Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak

If you Google images of Cowles Mountain, themes will quickly emerge: stunning panoramic views of San Diego, people with triumphant grins posing in a variety of unique and/or weary positions next to the monument at the top, individuals being rescued from the trail due to injuries or other manner of distress, and yet more stunning panoramic views of San Diego. So it goes without saying that this is one popular mountain, and for good reason.

The worst part about Cowles is also the best part if you're a female who enjoys a good solo hike: it's well-populated on any given day of the week. The safety factor in this regard is a big selling point and I appreciate that about Cowles - pronounced "coals," not like the plural for hooded garments, "cowls," although the popular pronunciation is the latter. The trail that saddles over to Pyles Peak from the top of Cowles is a pleasant chaser to the bustle you experience on the way up. More on this later.

I liken the high traffic of the Golfcrest Drive trailhead that snakes around and finally switchbacks up to the summit as a one-lane, two-way highway designed to teach us the merits of coexisting with our fellow foot travelers -- all of whom are ascending and descending at a wide range of speeds. Whether it's the family of five encouraging their fussy eight-year-old that it's just a little further, the clutch of work friends bemoaning their tyrannical boss, the athletes bounding past with a singular mission, serious hikers making a trial run in full gear regalia, etc., Cowles offers a great workout no matter how fast or slow you choose to go.

On to Pyles Peak! The peace and serenity of the trail is restored after just a few turns, and you can once again hear your boots crunch pleasantly on rock and gravel. On the busiest of days I have passed five or so people en route to my destination, but I usually see only one or two at most. If you're early enough you'll catch a glimpse of California Quail making morning rounds of their favorite clearings, and springtime yields all manner of colorful blooms.

This trail winds up, down and around at a far more forgiving grade and offers stunning views. The final steep stretch to the peak will make you earn the amazing reward at the top, though (watch your footing here for sure). Once to the top, the trail peters out as you meander through tall grasses and rocky outcroppings. There is expansive scenery aplenty at this point, so bring your camera! If there ever was a place to sit a spell, breathe, and clear your head, this would be it.

At the risk of overthinking the notion, I've come to the conclusion that Cowles and Pyles make a dynamic pair in that they manage to compliment one another by way of their dramatic differences. Frenetic energy versus placid, if you will. I get a sense that their impact on the senses would be lessened were they not hand in hand, thus offering a deeper appreciation for what each has to offer. So if you want to get a true feel for one, be sure to get to know the other.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cabrillo National Monument

A friend of mine grew up in Hawaii. To my surprise, she high tailed it to the mainland as soon as she was old enough to escape what she described as the small town confines of the islands. As alien of a concept as this seemed to me, the realization quickly sunk in: being a native of any particular place, even if it’s considered paradise by some, can easily numb you to all that your town has to offer. Which leads me to this post on the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California.

As they say, the best way to reconnect with your home town is to shuttle out-of-town guests around for a week of sightseeing. Well, if you live in San Diego, then be sure to take Aunt Maude to Cabrillo next time she visits from Vermont. Chances are you're long overdue for a trip there anyway, and who doesn't want to smell the fresh, salty air and watch the waves roll in and crash against the cliffs?

Being a native San Diegan, I’m no stranger to Cabrillo National Monument. And like any true SD native, you were probably just a kid when mom and dad first took you up there to see Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's statue standing proudly before an awesome backdrop of the county. As if a minimal entrance fee that now includes the access road to the tide pools could stop us. The visitor center is always fun to browse through with all the great books and information, but our most recent visit was all about the nature trails.

A note about the tide pools if you've never been: familiarize yourself with a San Diego tide chart pronto, and visit during the next minus tide. You'll thank me for this later when you're up close and personal with starfish, sea anenome, marine hermit crabs, and maybe even a lobster or an octopus. Roll the ol' pant legs up, wear your best non-skid sport sandals, and keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of cool stuff. Did I mention to wear your best non-skid sport sandals? The algae-coated rocks will not be your friend if you don't tread carefully while scoping out the sealife. Prevent an embarrassing header into the very pool you're gazing into, and explore with care.

Most people are so wrapped up in the tidepools that they forget about the bayside trail, which starts near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse but is easily overlooked if you're busy admiring the lighthouse's impressive Fresnel lens.

Confession time: when I see the same plants over and over I eventually start to ask myself what the heck they are. Unfortunately, my inquisitive nature is no match for my lack of an effective attention span, and all thoughts of Googling them one by one the minute I get home are quickly lost. Thus continues my pattern of staring endlessly at mysterious, unidentified plantlife.

This, thankfully, is remedied at Cabrillo National Monument by nifty signs placed strategically among the native plants, stating their common and scientific names. The bayside trail is lined with such signs, not to mention the rich aroma of sage hanging in the air. Then there's the constant traffic of boats coming and going from the San Diego bay, and a cool view of North Island, Coronado, and beyond. But I digress.

On this visit, one plant sign in particular yielded a disappointing discovery. After years of admiring the delicate seed pods of a native plant clustered in groups along several San Diego nature trails, I found its undeserving name to be Locoweed. Really? How could such a pretty plant be called a weed? And a loco one at that? I demand a renaming of this plant immediately, and make it something more deserving this time around.

Trekking up and down cliffs all morning works up a healthy appetite. Time for squid sandwiches from Point Loma Seafoods! And if you're not hungry when you pull in, you will be after circling the lot for a half an hour trying to find parking. Be prepared for a crowd and brace your wallet for the cost, but above all enjoy some really killer seafood.

