Have some pie, spend time with wolves and hike in the wilderness near Julian. Did I mention the pie?
My housebound spouse was getting cranky; he clearly craved a breath of fresh mountain or desert air. I talked him into an ideal off-season combo for us: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, at the foot of the Cuyamaca mountains, paired with the wooded San Diego County hamlet of Julian. What I didn’t confess upfront: I’m a bit of a glutton for pie.
But I digress.
In early March we drove into the colorful patchwork of Anza-Borrego’s desert lilies, phacelia, dune evening primrose and purple verbena. Bonus viewing: the massive mythical and whimsical metal sculptures that dot the roads in Borrego Springs.
Then a winding drive up to Julian at 4,200 feet, and, yes, pie.
The tab: $140 for a night at the cozy Julian Lodge, and $75 for meals and sweet treats (plus $64 for frozen take-home pies to share). No charge for the fresh air.
Our getaway stay was at the friendly Julian Lodge Bed and Breakfast (2720 C St.,  765-1420), steps from the compact downtown’s historic buildings (ubiquitous plaques explain their colorful stories). The updated rooms feel old-timey, and our fellow guests shared their pie preferences at the sunny breakfast buffet.
Who says pie isn’t a meal? OK, we enjoyed skillet trout and homemade cream of zucchini soup at the Julian Grille (2224 Main St.,  765-0173), where we people-watched through the front windows of this 1920s bungalow. But mostly we sampled sweets for two days. Winner, pie: the apple mountain berry crumb with cinnamon ice cream at Julian Pie Co. (2225 Main St.,  765-2449). Guess who’s a new member of their “Frequent ‘Pie-r’ Club”? And favorite cookie: the sugared pie crust cookie (which reminded my spouse of the ones his mother made) at Apple Alley (2122 Main St.,  765-2532), a homespun bakery and cafe.
The must-reserve-ahead tour at the California Wolf Center (Tall Pine and KQ Ranch roads, Julian;  765-0030), where we refreshed our understanding of wolf, dog and coyote history, apex predators, cooperative programs with ranchers — and got a close-up view of endangered Mexican gray wolves.
I needed to walk off that pie, so we headed to the nearby hills. First up: Near the Stonewall Mine (where gold was discovered in the 1870s) we wandered along a quiet loop path above Lake Cuyamaca, past grazing deer and gangs (yes, really) of wild turkeys. Then, after another pie tasting session (more adventurous visitors to Julian can try the hard cider or wine tours) we headed to the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, where a more strenuous hike under red-trunked manzanitas offered great vistas of the mountainous San Diego back country. Ready for more pie?