“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

"Everybody dies. Not everybody really lives."

The saddest sound in the world is a man saying, "I wish I'd have done that."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

San Diego's Wild Side

 First thing first: I love San Diego.  So this is not one of those I-hate-San-Diego-so-do-this-instead blog entries.  But if you are in the area and you get tired of visiting the fascinating San Diego Zoo, or enjoying the captivating Natural History Museum, or have had your fill of pasta and cannoli at the city’s Little Italy, or you’ve exhausted yourself in the nightlife at Coronado, there are plenty of options to get out of the city and enjoy Southern California’s wild areas.

Yes, southern California is crowded, and developers are eating up open space at a voracious pace, but there are still some open wild places that can provide escape from traffic, people, buildings and the general chaos of modern urban life.  If you are in the area and want a change from the usual tourist stops check these out.  We visited all of these places plus had plenty of time to take in the sites, restaurants, and night life of San Diego.

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve/Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Imperial Beach along the Mexico-US border.  The Tijuana River empties into the Pacific Ocean hers and you can see the bullfighting ring in the city of Tijuana Mexico across the river mouth.  The main attraction her are the birds.  The estuary is a shallow water habitat that alternates between dry and intermittent flooding. For this reason, and due to its unique combination of freshwater riverine and saltwater ocean habitats it supports a huge variety of birds. The Tijuana River Estuary is one of the few salt marshes remaining in Southern California, where over 90% of wetland habitat has been lost to development. The site is a critical breeding, feeding and nesting ground and key stopover point on the Pacific Flyway for over 370 species of migratory and native birds, including six endangered species. The Reserve offers four miles of walking trails, taking visitors into prime bird watching areas and down to the river mouth where the Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean. Border Field State Park is located in the southwestern corner of the Reserve, on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the estuary, and the bull ring that lies just south of the U.S./Mexico border.  A marker on the bluff, first placed there in 1851 just after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, delineates the western beginning of the International Border.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve/Torrey Pines State Beach.  The official claim to fame here is that the park is the home to the Torrey Pine, the rarest pine tree in the United States.  You have your pick of two completely different options here:  either the swimming, beachcombing and surfing along the beach or the hiking and birdwatching in the high areas above the bluff line behind the beach. Black’s Beach is the best area for surfing (this is also a clothing optional beach area.  The high bluff area is a coastal forest of pine trees, sandstone canyons and a network of dirt hiking trails on the bluffs overlooking the sea. The trails are dirt and steep, winding through low coastal brush and dropping down to the beach.  This is a highly visited park and the trails can be crowded on weekends.  The park is located on the Pacific Coast Highway between La Jolla and Del Mar.

Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge/Chula Vista Nature Center. Sweetwater is only 316 acres of marsh estuary where the Sweetwater River enters San Diego Bay but it is a prime birding destination, offering similar habitat as Tijuana Slough NWR.  The Nature Center has interpretive and interactive exhibits, guided nature and bird walks, a shark and ray exhibit, and the opportunity to view native birds in outdoor aviaries that support burrowing owls, shorebirds, egrets and herons.

Cabrillo National Monument.  A great combination of nature, history and scenery, the national monument, located at the end of Point Loma off San Diego, is easily accessible.  Lots of options here; hiking on the two-mile Bayside Trail which winds through low coastal sage scrub habitat and with spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the city; tidepooling in the rocky intertidal area where you can discover hundreds of tidal critters in the smqall pools left after high tide; visiting the restored Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the original eight lighthouses on the West Coast; whale watching during annual migration of the Pacific Gray Whale as the marine mammals pass by the park from December through February; birdwatching in the hills and coastal areas where over 200 species of birds have been spotted.

Mission Trails Regional Park. Located entirely within the city limits of San Diego, this 5800 acres park is huge!  Dominated by Cowles Mountain, at 1592 feet the highest point in the city, the park is a rugged mix of canyons and hills that tower over the San Diego River that flows through the park. Access to the park is by a one-way access road segregated for hikers and bikers on one side, cars on the other.  Hike or bike in and take off through the countryside on the park’s forty miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails.   The park offers some of the best rock climbing in the region.  Mission Gorge was one of the first established climbing areas in the area and remains popular due to the wide range of crack and face climbing routes from easy picks to challenging 5.10 routes.  Check at the visitor center for climbing info. The most scenic trail is the Cowles Mountain trail which culminates at the mountain’s summit with some awesome views of the city. Lake Murray, a manmade reservoir, is a popular hiking destination and is the location of Kumeyaay Campground which consists of 46 rustic campsites. Info at www.mtrp.org

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.  Owned by the California Department of Fish and Game and managed by the City of Poway, this 700 acres of canyonlands in the town of Poway is a real surprise.  You’d never expect something this rugged in the middle of the area’s urban sprawl.  Blue Sky offers trails that lead to the top of Mount Woodson or to Lake Ramona, a manmade reservoir.  The reserve is a mix of coastal sage scrub, oak woodland, and mixed chaparral hillsides.  The Lake Ramona trail winds upward to the lake and offers great views of the surrounding countryside.  Longer and steeper hiking to Mount Woodson offers even better views.  Creekside Trail follows a small creek and this riparian habitat meanders through a shady canopy of tall oak trees.  It is a great place for birdwatching and you can expect to see migratory songbirds as well as red-shoulderd hawks, red-tailed hawks, acorn woodpeckers, roadrunners and dozens of other species.  Coyote, gray fox, mule deer, raccoon and bobcat are present in the reserve.  Info at www.poway.org

La Jolla Beach.  Well, maybe this is a stretch.  It’s not really undeveloped; it’s right in the middle of the city of La Jolla but it feels more natural than it is.  The two areas to visit are the Children’s Pool, which was originally developed as a protected swimming areas for children but was commandeered by a healthy population of harbor seals.  They can be viewed up close and it’s quite a sight.  La Jolla Cove/Ecological Reserve and Marine Life Refuge offers excellent swimming, snorkeling and diving. The 533 acre refuge is ecologically protected, providing a safe home for colorful fish, rays and even leopard sharks and the surrounding rocky cliffs are havens for shorebirds and pelagic bird species.


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