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Dog Day Afternoon in the Laguna Mountains


Dog Day Afternoon in the Laguna Mountains

Connecting with the past over a hot dog in the Laguna Mountains


If one thing has been slow in coming to the states of the West, it is an appreciation for a great hot dog. When I lived in Connecticut and New Hampshire, a deli counter always sported several styles of natural casing dogs from different makers, each with their own unique blend of spices and with varying degrees of ‘pop’ from the natural casing, a lining found in the intestines (usually from pigs or sheep). My father was always fond of a good hot dog and he liked to boil them until the casing split, and I imagine that my love for a good dog began with him. In the days of my youth back in New England, I enjoyed wonderful natural casing dogs with names like Schultz, Mucke’s, and Grote & Weigel.

When I lived in Hooksett, New Hampshire, my friend from Connecticut, Steve Barton, would come up for a long weekend and we would often hike in the White Mountains. He was an old friend from my hometown of Manchester, and he would usually bring some homemade spaghetti sauce or chili, along with a loaf of fresh and crusty round Italian bread from Manchester’s famous bakery, Iuliano’s. All Steve would have to say over the phone was, “I have a you-know-what from you-know-where”, and I would know that he had procured a precious round loaf from the renowned bakery on Spruce Street. I would in turn buy some natural casing hot dogs, rolls, some deli potato or macaroni salad, and we would enjoy the mountains during the day, and have dinner and wine with friends at night.

Steve moved to San Diego, and, in December of 1990, I eventually moved out West as well. I found a job up the coast from San Diego in Orange County, and Steve and I continued to hike together as we explored the mountains and deserts of southern California. Steve would often comment about how much he missed his favorite hot dog from those days in the East, a natural casing Grote & Weigel.

In the autumn of 1992, friends from Manchester planned a visit to San Diego, and Steve coaxed them into bringing out a five-pound box of Grote & Weigel dogs. The dogs were frozen, and then packed in a carry-on bag with dry ice for the trip to the Pacific. After they had safely arrived, Steve phoned me at my home in Huntington Beach and gave me the good news. We soon made plans to hike in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego on the coming Saturday, where we would bring our yearning for an eastern hot dog to a fitting and tasty conclusion.

Saturday I threw my hiking boots and daypack into my car and drove down to San Diego. In addition to his usual hiking kit, Steve had packed the hot dogs along with his backpacking stove and an aluminum pot. I put the rolls and fixings, along with a large bag of potato chips, in my daypack. We loaded a cooler with ice and beer and stowed everything in the trunk of Steve’s car, then headed out for the Cuyamaca Mountains.

The route followed the I-8 east to rte 79 where we turned north towards Julian. We drove through Descanso and soon found ourselves snaking through the turns of the road as we climbed our way into Cuyamaca Park. We found our trailhead, a dirt road on the east side of rte 79 that led up towards Oakzanita Peak. A “No Parking” sign sat nailed to a sawhorse on the shoulder of the road, and several flyers hung stapled to the nearby trees. Evidently, a mountain lion attack had recently occurred in the vicinity and the park rangers had closed the area.

We stood on the shoulder of the road and discussed our options, then headed for Garnet Peak in the Laguna Mountains. The road took us past Stonewall Peak and Paso Picacho campground near 4900’ and continued to where the Sunrise Highway came in on the east side of rte 79 just north of Cuyamaca Lake. Taking a right, we followed the 2-lane blacktop of the Sunrise Highway south until we found our trailhead and parked on a sandy shoulder nestled in the pines. It was almost noon.

After donning our boots, we loaded a backpacking cooler with beer and started on our walk; the trail headed out to the east where it soon ended at a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. We followed the PCT to another trail junction and eventually stood on the summit of Garnet Peak, its crest standing at just over 6000’ of elevation. We enjoyed the views down into the Anza Borrego Desert and to the Salton Sea far to the east. It was sunny but windy so the two of us retreated down the trail to an open spot that still afforded a great view of the desert below yet sat protected from the gusts buffeting the peak. I put on a sweater, spread a jacket out on the ground, and unpacked my gear; Steve did the same.

Steve got the stove going on a level piece of ground and set a pot of water on to boil. I cracked open two beers and ripped the top off of the bag of chips, and set them out on my coat between us. We both sat back and enjoyed our drinks and the vista down into the desert. At the first sign of a boil, Steve got the dogs out of his pack and put them in the pot. I looked at the wonderful tube-steaks that were bobbing in the water before me, five dogs rolling in the pot.

“Why five?” I asked.

“I thought we should split a plain one first without a roll or any fixings, just to remember the taste and get the palate right,” answered Steve.

“You are a man among men,” I said, and we toasted to our good fortune and the fineness of the day.

After a good boil, Steve stabbed a dog with his fork and the casing immediately split. He cut the dog in two and passed a half over to me. The aroma was incredible, and memories began swirling into my mind; I thought about my father. I took a bite and enjoyed the feel and snap of the casing, followed by the taste I had so long been without.

“Oh, man.” said Steve.

“I hear you,” I added.

After that first taste, we continued with two dogs each, served on a high-end roll and adorned with deli-mustard and relish. We ate slowly, savoring the uniqueness of the moment, eating Grote & Weigel hot dogs on an escarpment above the badlands of the Anza Borrego, the desert scene extending to the horizon in the east.

Following our repast, we relaxed and talked about old times over a few beers. After a cigar, I put my head down on my daypack and snoozed for an hour or so. The shadow of the Laguna Mountains was now extending into the Anza Borrego and lengthening by the minute into the east. We packed up our gear and made our way back down the trail to the car, and then on to San Diego.

That is the story of our dog day afternoon in the Laguna Mountains. I reminisced about that trip with Steve last night over the phone, and we shared a smile and a couple of laughs as we recalled cooking those hot dogs high on the flank of Garnet Peak in the afternoon sun. It is hard to believe that sixteen years have gone by since we enjoyed those memorable dogs high above the Anza Borrego.

It was a fitting celebration, I think, to have enjoyed that experience with Steve that day in the Laguna Mountains. He always enjoyed a good natural casing dog as much as I did, and for a few hours, we connected with, and celebrated, our past. To this point of my life, that was the last New England hot dog enjoyed in the Laguna Mountains, or in Southern California for that matter.

The old names still haunt me, yet the memory of those storied New England dogs continues to recede and grow dim: Schultz, Mucke’s, and Grote & Weigel.


(A natural casing dog boiled until the casing has split)

natural casing dog


Laudizen King
Los Angeles