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.

Daley Ranch Shuttle Temporarily Stopped

Ranch House at Daley Ranch
Ranch House at Daley Ranch

A shuttle usually runs from 8am to 4pm Sundays, taking visitors from the La Honda Drive gate down as far as the Ranch House at Daley Ranch. Temporarily, the shuttle has been stopped due to an

Daley Ranch Engelmann Oak Loop
Daley Ranch

agreement ending between the shuttle service and the city.  The distance up and over the paved entry road to the picnic area is 1.1 miles.

Cedar Creek Falls Closes

A 16 year old suffered a fatal fall from a high cliff at Cedar Creek Falls on Wednesday. The area has now been closed, and an investigation is taking place to determine safety.

Many San Diego hikers are familiar with this area, and others that can be potentially dangerous. This is a good opportunity to remind San Diego hikers to stay safe. Here are just a few tips about hiking on some of the steeper or strenuous of San Diego trails:

DO wear the proper shoes. I’ve seen people out on steep trails with slick-bottomed shoes. Not a good idea. Get hiking boots with soles that provide good grip on slippery San Diego trails.

DO know as much as you can about the trail and its conditions before you go. I suggest my books, which give detailed descriptions and maps for the San Diego hiking trails covered, as well as comprehensive safety tips in the introductory pages.

DO match your skill and physical fitness levels with the trail you choose. False bravado or an unrealistic evaluation of your ability can be dangerous. Also, please be realistic and careful when you choose to take children and/or your dog along on your hike

DON’T mix alcohol with hiking. It can lead to dehydration, poor judgment, imbalance, etc.

If you’d like to read more about the Cedar Falls closure and the recent accident that led to it, you can find that information here:

Cedar Creek Falls Closes. . . .

Hiking Socks

In a recent radio interview, I mentioned the importance of a good pair of hiking socks for a comfortable hike. Stuart Plotkin, DPM, and author of the book The Hiking Engine, agrees: ” There are few things more important  . . . than your socks.” Hiking socks that are too tight or too loose can inch down, or bunch up beneath the foot. Bad or ill-fitting socks can make a trail experience a nightmare. Who wants to keep stopping to fix your socks? Bad socks contribute to blisters, aching feet, and a generally foul mood – – not things you want out on nature’s trail! We are fortunate to have great hiking socks available to us these days. My favorites, and why I love them follow:

SmartWool’s PhD outdoor socks have wonderful vented areas to keep your feet cool and comfortable. The well-designed outdoor socks are constructed to hug the foot. I’ve hiked for many hours on rough terrain in these socks – – and they don’t budge. Get them in a variety of lengths and cushion depths to fit your individual needs. During a recent Achilles’ heel recovery period, these hugged the tendon in a supportive manner that felt secure without being too tight.

For an overall good hiking sock with tons of  cushion, Thorlo’s varieties are best. The wool blend padded sock is one of my favorites. On a recent several-day hiking jaunt in Zion National Park, I saved this sock for the last day when my feet were their most weary. This sock literally saved my feet on that final day!

Eddie Bauer also makes some good all-purpose hiking socks.  Treat your feet well and you’ll put your best foot forward.

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

San Diego Hiking: Good Exercise for a Good Report Card

Kids being activeWhen it comes to physical fitness, San Diego children have a slightly poorer report card than the already dismal national average. The California Department of Education collects statistics from schools’ physical fitness tests, and the compiled data reflects America’s obesity epidemic. Instead of parking in front of the television or computer this weekend, why not enjoy some healthy family time out on the trail? Physical training may also have an interesting side benefit for your kids. The tests also show a correlation between good physical fitness and high academic scores.

No Excuses
San Diego’s open space parks and preserves await your exploration. Getting out into the fresh air with your spouse and family is both physically and psychologically healthy. Peruse the calories-burned benefits below then pull on your sturdy shoes and get hiking in San Diego!

