ESCONDIDO — Every second Sunday of the month, dozens of people take a 1.5-mile hilly hike from the front gate of Daley Ranch to the Daley Ranch House for tours of the log cabin built with old growth redwood trees in 1925.
The land, once owned by the Daley family, is now owned by the city of Escondido. And at 3,000 acres, the nature preserve is about 12.8% of city land — four times larger than Central Park in New York City and three times the size of Balboa Park in San Diego.
The Daley family’s ownership of the land predated the 1888 incorporation of Escondido as a city and serves as a reminder of the city’s agrarian roots.
According to Gregg Anderson, a ranger at Daley Ranch and Dixon Lake next door, the property is a product of the old west. Robert Daley, an immigrant from England, illegally squatted on the land in 1869 as a 23-year-old man. Eventually, federal government surveyors would grant him the land and the rest is history.
The area would become, as its name entails, working agricultural land which would eventually focus on dairy production.
Robert’s sons Robert and George would eventually start a road construction contracting company named Daley Enterprises while bolstering the ranch’s agricultural prowess, calling it the Daley Corporation. They would come to own the land grants of Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Jamul, as well, purchased with the family business fortune.
Today, the family business legacy lives on in the form of Daley Custom Homes, which describes itself as “a full service premier luxury home builder.”
Anderson noted that Daley’s sons built the log cabin with old growth redwood due to its ability to fend off pests. The wood was over 3,000 to 4,000 years old and serves as not just the base of the house, but also as the interior wall design.
The main fireplace and chimney in the home also has roots in the family road construction business. Each piece of stone was leftover product the business received to lay down what would eventually become the first phase of the county’s modern-day road network. Indeed, Anderson pointed out visible imprints on the stone depicting the material’s origin on the roads.
The Daley Ranch House, though ornate, only served as a seasonal home and a place to host guests of the family.
“The ranch house that we see today was built in 1925 as a summer cottage for the family,” explains the advocacy group Friends of Daley Ranch on its website. “Up until the 1980s the Daley family would invite friends to the ranch house for a weekend summer getaway. Guests and family would often hunt bear or deer on the ranch, then have a big barbeque.”
In 1997, the city of Escondido purchased the land for $21 million to preserve it as a mitigation bank and open space park. It had been targeted by Daley Corporation and Shea Homes as a potential housing mega-complex, with over 3,200 homes, which would have also contained a golf course.
Today, beyond a historical landmark, Daley Ranch serves as a place with miles of hiking trails for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. And it sits adjacent to Dixon Lake, itself a popular place for cookouts and fishing.
Daley Ranch has over 100 species of birds and is well-known for its Engelmann oak trees, an endangered species. For hikers, it has two peaks, but only one with an official hiking trail which connects to the top: Stanley Peak. That peak is located in the park’s southeast corner, sitting at 1,975 feet above ground, for a 6.4-mile roundtrip hike.
Escondido Lakes and Open Space Superintendent Chris Krstevski said that Daley Ranch “is really is the jewel of North County with over 3,200 acres of open space and 25 miles of hiking trails.”
Tours of the Daley Ranch House occur every second Sunday of the month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The park is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.
Photo Caption: The Daley Ranch House in Escondido, as seen from a vantage point near a piece of vintage farm equipment. Photos by Steve Horn