Fall Sights On San Diego Hiking Trails

Everyone knows the trees grow colorful during autumn, but other fall sights await you on San Diego’s hiking trails. A few are fitting for Halloween…

Pretty Poison

t_1colorfulpoisonoakIn the fall months, poison Oak, which grows along many local trails in San Diego, can turn vibrant red and yellow. The big bouquets of color lure unsuspecting passersby to touch. Don’t, of course. Remember the three-leaf rule, and be on the watch for colorful foliage that stretches pretty tendrils across trail tracks, and twining up trees. The general rule is “leaves of three, let it be.” More specifically, poison oak’s three-leaf configuration grows with two leaves on either side of the stem, and one extending out like a middle finger (see close up). It’s easy to keep this in mind, and avoid this plant that gestures its irritating nature.

Witch’s Hair

Witch's HairThis is the popular nickname for the parasitic plant more officially known as California Dodder. This fleshy gold or orange colored parasite grows in hairy, wig-like clumps over shrubs, brush, and even cactus.A Parasitic Organism Other than its looks, there’s nothing really “witchy” or dangerous about California Dodder to humans. In fact, the Kumeyaay Indians native to our area used to pick and brew California Dodder as a tonic for black widow’s bite. But witch’s hair acts as a vampire to the plants it hosts upon. It latches on and sucks the life right out of them!

Spittle Bugs

Curious Spittle BugYuck! Are those wads of spit clumped on plants along the trail? No worries. An uncouth hiker didn’t leave you a disgusting surprise. Those wads of spittle are actually the protective covering of the spittle bug nymph, which surrounds itself with a mass of slimy bubbles formed from plant juices and fluids from its own body.This is just bad manners In time, the harmless spittle bug nymph grows into an adult and leaves the spittle wad to venture out into the world. The tiny adult spittle bug holds the record for the high jump, with an ability to hop to heights over two-feet. The scientific journal Nature reported on an actual spittle bug study. The lead study scientist says the bug’s jumping ability is the equivalent of a human jumping over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. That’s 630 feet high! Worried about getting hopped on by the adult spittle bug? Don’t be. It’s elusive and harmless, hopping but not . . . mad.

Rattlesnakes

Wild RattlerHibernation is tied to low temperature, not necessarily the turning of a Wild Rattlercalendar page. In San Diego’s sometimes warm fall climate, rattlesnakes can still be out and about.
Trading Broomsticks for Hiking Sticks
Once October 31st is past, turn in your broomstick for a hiking stick. Nature offers this fun activity as a relaxing retreat from holiday stress. Burning extra calories out on the trail does wonders for the figure – – just what’s needed with all the extra holiday eating ahead.

Happy Hiking!

Hiking With Homeschoolers

Dateline: 3/17/06

By Sheri McGregor

As the weather turns, the soft, warm breezes of spring call for us to revel in the bright green of newly sprouted grass, and the promise of budding blooms that hold sweet scented rainbows inside. With the snow melted and the blue sky brightening their worlds, how do you keep your home schooled children on task? Take the task outdoors, of course. Hiking into nature provides the perfect environment for some whole learning that can cross the subject borders: physical education, science, history, social studies, literature, and art.

Before You Go

Get a local guidebook and research which trails will fit your child’s age and ability, as well as your other needs. Do you want long stretches of easy, flat trail on which to run? Can you bring along the dog? Are you seeking wildflowers for a lesson on native plants, their pollination or cycle of life? Determine your specific needs then find a trail that fits. (See below for hiking preparation and safety tips.)

Decide what you’ll study. Hiking lends itself well to several subject areas. Whether you get cooperative same-grade groups together, or bring your own or others’ homeschooled children of various ages, on-the-trail activities work. Below are a few possibilities.

Ideas

These are just a few of the easy ways you can incorporate hiking into your lesson plans, for fun learning that promotes healthy physical activity. Plan ahead, so that as the weather warms and winter-weary students are anxious for the great outdoors, you can all take a pleasant hike.

1. Have middle grade students research local native plants, then look for and identify them in the field. Have them note what they found and draw pictures in their take-along journals. Back at home or in a cooperative home school group, children can share interesting facts about the plants they researched (verbally or written), or write a poem. You could enrich the study by reading nature essays and literature. Call a local nature photographer or writer to come in and speak to a group of home-schoolers you’ve gathered.
(Subjects: science, art, language arts.)

2.Choose and study a historical journey or event that fits your students’ grade level, then host a re-enactment on the trail. Fifth-graders can learn about Lewis & Clark, for instance then take little red wagons on a wide, flat hike, making notes of what they see just as the historical figures did.
(Subjects: History, Social Studies).

3. Study different types of rocks and how they form, then choose a trail that features some about which the children learned. Have them point out metamorphic or igneous rocks. Small, handheld rock samples are only the beginning. Out on hiking trails, children can get up close to towering boulders, and observe the earth’s work in more magnificent form. Have them use rich language to name the boulders based on shape or surface texture; i.e. “seal,” “hamburger,” “gritty” rock. Have them look at the trail’s soil. Is it made up of smaller, broken pieces of the big rocks they see? Younger children can pour water into the dirt. Is it porous? Dry? Soft? Back at home or in your group, share information about locations around the world where there are interesting, carved or sacred stones such as Easter Island, or islands with volcanic rock. (Subjects: science, physical education, literature, geography).

4. Grab up easels and paints, or drawing pads and pencils, and take children to a hike with a view. Teach them about perspective and let them experiment with it in their own nature art. (Subject: art)

Preparation and Safety Tips

a. Preview the trail, or use a detailed guidebook like one from the 60 Hikes series (right) in order to match the landscape to your lesson plan and children’s abilities.

b. Whether bringing your own children or home-schooled children in a bigger group, outline guidelines and rules such as staying on the trail to avoid snakes or someone getting lost. Have a “trail boss” and someone also bringing up the rear to keep anyone from straggling. Groups may want to invest in two-way radios so everyone can keep in touch.

c. Bring plenty of water. Better to err on the side of too much than too little. Even in mild weather, the body needs hydration. Many public hiking trails do not have drinking water available. Snacks or a picnic lunch are also good ideas.

d. Wear appropriate shoes and clothing. Is poison oak or ivy present? Long sleeves and pants are a plus. Sneakers with good tread are often okay. Actual hiking boots may be a better bet for slippery, rocky, or steep trails.

e. Bring a camera.

f. Most of all – – have fun!

Ponderings

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

Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve

March 2007 034

This new preserve in the Julian area features 11 miles of multi-use trails, including a stretch of the Pacific Coast Trail. On a spring day, expect to see wild turkeys! In March, 2007, biologists were still doing carnivore studies. You may notice their chalk squares, to which a meat scent is applied. The chalk sites are then checked for carnivore activity. Also, be forewarned . . . the fences between the preserve and neighboring reservation lands are in need of repairs. That means open range cattle are roaming the preserve . . . . This can be a
little bit frightening when a curious group – -some with big horns! – – decides to join you, following along on the trail! A few big bulls, mother cows with calves, and even some playful youngsters may be up to bovine antics!. Please be respectful and let the cattle graze undisturbed. There is a letter to this affect at the trailhead, and as of March, 2007, the correspondence said that so far no one had been bothered by the cattle. For a preview, watch the video!

wild turkeys!

Merrell Hiking Boots

Your choice of a hiking boot can be as personal as your brand of underwear. Comfort, durability and style count.

I prefer low tops, because my sensitive (bony) ankles don’t fare well after long trail hours rubbed by traditional high top hiking boots.

For fit and function, Merrell has an ample style catalog that satisfies the eye, plus offers fit technology with a step above some other boots (excuse the pun). Adequate toe room protects your tootsies, while a snug heel and instep prevent foot slippage, which can cause blisters.

Allowing for natural gender differences in feet, Merrell offers specific comfort and performance features for their women’s styles. At first, I didn’t believe this to be important, but trying them on convinced me.

Flexible insoles move along with your feet, and Merrell boots offer technological advances such as Thinsulate, GoreTex, and Polartec for warm, breathable, and/or waterproof boots.

All of these technical qualities aside, I wear Merrell hiking boots because they look good and feel great – – – both of which make them fun to kick around in. And they help me stay on my toes near the end of a long, happy day on the trail. After wearing Merrell boots, I won’t be eager to try any other brand.

To find out more about Merrell boots, visit www.merrellboot.com (opens a new window).

Anza Borrego Desert California Riding and Hiking Trail

t_desertstoneNote: See this trail along with many others and their GPS maps in Sheri McGregor’s book:
Day & Overnight Hikes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Day & Overnight Hikes – Menasha Ridge)

At-a-Glance
Length: Approximately 11 miles roundtrip
Configuration: Out and back
Difficulty: Strenuous
Scenery: Spring wildflowers, desert vegetation, breathtaking views of the desert valley, wildlife
Exposure: Sun
Traffic: Light to moderate
Trail surface: Sandy, rocky soil
Hiking time: 6.5 hours
Access: Free
Maps: At the Visitor Center, approximately 1 mile north of the trailhead; also on trailhead kiosk
Facilities: Public restrooms at trailhead
Special comments: Desert temperatures can be extreme-suggest fall, winter and early spring hikes. Dress in layers and bring lots of water. Not recommended for children.

In Brief
Springtime wildflowers, interesting year-round cacti and boulder formations, plentiful wildlife, and an isolated atmosphere nurturing to pleasant thoughts make this strenuous hike a
paradise for those in good physical condition.

Directions
Take Interstate 15 North to the Pala/76 exit and drive east for 33.6 miles to Highway 79. Turn left, traveling 4.1 miles to S2, where you’ll turn right and drive another 4.6 miles to Montezuma Valley Road (commonly called the "Montezuma Highway"). Turn left. Drive approximately 14 miles to the trailhead on the left, which sits about a mile above the Visitor Center.

OcotilloDescription
From the trailhead staging area, move generally southwest toward the mountains, starting on a flat wash of sandy soil through desert chaparral spotted with cholla cactus. Also
present, <b>Ocotillo</b> reaches heavenward with its spiny arms bedecked with lipstick red blooms. Less than a mile in, you’ ll come to a split in the trail. Head left (the right-hand route will take you to Maidenhair Falls), and the trail narrows, beginning its zigzagging ascent.

Steady climbing becomes a constant, up through boulder outcroppings baked brown by the desert sun and heat. In the early mornings, and later on cold winter days, the fog-filled valleys open in the distance, giving an otherworldly feel to the hike.

HedgehogAs the trail’s elevation rises, the ocotillo plants thin, leaving <b>Hedgehog</b> and cholla cacti as surrounding mainstays. Some cactus varieties are short and stout. Others are taller and lined in protective spines the size of toothpicks (be careful). With your mind free of citified clutter and stress, let your imagination go, finding animals and <b>other shapes</b> within the cactus and rock formations – – -nature likes to have fun, and so should you!

amusing formationsAround 3 miles up, you’ll descend a little on rocky trail, continue uphill for awhile, and reach a flat wash area – – – welcome after climbing. Watch for big horn sheep on the mountainsides. Well-camouflaged, they aren’t easily spotted. You’re more likely to see their tracks near the trail, which prove the elusive creatures share this desolate space. You might
also see bobcat tracks (or perhaps get a glimpse of one of the cats, more likely in early morning or evening hours). Low-flying quail skitter by in large groups startled by your presence. On a recent hike, a kangaroo rat hopped off, its furry hind feet and bushy tail a flashing glimpse among the rockscape.

Past the wash, continue climbing. Wide steps of flat ground and trail offer restful meanderings between gains in elevation as you hike along. Towering boulder groupings on either side of the route all begin to look alike as you head continually upward. Don’t search for trail markers, which become virtually non-existent past about two miles. The trail, however, isn’t
difficult to follow from the valley up; although people starting near Pena Springs to head downward often report difficulty in locating the descending route. Roadrunners hop among the rocks, their long tail feathers flicking up and down, balance ballasts for their quick movement up the rocks.

The short viewpoint trail to the Culp Valley Overlook comes as a surprise when you finally reach it. Marked by a sign on the left and with a yellow-topped California Riding &amp; Hiking Trail pole on the right, you can’t miss it. There is no denying that the view is spectacular, but having enjoyed the approximate six-mile journey through desolate landscape that allows one to escape civilization, the overlook can be anti-climactic. The Pena Springs pullout, which leads just half a mile from Montezuma Highway up to the overlook, is often busy, urging hikers who’ve spent the last three or four hours with quiet, nature-nurtured thoughts to head back down the mountain and its solitude. Be sure to enjoy views of the valley as you descend.

The hike up might have logically seemed the more difficult trek – – – but your body may tell you otherwise at the end of the day. Descending on the sometimes steep narrow trail lined with cacti means putting on the brakes, and in gusty desert winds, requires attention to every step. Your lower legs, tendons, and toes may backtalk later. The concentration needed to navigate the downward trail also tires the mind. Once at home, a hot soak and a fluffy pillow pave the way to a good night’s sleep – – – dreaming of your next visit to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Wright’s Field Alpine

grasslandAt-a-Glance
Length:2 miles (optional half mile more)
Configuration: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Scenery: Native grasslands, wildflowers, birds
Exposure: Sun
Traffic: Moderate
Trail surface: Packed dirt path
Hiking time: 0.5 to 1.0 hours
Access: Free
Maps: Check the Back Country Land
Trust website: www.bclt.org
Facilities: None
Special comments: Within the more than 400 acres of protected land are endangered California habitats including native grasslands, Engelmann oak woodland and coastal sage scrub. Please show respect to the environment and the people behind preservation sites such as historical Wright’s Field.

In Brief
An easy trail meanders along through native grasslands that shift in the wind like ocean waves.

Directions
Take Interstate 8 to the Tavern Road exit in Alpine and turn right (south). Drive for approximately one mile before coming to Joan McQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road. Park close to the school, on Tavern Road, and walk east, up the narrow road on the north side of the school to get to the trailhead.

Description
Near the trailhead, several small Engelmann Oaks planted by middle school students will someday offer cool shade and a habitat for birds and insects. For now, the spindly trees mark the starting point as the route cuts southeast, across Wright’s Field.

Chocolate LillyLook closely in the grass alongside the trail. You may be lucky and spot the rare Chocolate Lily blooming among the tangle of grasses. The nodding brown bonnet exteriors hide a green and purple interior, and grow on short green stalks. Please don’t pick this scarce California native bulb species that’s threatened by San Diego’s continued urban development. The bulbs are slow to mature, and won’t survive transplanting from the wild anyway. If you find yourself enchanted by the satiny brown lilies (sometimes called &quot;Chocolate Bells,&quot;), find domesticated varieties in garden stores that carry rare bulbs.

Soon coming into view is the remnant of a rock wall, built by early Hispanic settlers to narrow the grassland corridor they used to move cattle. The trail bends to the right (more
southeast), and at approximately 0.6 miles, reaches a junction with another path. Go to the right, southwest toward nearby homes, then bearing even more right (west).

Continue up the hill, leaving the grasslands behind as you head into the chaparral. At the top, share the &quot;king of the hill&quot; spot with congregating red ants, busy at work near their anthill while the buzz of hummingbirds fills the air.

Canyon PeaHead down the hill via a rutted trail to the left, heading north. Be on the lookout for splashes of bright pink in the spring as the Canyon Pea twines its way around the scrub. The perennial blooms in clusters of the vibrant light and dark pink flowers. The path grows steep, moving quickly downhill past mature lemonadeberry bushes then gradually northeast back across the grasslands. Watch for birds overhead such as the red-tailed hawk, which is fairly common. Even the Golden Eagle is said to make this area its home.

When you reach the entry trail, head left if you’re ready to go, and retrace your steps back toward the corner of the school and out. Or, for a little more hiking, continue north toward towering Eucalyptus trees standing a short distance ahead. Birds twitter from high among the branches. Just past these trees, a trail leads to the right passing through stands of Engelmann oaks then cuts to the right (southwest) again, back to the main trail and out.

Nearby related activities
Driving the opposite way on Tavern Road, stop at the Alpine Creek Shopping Center which is just short of reaching your return route of Interstate 8. There, you’ll find The Bread Basket Bakery and Restaurant (1347 Tavern Road, Suite 22), featuring a casual atmosphere, home style country food, and scrumptious baked goods that might not make it the road trip home. Call (619) 445-0706 for more information.

amusing formations Hedgehog As the trail’s elevation rises, the ocotillo plants thin, leaving Hedgehog and cholla cacti as surrounding mainstays. Some cactus varieties are short and stout. Others are taller and lined in protective spines the size of toothpicks (be careful). With your mind free of citified clutter and stress, let your imagination go, finding animals and other shapes within the cactus and rock formations – – – nature likes to have fun, and so should you!

Around 3 miles up, you’ll descend a little on rocky trail, continue uphill for awhile, and reach a flat wash area – – – welcome after climbing. Watch for big horn sheep on the mountainsides. Well-camouflaged, they aren’t easily spotted. You’re more likely to see their tracks near the trail, which prove the elusive creatures share this desolate space. You might
also see bobcat tracks (or perhaps get a glimpse of one of the cats, more likely in early morning or evening hours). Low-flying quail skitter by in large groups startled by your presence. On a recent hike, a kangaroo rat hopped off, its furry hind feet and bushy tail a flashing glimpse among the rockscape.

Past the wash, continue climbing. Wide steps of flat ground and trail offer restful meanderings between gains in elevation as you hike along. Towering boulder groupings on either side of the route all begin to look alike as you head continually upward. Don’t search for trail markers, which become virtually non-existent past about two miles. The trail, however, isn’t difficult to follow from the valley up; although people starting near Pena Springs to head downward often report difficulty in locating the descending route. Roadrunners hop among the rocks, their long tail feathers flicking up and down, balance ballasts for their quick movement up the rocks.

The short viewpoint trail to the Culp Valley Overlook comes as a surprise when you finally reach it. Marked by a sign on the left and with a yellow-topped California Riding &amp; Hiking Trail pole on the right, you can’t miss it. There is no denying that the view is spectacular, but having enjoyed the approximate six-mile journey through desolate landscape that allows one to escape civilization, the overlook can be anti-climactic. The Pena Springs pullout, which leads just half a mile from Montezuma Highway up to the overlook, is often busy, urging hikers who’ve spent the last three or four hours with quiet, nature-nurtured thoughts to head back down the mountain and its solitude. Be sure to enjoy views of the valley as you descend.

The hike up might have logically seemed the more difficult trek – – – but your body may tell you otherwise at the end of the day. Descending on the sometimes steep narrow trail lined with cacti means putting on the brakes, and in gusty desert winds, requires attention to every step. Your lower legs, tendons, and toes may backtalk later. The concentration needed to navigate the downward trail also tires the mind. Once at home, a hot soak and a fluffy pillow pave the way to a good night’s sleep – – – dreaming of your next visit to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.