Approx Calories burned in 1 hour:

  • Flat hike, leisurely pace (2mph) carrying no weight => 90
  • Flat hike, semi-leisurely pace (2.5mph), no weight => 120
  • Up and down hills, carrying 0-9 lbs weight => 360

Enjoy Nature On San Diego’s Hikes
What better way to get to know your children? On a trail lined with tangy-scented sage and birdsong filling the air, families get out of their usual environments. As the path curves around to a ridge, and a gauzy veil of early morning clouds drifts amid valley trees below, you won’t be thinking about who left towels on the floor, didn’t do homework or forgot to take out the trash. The surprising beauty of a bright blue pond appearing in the middle of pine forest or the sight of colorful orange-tipped butterflies flitting from monkey flowers in yellow, orange and red free the mind to focus on the present. Each step into a beautiful natural setting leads you to a spirit unfettered by the troubles left behind.

Happy hiking!With growing children, time races amid the busy-ness of life. Get out into the wilderness areas of San Diego, hike into a future of good memories and family bonds forged closer through pleasant shared experiences. Besides, hiking builds muscle and stamina –­­– good for your children.

Adults will also benefit. Hiking paves a wellness path toward continued physical fitness and activity, readying you for the time when you take a grandchild’s hand, and enjoy a beautiful San Diego hike.

Links related to this article:

Don’t Miss the Mistletoe, Kiss in the Great Outdoors

Find out more about the book: 60 Hikes Within 60 MilesThis holiday season, take a hike under the mistletoe, and kiss your lover in the great outdoors.

On the trails of San Diego County’s natural preserves and parks, look up into the trees for clumps of wild mistletoe, and pull your soul mate close for a kiss. Growing on limbs in small bouquets (dwarf variety) or in large hive-shaped clumps so shaggy they nearly take over the tree, mistletoe attaches itself to branches for its livelihood, living off the tree’s juices.

The Name’s Origin
Centuries ago, people noticed the plant grew where bird droppings landed. In Anglo Saxon, “mistletoe” means “dung on a twig.” People once believed life sprung from bird droppings. Of course, we later realized that birds eat fruits and berries, and their seed-rich droppings help propagate plants.

Why Kissing?
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from several ancient myths. Viking lore tells of mistletoe’s ability to conquer death. In short, the mother of Balder, the Viking god of summer sun, reversed a curse on him by kissing everyone who walked beneath the plant.

A first century story from Britain expounds mistletoe’s miraculous fertility powers for humans- – – and it is easy to make a connection between fertility and kissing!

Los Penasquitos CanyonAncient legends aside, our modern culture recognizes the sprigs of green hanging overhead as an excuse to kiss. This holiday season, what better way to say “I love you” than to stroll hand-in-hand in San Diego’s beautiful wilderness areas? With the songs of birds and the hum of bees all around, pause beneath a patchwork-bark sycamore or other tree, look up into the branches for mistletoe, and lean close for a kiss.

See the box on the left for some of San Diego’s mistletoe-abundant trails. These areas and dozens more hikes are featured in Sheri McGregor’s new book: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego. The latest most up to date guide since the 2003 firestorms ripped through San Diego, McGregor’s book covers North, South, and East Counties, and serves as your guide to San Diego trails and nearby activities.

Wildreness Gardens PreserveRemember that mistletoe can be toxic, so follow the no-collection rule of area open spaces, and leave the plant for others to enjoy.

This December, take your lover’s hand and take a hike!

Off the Treadmill, Onto the Trail

A statuesque egretEvery New Year, scores of San Diegans promise themselves this is their year to get fit. But with the prospect of boring treadmill duty stretched yawningly before them, it’s no wonder so many New Year’s fitness resolutions fail.

Often right outside our office doors or a quick hop from home, many natural preserves and open space parks offer flat ground that allows for easy hiking. Even people who are not so physically fit can enjoy nature, and make their fitness regime fun.

A reader recently told me she’d lost weight using a treadmill in 2004. Too bad she hated every minute on the machine – – – literally, time spent going nowhere. Her New Year’s resolution is to use some of the shorter hikes presented in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego as her weekend reward.

