Hello everyone! This is a friendly reminder that any of these fun places we may visit, we are a guest at. Please treat both businesses and trails with the utmost respect. We here at Hidden San Diego follow the 'Leave no Trace' mantra, meaning whatever you bring with you comes back with you. If you see trash on a trail, please do your part to help remove it. Remember, we are not picking up trash from another person but instead cleaning up for Mother Nature. Happy adventures!
Harrison Serenity Ranch is a beautiful 67 acre property located in Palomar Mountain. They offer camping, glamping, cabins, yoga, hiking, event space and more! Enjoy fresh mountain spring water when you are here, sleep under a million visible stars and wake up quite possibly above the clouds (we got to!). If you are looking for a space to clear your head, reconnect with nature and feel the true magic of the land, I highly recommend booking a stay here. You will not regret it.
The owner of the property, Vicki Morgan, has truly brought this property to life and has been instrumental in helping to piece Nate Harrison’s legacy together. This property could have been developed into anything. Instead, Vicki has allowed it to remain mostly in its natural state, with plant life bursting from every angle. She truly is the perfect person to steward this land.
The history of the Harrison Serenity Ranch site is so multi-layered that it truly deserves a book of its own (which thankfully already exists). Over the course of thousands of years this exact spot was a gathering space for the Luiseño People. They call this spot Tokoma, which translates to “Rocks”. There are multiple areas on this property with extremely deep grinding holes (bedrock mortars) that were clearly used for many, many generations. They are possibly the deepest I have ever seen.
In the mid 1800’s, a man named Nate Harrison became a freed slave and with blessings from the Luiseños, called Tokoma home for the next 50 years. In fact, through archaeological research it was revealed that Harrison was extremely close with the Luiseño tribe. He was baptized Catholic by Rincon’s Native Chief Juan Sotelo Calac, married an Indigenous woman and even became a tribal member who partook in their ceremonies.
Photo courtesy of sandiegohistory.orgHarrison was a beloved man. In the early 20th century, his homestead was said to be one of San Diego’s most sought after destinations. Just the trek alone up the grade to his home must have been a super wild adventure, as it still is today! Imagine riding up that rugged, dirt road in a horse-drawn wagon!
Harrison was a lovely host to his visitors, providing fresh mountain spring water for them and their car radiators when they arrived. Visitors would come bearing gifts for him such as clothing, whisky and sardines as the archaeological digs have revealed. Harrison even visited with the surveyors who eventually developed the Palomar Observatory. He is said to have had a big personality with a big heart. Despite the hostility of the times, Nate welcomed guests to his home with open arms.
We got the amazing opportunity to witness SDSU’s archaeological dig of Harrison’s old homestead first-hand when we visited. The dig is being lead by Dr. Seth Mallios, who is an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at San Diego State University. Together him and his students have uncovered thousands of artifacts from the site.
When we visited we got to witness the unearthing of pieces from both a gin bottle & plate (both from the late 1800’s in England) and a meat can. Even more incredible though is watching them slowly piece back together Harrison’s cabin, stone by stone. As of April 2022, the San Diego History Center is displaying an extremely popular and impressive exhibit of the finds from SDSU’s archaeological digs. They have also recreated a life-size replica of Nate’s home. There are literally thousands of artifacts on display that help piece together this man’s life. I have not gotten the chance to visit it yet but will definitely be posting about it when I do!
The drive up Nate Harrison Grade is an incredible adventure in itself! This is off-roading and no matter what kind of vehicle you drive, it will be bumpy. The road is well-maintained (up to where the ranch is) but it does get a lot crazier the closer you get to the top of Palomar Mountain. If you have a low-clearance vehicle, do not try to make it to the top. Check out those views though!
When you see the plaque on the right, that’s how you know you’ve arrived. Please remember this is private property and you must be a guest in order to visit the grounds:
We stayed in a glamping tent over-looking the mountain and holy moly it was gorgeous!
There was wild lilac blooming right outside our tent!
Sage was SO excited to stay in this tent, celebrating with us both and just having a fit of happiness when we first arrived:
They host unique events here too, including festivals!
It was SO cool to get to witness an archaeological dig. Here is a shot of Dr. Seth Mallios and his students doing a dig of Harrison’s homestead:
Some of the objects they found when we were there:
There is even one of Nate’s old shovels growing inside a tree!
This pear tree was one of the most amazing things to witness this day. This is one of Nate’s pear trees which was struck by lightning and almost died. Thankfully a man was able to graft the tree from one of the living branches. It was really hard for me to photograph but in real life the tree looks dead from every side except for this one branch that is just bursting with life. I heard the pears taste amazing by the way. Almost 150 years of providing juicy fruit. Amazing!
I also got the honor of meeting Dr. Jackie Martin who has been a huge supporter and an active part in piecing Nate’s story together . She even had one of Nate’s grafted trees planted in her name with a sweet plaque!
It was so peaceful and quiet at night:
The next morning. There is no better way to wake up than above the clouds. It is the most surreal feeling ever:
They recently purchased goats to help with fire control: Goat grazing is an excellent tool to help remove dead brush: