Tierra Del Sol:
Land of the Sun
By J.J. Curry
Take a trip down a country road and discover the history, the places, the people, and the life of Tierra Del Sol.
Tierra Del Sol translated from Spanish means 'The Land Of The Sun'. To find this place you will have to travel to Boulevard, which is about 75 miles east of San Diego. Tierra Del Sol is the name of both a road and a town. In this story we will, together, take a journey on that road, visit the town and people of Tierra Del Sol and discover a bit of back country history.
To find Tierra Del Sol Road drive west on I-94 from Boulevard. The first sight after turning south on Tierra Del Sol Road is a sea of gigantic propellers suspended on tall monolithic towers. This area is a mecca for commercial windmills (more accurately described as wind powered electricity generators). On some days, when almost all the windmills are in operation, it makes one feel as if they were at a large, silent airport. There are a number of Commercial Windmill Farms in this area and some are testing new types of wind driven devices. Even with windmills, one of mans most ancient forms of harnessing nature's energy, modern technology is involved.
Just south of the windmills is a green cinder block building that belongs to the State of California. This building houses the California Department of Forestry's fire station, which is part of the extremely large Campo Fire District. Captain Phil Zambrano and two fire fighters were on duty the day I visited. We are now in the fire season, which began on May 1st and will probably end in November. I'm sure everyone is aware of the high potential for fire this year, as evidenced by the recent disastrous San Diego fire and the other back country brush fires.
Capt. Zambrano stated that this station is manned 24 hours a day during the fire season and that the number of personnel will be increased in August and September, which is the height of the fire spell. Capt. Zambrano said that his group is geared to handle mainly brush type fires, while the local Volunteer Fire Departments handle structure fires and illness-accident cases. He did say both his group and the volunteer departments do lend each other mutual assistance. The CDF in addition to being trained fire fighters are qualified in first aid and CPR.
"If you see a fire, any kind of a fire, report it." pleaded Capt. Zambrano. The sooner the CDF is made aware of the fire the less damage that will be caused. Particularly with brush fires near homes, minutes can make the difference. He said some people have expressed concern with the number of fires that seem to be taking place in Mexico and are quite visible from this area. The Captain stated that they monitor those fires and if the wind should drive the fire towards our border he has the authority to place other fire units, planes and helicopters on alert.
The next stop on this tour is likely to be missed if you are not the inquisitive type. At first glance it seems to be a small campground, but it is much more. The name is Hi-Pass Camp. It is owned by the American Legion Posts in Imperial County. Presently there are about 20 to 25 trailers and motor homes in the campground and as can be seen from the road a communal vegetable garden. The purpose of this campground is to support a summer camp for young people. In the rear of the property are a number of buildings that serve as barracks, meeting halls, mess halls, and recreation areas. There is also a full size swimming pool. The American Legion Posts in Imperial County support this camp for young people, retarded people, and the religious groups from the county.
Jim and Cleo Murphy were gracious enough to spend some time with me and give me some background on the camp. Jim Murphy began to come to the Tierra Del Sol area, which at that time was known as Hi- Pass, in 1938. He is now a retired county worker and leads the the volunteer help at this camp.
Jim gave me a tour of the camp and it was most interesting. The barracks or sleeping buildings are very clean and ready for immediate occupancy. The sleeping quarters are divided into three sections and each section is supervised by a counselor. In addition to the counselors and volunteers, like Jim Murphy, the camp has a full time nurse in residence to watch over the young people. Food is not ignored at this camp and the wives and other women, who are also volunteers and probably work harder than the men, handle this and many other duties. The women perform most of the kitchen duties, with occasional assistance from their spouses. They cook, serve and clean up afterwards. Its a busy time for all, but they truly seem to enjoy their present day occupation.
The most recent group that used the facility was a church encounter assembly. In the near future they will sponsor a large group of retarded, both young and old from Imperial County. The usual groups that attend this camp are the young people. They are guided both by their counselors and most importantly by these devoted and hard working volunteers.
The next stop on this sojourn is the town of Tierra Del Sol. Yes, there is an actual town. It is owned by one couple and is presently for sale. Before I tell you about the sale of this town and the present owners allow me to take you back in time.
Tierra Del Sol was originally known as Hi-Pass. It was founded in 1916, but wasn't incorporated as a township until approximately 1940. The name, Hi-Pass, came from the railroad. Hi-Pass was the highest point of the railroad line at that time. Back then the town was a busy place. It had a post office, a blacksmith shop, a train station, and a school. The school is remembered by many long time residents of the Mountain Empire. One of those is a leading citizen of the Boulevard area, Al Dart, realtor and owner of Manzanita Land And Cattle Company. Al, who was a Deputy Sheriff for eleven years and was also a Judge in the local justice court for nine years, has lived most of his life in the back country. Al attended school in the one room school house in Tierra Del Sol. He went to class in that tiny building from the 4th to the 8th grade. Al said "It was probably the best education I received in my life". He even remembers the name of his teacher, Mrs. Benedict. The one room school, which covered all eight grades and was taught by this one teacher, was the learning institution for an area that extended from just east of Campo to just west of Jacumba. For area of such large size it still only included about fifteen students.
During that era, the 1940's and 1950's, there were not that many cars in use by local residents. The responsibility for transporting the children to school belonged to the school bus driver, Mrs. Brown, now the owner of the renowned Wisteria Candy Cottage. Actually, she used the family car and drove a lot of miles to transport her charges from home to school. Three of her children attended this school and like Al Dart she feels they received a superior education. Today, Mrs. Brown owns, in addition to her famous business, a fair amount of acreage and her home on Tierra Del Sol Road.
The present owners of the town of Tierra Del Sol are Rex and Martha Ostrander. They purchased this property in 1968 and, as I mentioned earlier, they are now offering it for sale. If you wish to own your own town, and have $250,000, take a drive and meet with the Ostrander's.
As you drive into the town of Tierra Del Sol, just three miles south of I-94, you will be struck by the serene beauty of the property with all it's majestic live oak trees. There are also many other trees among the oaks. Beautiful groves of manzanita, red shank, and in the rear some very tall pines. The only business here is Mrs. Ostrander's antique store. She has many antiques both in the shop and in one of the other buildings on the property. Her specialty is glass antiquities and has a large collection of such glassware. Rex and Martha live in a cottage that is attached to the shop. There are eight additional cottages here, but only two are now occupied. One of the houses is rented by an elderly man who has, stacked in front of the house, potted plants for sale at $1.00 each. All one has to do is drive up, pick out a plant, place a $1.00 in the box and drive on.
Rex took me for a tour of the 23 acres in his golf cart. As we toured he would occasionally take out the "makings" and roll his own cigarette. Rex told me that he had to sell the town, due to his worsening arthritis and some old World War II injuries that were bothering him. During this ride we were constantly followed by his goat, Biscuit. Rex raised Biscuit from a kid and the animal thinks like a pet dog. Biscuit even climbs in the back of the golf cart and goes for a ride.
Rex drove by the site of the one room school house, but only the foundation and another structure that was the bathroom remains. The Post Office has been gone for years and only a railroad spur is left to remind us of the once busy rail times in those days. The blacksmith shop burned down a few years ago. There is so much history here, for such a small place.
Many families live along Tierra Del Sol. It would be impossible to mention them all, but we're going to highlight a few who live on the southern portion.
Most of the residents along Tierra Del Sol are self-employed or retired. For those who are retired it is a beautiful and serene place to relax and enjoy life. For those that are self-employed it can be a difficult, but challenging place to do business. Yet, there are others who live in this quiet, high desert setting and commute to other areas of the Mountain Empire to conduct their business. One such man is Bob Maupin, owner of Mountain Empire Auto Parts in Alpine. Bob's family has lived in the area for more than 40 years. Bob makes the daily commute to the more prosperous area of Alpine everyday. His business has done quite well in Alpine and has just moved to a new location at 2435 Alpine Boulevard.
A little further south are some newer residents who live and work in the area. Herman Turner and his wife Shirley moved here a little more than two years ago. Herman moved his budding operation, a pig farm, from a leased location in Campo and in a short time had his business growing fast here in Tierra Del Sol. Herman built a large quonset hut for the younger pigs and many enclosures for the adult animals. He is fully stocked now and some of those pigs are gigantic. Herman also owns and manages a garage in Jamul. For the past two years Herman has thrown a Memorial Day party. The guests include family, friends and neighbors. In 1984 this amounted to about 300 people, and the party lasted almost three days. This year there were less people and it was only a one day affair (three days was just too much!), but just as much fun. Most the refreshments are supplied by Herman and Shirley and they barbecue one of his 300 pound pigs for the main dish. Herman's friend and another fairly new resident along Tierra Del Sol Road, Ken Gage, each year supplies a goat and Mr. Turner also barbecues that to perfection. Other foods are provided as a pot luck by the other guests.
The last visit we take will be one of the last homes on Tierra Del Sol Road. Norma Jean and Severo (nicknamed Espi) Espinoza live here. They own a Rabbitry and raise a herd of New Zealand Whites, a good meat animal with a popular white fur. Raising rabbits is a very good profit making business. Today San Diego County is often referred to as the Rabbit Capital of the United States. Espi also stated that U.S. studies show rabbit meat is the meat of the future because it so low in fat and cholesterol. Espi and Norma have 170 does and 20 bucks. Their average output is about 250 fryers per week. The Espinoza's are in the process of leasing out their rabbit business and want to give full attention to a new venture. They are now the proud owners of Boulevard Liquor and Deli and have moved their residence into Boulevard.
This is the end of an interesting trip for me. I hope you can find the time to take a trip down Tierra Del Sol Road, see the interesting sights and breathe in a little of the history of this part of the Mountain Empire.
About the author: