easy hiking trail begins at the old El Monte Pump Station, climbs a nearby hillside with a series of short steep switchbacks, then follows a short, mostly level section of the historic flume’s route. Information signs describe the construction and history of the engineering marvel, and hikers are able to see the entrance to one of the flume’s old tunnels!
As you will observe in the following photographs, the walk includes some fantastic vistas and natural beauty.
Come along with me and read the photo captions to learn much more…
Looking past a large shady tree toward the trailhead of the historic Helix Flume Trail.
The old El Monte Pump Station is located next to a small parking lot by the trailhead to the Helix Flume Trail.
The El Monte Pump Station was originally built in 1898 to lift well water to the flume on the hillside using steam powered pumps.
Photograph includes huge pipes outside the historic pump station in Lakeside, California.
Plaque by door of El Monte Pump Station dated 1937, when a major overhaul was finally complete. Water was then pumped from the El Capitan Reservoir.
Heading toward the trailhead and an information sign concerning the flume.
One of several signs along the trail that describe the construction and history of the famous water flume.
The blue line on this topographic map is where the flume water descended as it flowed west to the growing city of San Diego.
Photograph of the wooden water flume next to old Highway 80 in El Cajon Valley.
Diagram of cross section of wooden flume box from 1913.
As I started up the trail, I looked back toward the parking lot and its big tree. The Helix Water District has a nearby lot with modern pipes and equipment.
Heading up short but steep switchbacks, with power lines overhead and rugged mountains in the distance.
Hikers must stay on the trail due to the historical importance of this area.
Looking down toward the pump station and El Monte Road. An old rusty pipeline that ascends from the station is visible in this photo.
Climbing higher. Wear sturdy shoes if you go on this hike. If it’s hot, bring plenty of water.
I’ve gained more elevation on the switchbacks. The hillside is dotted with many prickly pears. That’s Hanson Pond in the distance.
Higher we climb!
A fence conceals an old pipeline that ran from the El Monte Pump Station to the flume.
Interesting rock outcroppings.
A beautiful view of the El Monte Valley below.
A better view of Hanson Pond.
The climb is over. We approach another information sign where the old hillside pipeline terminates.
An amazing view of rocky mountains across the valley opens up here.
Sign describes the struggles to supply water. The open flume had troubles with massive leakage due to rot, and evaporation.
In 1915, a court ordered Ed Fletcher to repair the leaky flume. He lined it cheaply with asphalt roofing material using a rolling tar wagon.
San Diego County Park Ranger shows a section of wooden flume pipe.
The open, wooden flume was eventually replaced with covered conduit and pipe. In 1962, the pump station began to send water to the newly created Lake Jennings.
A flag flies near the information sign.
The trail continues along the flume’s old route.
Turning a corner, with rugged El Cajon Mountain (El Capitan) in the distance.
Some natural beauty by the hiking trail.
Entering mountain lion country. A sign describes what to do should you encounter one.
I spot another information sign down below, at the end of a short path.
A short distance from the sign is the entrance to the Monte Tunnel.
The flume needed eight tunnels along its slowly descending route. The Monte Tunnel was the fifth tunnel from the flume’s original water source, Lake Cuyamaca.
Diagram on the sign shows the dimensions of each tunnel.
The tunnel entrances had decorate facades of cut and mortared local granitic boulders.
The bottom 1887 photo shows construction of the seventh tunnel. Part of the eventually outdated tunnel system was destroyed by Navy SEALS for training.
The barred Monte Tunnel entrance photographed during my hike.
I took this flash photograph into the tunnel. After the flash I heard a curious low noise, like that of an animal.
Another information sign can be found nearby, where the Helix Flume Trail connects with the Lake Jennings trail system.
San Diego residents were thrilled at the flume’s completion in 1889. There was a parade and a fountain of water. But it wasn’t flume water–it was well water! There was a blockage somewhere up the line!
San Diego’s historic water flume was considered such an engineering triumph that it was featured on the cover of Scientific American.
Today little remains of the flume. But the natural beauty of this area in San Diego’s East County endures.
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