Creating new beaten paths

The first time Jessica Johnson explored the Mushroom Caves in Solana Beach she was trespassing.

It was 2013, a few years after the 35-year-old elementary school art teacher first started documenting her passion for adventurous, sometimes dangerous hikes on her increasingly popular website Hidden San Diego.

Walking along the path recently, Johnson recalled that initial adventure into the network of narrow, water-carved canyons that rise above the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.

“It was a crazy adventure, kind of scary,” she said, eyes beaming. “I thought I could die. It’s sandstone so it crumbles easy, and there’s slot canyons that you have to climb up, but your adrenaline’s going, and the child in you comes out.”

Last year, the hike south of the lagoon and just west of Interstate 5 was opened to the public and renamed Annie’s Canyon Trail. While the paths have been improved and a metal ladder was installed for safety at a view point, many of the canyons have now been chained off.

After Johnson wrote about the location, trespassers increasingly splashed graffiti over the sandstone environment and left beer bottles and trash littered about after bonfire parties. That came to an end when the nonprofit San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, in response to the vandalism, received a grant for around $100,000 to clean up and improve the area.

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