While you're doing that, give some thought to your home town and all it has to offer. Then make a little promise to yourself to rediscover those things that make the city you live in a unique paradise all its own.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Gaggle of Gophers

The highlight of yesterday's trek through Mission Trails Regional Park was, crazy enough, coming upon this little guy in a dew-laden patch of grass. Now, I know that I'm going to get some opposition on this one, but Pocket Gophers are, in my humble opinion, cute as all get-out. He and his fellow Gs have pretty much taken up shop throughout the park, with tell-tale signs of freshly upturned earth decorating the landscape.

Note said gopher peeking cautiously out of his hole, oblivious to the fact that I've got a camera aimed directly at him from no more than a few feet away. Also note his charming little abode (prime gopher real estate) nestled amongst the greenery, strategically located beside a cluster of delicate flowers. Still not convinced? View footage of him in action.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Borrego Springs and Beyond

There are plenty of reasons to love Anza-Borrego, first and foremost being that it is just a few hours from home on the coast, and second being that a good part of those few hours are scenic country roads. I highly recommend this day trip to fellow SoCal residents in need of a weekend escape.

The first order of business upon arriving in Borrego Springs was breakfast at Kendall's Cafe at The Mall. I am compelled to give The Mall a good mention here. Call it a nostalgic nod to an era well-preserved in the shopping center's architecture. Built in 1965, it continues to bustle with locals and visitors alike. In a society where "newer, bigger, better" seems to be what we are meant to strive towards, The Mall is a pleasant contrast. In short, it's like "Back to the Future" only without the DeLorean. Yeah, it's that good. So back to Kendall's, a quaint little diner with what appears to be all original decor awaiting you inside. Come for the decent fare, but stay for the retro ambience. Oh, and bring a jacket because the only place in Borrego Springs that you're going to be cold are air conditioned establishments such as this one.

Thank you, desert gods, for making sure that this year the Anza-Borrego visitor center wasn't overrun by seemingly unattended school groups and the like, tromping through the blooms and generally creating a feel similar to that of a raucous summer theme park. After checking out the gift shop and meandering down a few of the nearby trails, it was time to embark on the initial purpose of this adventure.

On to Coyote Canyon for some offroad exploration and communing with nature, but not before grabbing some fresh, tasty dates from a roadside fruit stand enroute. The rocky, dirt road through Coyote Canyon begins shortly after several groves of aromatic orange trees. First stop: Desert Gardens.

Anza-Borrego is quite the study in ecological diversity, in a way that the full impact of its intricately balanced ecosystems aren't realized (or appreciated for that matter) until you're down within a few feet of the ground. At this range, there are an assortment of insects going about their buggy business, plants small in stature but as tough as their larger counterparts, and a virtual mecca of varied rocks and minerals. Desert Gardens was the prime location to get acquainted with the flora and fauna in just this way.

A memorable sight in Desert Gardens, for me anyway, was a small plant that had decided to eke out its humble existence smack-dab in the middle of the trail. Rather than uproot what some might consider a nuisance, rocks had been carefully arranged in a circle around it so as to keep it safe from us visitors. Pretty cool.

Yay for desert wildlife: countless Western Side-Blotched Lizards performing impressive little push-ups in the sun, Cactus Wrens singing their hearts out high atop the trees, a Greater Roadrunner sprinting across the road safely ahead of us, Black-chinned Hummingbirds taking advantage of the new blooms, California Quail darting from bush to bush, Cottontails and Jackrabbits, and Rock Squirrels commanding their posts from the tops of rocky outcroppings.

Not to be outdone, there is the plantlife, particularly in the springtime: Ocotillo, dainty Desert Chicory, Desert Sand Verbena, richly colored blooms of Wolf's Cholla, and the list goes on. Many, such as the Ocotillo, are easily seen from a distance, but as mentioned earlier, it pays to get down low and explore the tiny little guys pushing bravely up through the coarse gravel and from in between rocky crags.

Further down the (increasingly) bumpy road, we stopped to check out one of the few washes with actual water coursing through. The erosion along the banks made for some artfully carved out rises that only Mother Nature can serve up. At around this point, Noontime was upon us. The weather was, dare I say, pretty close to perfect. Although in the low 80s with the sun hanging at the highest point in the sky, a nice breeze managed to take the edge off.

Lunch time! Back to The Mall and Carmelita's Mexican Grill and Cantina before heading home. And what would a day trip be without a stop at Dudley's Bakery? It would be like going to Julian without grabbing three piping hot apple pies to go, that's what it would be. So after loading up with fresh bread and some pastries for the rest of the ride back, we were following the sun west, and on the way to a late afternoon nap on the couch. Relaxing in nature has a way of sending you home sleepy, kinda like mom tucking you in at night after you've been playing outside all day with your friends.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grackles and Godwits and Grebes, Oh My

Name that bird! A preliminary showcase of native feathered friends here in San Diego, as seen through the lens of my camera. More to come...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Is this thing on?

Attempt at witty blog name: check. Oversimplified layout that took way too long to pick out: check. Post Numero Uno: check.

Welcome to a little blog about all the neat bits and pieces that make up the world around us. Musings on life, the universe and everything. World peace will not be attained by reading it, trendy handbags will not be for sale on it, and quite possibly very few people will even stumble upon it long enough to read beyond this maiden voyage of a post. But it's here and, like so many things in life, available for you to do with what you will.

At this point blogging is pretty much uncharted territory for me. I want to believe that this is advantageous for me in some way. Perhaps a way to approach the concept fresh, from a point of view purely unique to moi. But isn't that why people blog anyway? So who's to say. If this blog can keep the glass half full and offer up a dash of color and depth to an otherwise drab canvas out there somewhere for someone, then it has done it's job. Let's leave it at for now.