San Diego Hiking – at work on the 3rd edition

3rd Edition coming soon

San Diego hiking trailsHave you been out on San Diego’s trails lately? You may have seen me out there, too . . . hard at work on the 3rd edition of my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego (and enjoying every moment). This picture was taken at one of the new San Diego hikes that will be included in the new edition. Do you recognize the place?

If so, let me know. The first person to guess correctly gets a free copy when the new edition comes out – – this offer excludes anybody who was with me that day!

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February in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego wildflowersposted by Sheri McGregor

At dusk, the whirring call of a Ladderback woodpecker echoes along the desert slopes, the eerie sound reminiscent of an old outer space movie soundtrack. Night falls more slowly in wide Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Camping beneath the long stretches of sky in this theater of open space, we can see the light until its last straining moment. The sun crouches beyond the western ridges of the desert horizon, and the pink glow fades. The tented sky darkens, and dots of light – – twinkling, steady, or shooting – – grow bright.

In the morning, sunlight creeps in from the east, dispelling shadows, sparking glints of pyrite in the rocks, sucking up gathered night moisture, and warming the land. Crows soar off rocky hilltops, beckoning early hikers. Official area trails include Pictograph Trail where an isolated boulder bears primitive artwork from the past. Neighboring this trail is a short, easy jaunt that leads explorers past The Morteros. The flattish boulders are pocked with evidence of the Kumeyaay Indians who once used stones to grind pinyon pine nuts gathered from higher desert elevations. The Ghost Mountain Trail offers a steep, zig-zagging hike to the pinnacle home site of Marshal South and his family who, for several years, lived a rustic, rugged life, chronicled in South’s poetic written ponderings, now collected in the book, Marshal South And The Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment In Primitive Living

cactus wren nest Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CAUnmarked trails also crisscross these valleys. Single-trek paths extend from camp clearings up and over rock ridges, around dry lake beds, alongside the dirt road, and into hidden alcoves where nature’s treasures await. A startled jackrabbit poses, its ears cocked in alert. A kangaroo rat darts and vanishes on spindly hind legs. The nest of a cactus wren on a spiny perch atop a rocky slope comes into view. A lizard scuttles off, leaving tiny tracks to mingle with those of coyotes, birds, or a visiting horse carrying its rider from a nearby stretch of the California Riding and Hiking Trail into the valley.

Back at camp, a trio of lazy, cawing crows sail on late winter breezes, the air their playground. Freed by the desert’s peace, our spirits dance along with them on the wind. The crows move on, the remaining silence interrupted only by the faint tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers as they persistently drill the drying Agave flower stalks growing on the slopes above our campsite.

Our morning explorations have confirmed that no wildflowers are blooming near our camp site. They’re likely blooming elsewhere among Anza Borrego Desert State Park’s 600,000 acres. The colorful spring wildflower show often starts late in February and extends through March.

Anise Swallowtail butterfly in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CAAttracted to a bright pink towel I’ve draped over a folding chair, a butterfly visits. The Anise Swallowtail flutters away and back several times then pauses, open-winged, to rest on the ground. Its black and yellow markings contrast with the pale, rocky ground. Finally, the early bloomer flutters off in search of nectar. I hope it does find some early desert wildflowers.

Within a few hours, lulled by the warmth and quiet on this Friday morning, we begin to see a few dust clouds rising as cars enter the area. We hear the faint roar of engines and the thrum of excited visitors arriving for the weekend. Like the butterflies, visitors in search of desert wildflowers in bloom make this a peak season for Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Refreshed by the midweek desert’s peace, we pack up and flutter off toward home, Relaxed, we’re feeling as light as air.

Busy Bees: Doing What?

By Sheri McGregor

Leaf Rust (melampsora) on CottonwoodOn a recent warm fall day, bees buzzing around a native cottonwood tree captured my curiosity. Squinting up through the dwindling leaves of the ten- or twelve-foot tree, I could see that the bees didn’t look as if they were entering or exiting any hive. Quietly, I stepped closer to investigate. Small yellow-orange pockets clung to the leaves’ undersides.

The bees appeared to gather the substance. Do cottonwoods release pollen through their leaves? I wondered. I’d never heard of such a thing, but the bees’ action puzzled me. They hovered about, collecting the substance into thick saddlebag shapes on their hind legs.

Video: Bees gathering leaf rust (short)

Excited and intrigued, I later discovered through research that the substance is a fungus, melampsora, which infects cottonwoods and some other trees. As it turns out, honeybees collect the fungus, commonly called leaf rust, and take it back to their nests for ingestion same as they do pollen. Scientists have a number of theories for the behavior, ranging from wider nutritional needs to not enough flowers blooming close to the hive. Who knew bees enjoyed a varied diet?

Bees have always fascinated me. Five or six years ago, feral bees began a hive in the hollow wall at one end of my property, and I welcomed them. A friend told me that, at a time when bee populations the world over suffer from the use of pesticides and habitat infringement, their arrival at my place must be a good omen. I liked that analysis. Nature provided my own little symbol of prosperity!

The bees’ presence, though, has required some adjustment. My family has learned to work around them. We try to do any yard work near the hive in the early morning or in the last light of day to avoid their more active hours. When guests come to sit by our small pond with its natural-looking rock fountain, we warn them not to get too close. On sunny days, bees are always present at what has become their watering hole, and for the most part, we comfortably cohabitate.

When you’re hiking our natural spaces in San Diego, watch for bees. The insects form new hives in the spring. On several occasions, I’ve been fortunate enough to see this activity. Once, trekking over the rise of a hill on a clear spring day, I first heard a low roar then looked up to spot a black cloud of bees. I ducked, the swarm whizzed over my head, and I pivoted to watch them fade into the distance. At other times and other places, I’ve been fortunate to see bee masses cluster around the landed queen. I’ve never been stung by a bee while hiking . . . only in my own yard!

In the future, I hope to learn more about beekeeping and perhaps harvest honey from some cultivated hives. For now, I respect and marvel at these insects that are so vital to pollinate our food and flowers. Their industrious presence enriches my world.

* Learn about honeybees and pollinators of all kinds and get involved in their preservation: Pollinator Partnership

* Learn about leaf rust and some other diseases: Colorado State University Extension article

* Read about honeybees’ and fungi: Daniel McAlpine Memorial Lecture


From the August 2007 San Diego Hikes Newsletter

t_desertstoneIn preparing revisions for the 2nd Edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego (due out this coming fall), I’ve been contemplating the word “trail.” In writing up each hike, the word starts to grate: “trail, Trail, TRAIL!” – – ugh! Finding substitute words is a constant.

The word “trail” refers to something left behind – – a no-no for us nature lovers who leave nothing but footprints. We’re happy the trails have been left for us to follow, but when we’re out on a hike, enjoying the sites and sounds all around us (birds, the rustle of wind, the trickle of water, the scuttle of a towhee scratching in the brush.…), it’s more fun to put the idea of a trail behind you (pun intended—ha!) and consider the journey a path.

We know nature has transformative power. We may begin a hike tired or feeling stressed, yet somewhere along the nature path a cottontail hops into view, a coyote catches our eye, and we’re suddenly alert, watching for wonders all around.
Miracles are everywhere: in a breeze, rippling like ocean waves through native grasses, in the tangy scent of sage, or the earthy fragrance that grounds us in pungent shade beneath an ancient oak. The soft, repetitive coo of doves lulls us. Nature quiets the mind, sharpens our senses, and fosters connection with our surroundings. Walking the path of wonder brings us closer to the very pulse of our living earth. We emerge changed . . . for the better.

Journey into San Diego’s natural spaces with a sense of gratitude and awe, and emerge on a discovery path we can bring positively into all areas of life. Who knows? With such a calm, reflective outlook, you just might leave behind a “trail” for others to follow!

Make your path a positive one. You leave a trail for others.
– – Sheri McGregor