Fringed Indian PinkIs your exercise a reward? Try getting out into nature. In San Diego, we’re fortunate to have several hiking areas that don’t require you to “rough it.” Often with learning opportunities and restrooms, San Diego’s natural preserves and open space parks offer a pleasant pastime while getting fit. In our mild climate, just a few steps from city streets, birds sing, flowers bloom, and the Zen-song of trickling
water drifts into the soul. In the great outdoors, even the rushing wind seems to say “hush-hush,” quieting the mind and spirit.

This New Year’s, make getting fit rewarding to the soul as well as the body. Step off the treadmill and step onto a San Diego hiking trail.
On average, hiking burns approximately 500 calories per hour (more or less depending on your weight, pace, terrain, etc).

In the shade of oaksTo get started, choose short, easy hikes (see the three listed on the left). Then consult the book’s individual trail write ups. These and many others in the book are perfect for beginning hikers starting a New Year’s fitness plan that beats the exercise equipment doldrums. A few steps into nature and you’ll be hooked . . . ready to try more San Diego hikes, which are categorized in the book by length, ease, and criteria including wildlife and water features.

As a native San Diegan and author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego, let me figuratively take you by the hand, and guide you along the trail. I’ll point out native plants, flowers, birds and other wildlife . . . and remind you to relax.

This New Years, step off the treadmill and into the serenity of the great outdoors. Let nature transform you – – – in body and mind!

Gardening with Native Plants

Recent rains helped green up our lawns, but San Diego’s water supply comes from other sources, meaning tough conservation efforts will be imposed again this year. With native plants, homeowners can turn off the water issue, and still enjoy a beautiful garden.

One of the best ways to find native plants you like is to visit local preserves and open space parks. In my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego (60 Hikes – Menasha Ridge), I’ve pointed out and described plants you’ll see along the trails, which can help you identify and find ones you might like to use in your yard.

In San Diego County’s mild climate, many native plants begin to bloom in late winter, so even before the traditional spring season, hit the trail for a head-start on garden planning.

As a San Diego native familiar with the terrain, here are my tips to get started on a water-conscious dream garden:

  • Take advantage of abundant natural flora by hiking trails to see what plants you’d like for your garden. A good trail guide will help by identifying plants for you.
  • While enjoying a nature hike, scope out nearby plants. Also look at insects and birds to see what’s attracted to them. California Fuchsia, for instance, has red flowers hummingbirds love.
  • Take along your digital camera and snap plant photos for later comparison and identification.
  • Identify plant names using reference books such as my title, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego, and plant guide San Diego County Native Plants
  • Visit cultivated native plant gardens such as those at Los Jilgueros Preserve in Fallbrook. The preserve contains a firescape demonstration garden, providing an example of fire-resistant plants and landscaping (important, as last year’s firestorm proved).
  • With an eye toward fitting the plants into your own yard’s size and layout, study the size and growing style of wild varieties you find attractive, and do research. The California Fuchsia, for instance, may be wonderful for attracting hummingbirds, but the native also sends out shooter roots and can spread like wildfire – – – perhaps not good for a small area. Also consider your yard’s sun exposure and moisture levels. Many natives need dry summer periods to thrive.
  • Talk to a local nursery that specializes in native plants, such as Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido, which carries 20 types of sage (for beauty and fragrance). Ask your nursery about hybrid varieties of native plants that might best fit your domestic growing needs.
  • Remember the “no-collection” rule for San Diego’s open space areas. Some natives are rare and endangered, such as the delicate Chocolate Lily growing in County grassland areas including Wright’s Field in Alpine. This native and many others won’t survive transplantation – – – you don’t want to contribute to its disappearance.

Some of San Diego County’s best native plant trails are short, so don’t require much physical exertion. Try the Elfin Forest Botanical Loop, for instance. A factual pamphlet provided there offers information. Another great trail, this one with a cultivated native garden, is the Los Jilgueros Preserve Trail in Fallbrook.

Native plants are surprisingly beautiful. My favorite is the matilija poppy with its big, fried-egg looking flowers on a bushy 7-8 foot plant.