On the Trail of the Elusive Borrego (Bighorn Sheep): Borrego Palm Canyon Hike, Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.

We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.

 

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We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife.  I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!

The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop. While we were there, we struck up  a conversation with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms  crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, the woman finally broke her silent glaring and told us in an exasperated voice that they had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.

Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?

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And yes, this gorgeous book is available at AMAZON  and the Anza Borrego Visitor Center.

And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.

Coyotes Close up A B

What are your most memorable wildlife sightings?

Mt. Biking Noble Canyon, Pine Valley, CA: from Heavenly to Hellacious

Was gunho to get away to somewhere new this weekend. Perhaps a little too gunho…Wasn’t quite as thorough with the research as I usually am, but had done enough to know that the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a great spot for mountain biking and enjoying great scenery as you traverse 3 ecosystems: mixed-conifer/black oak forest, alpine meadows and desert.

And it certainly served up some heavenly single track around Laguna Meadow and beyond.

 

 

Sublime, right? And so it went for about 6 miles before things took a gnarly turn for the worse. Scattered rocks, became bulky blocks with jagged edges,  boulders and ankle bashing bruisers galore. I didn’t get pictures of these tortuous areas because, I was too miserable fending off hordes of face flies while hike-a-biking my hefty 35 pound bike. Even if I’d had a Go Pro, you wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the blur of flies – that’s how bad it was. Brutal – yes.

We only saw 2 other mountain bikers on the rough lower portion. They were wearing completely padded body armor suits with full face helmets. Another clue that I was way out of my element…I’m tough, but I’m not technical and have horrible eyesight and depth perception so this it was more than a bit hazardous. I’m extremely lucky to have escaped with only a handful of bruises and scratches.

( I later discovered – post-research – that this area is notorious among mt.bikers and is affectionately called Stairway to Hell and Roman Road.)

Here are a couple links to youtube videos on the area.

We kept looking for a route that would loop us back as a couple people at the trail head had mentioned, but we never found it. And there was no way we were going back up the Stairway to Hell…I even thought of abandoning my beater mt. bike and hiking out even though I only had my bikes shoes.

 

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A smile (or grimace) of relief after surviving Stairway to Hell

Instead, we made it out to the Pine Valley picnic area and then out the road. Realizing then that we would have to ride up the mountain via Sunrise Highway. Not much of a shoulder there, but a lesser evil than Stairway to Hell. Climbing 8 miles and 3K feet back to the car after the tortuous Noble Canyon was its own purgatory, and certainly, I’ve learned my lesson about doing my research. Perhaps next time, my BF will read the links I send him prior to departure too. (Snarkyness aside – selfreliance is critical even when you’re with a partner. If we both had read the trail reports thoroughly, one of us likely would have retained which trail to loop back on – though we still might not have found it…)

This day certainly put us to the test. Even though we both keep a fairly high fitness level – it kicked our butts. And to both our credits, we didn’t bite each others heads off. I did come close to meltdown with the face flies on attack while I was hefting my bike over boulder after boulder, but I held it together. We both did, taking the punishment mostly in silent, focused suffering. What was going to be a pleasant morning adventure, ended up being a whole day ordeal. Great workout – not so fun.

I’ve reread some of the trail reports and it sounds like there are other options if you want to avoid the burly section of Noble Canyon. I may be back, but need a cooling off period and time for my bruises to heal first.

Where: 40 minutes from downtown San Diego, near Pine Valley, off of Pine Creek Road North of I8 or off of Sunrise Highway to go top to bottom

What: Noble Canyon Trail, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area

Distance: 19.9 Miles out & back

Elevation  gain/loss: 3,346

Rating: For hiking: Moderate. For Mt. biking: Advanced+++

Notes: Adventure Pass required.

Tip: Bring bug spray and plenty of water. Consider a car shuttle for a 10 mile option. Given that it’s single track and a mountain biker destination, it’s not the most peaceful option for hikers…The trail head maps aren’t great, do your research first. ; )

Have you had any small adventures turn into challenging ordeals? Do tell.

 

A little slice of something nice: Annie’s Canyon, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

If you live in the San Diego area or have visited, you’ve no doubt driven by picturesque San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve countless times via the coast road or the freeway. Perhaps you’ve ventured on trails as well. I have, dozens of times for a run or stroll and I thought I knew all the trails there. (Pretty, but mostly flat and easy fare.) I hadn’t heard about Annie’s Canyon until someone asked me about it. Of course I had to investigate…

But first a couple words about these coastal wetlands. The reserve spans 1000 acres with a total of 7 miles of trails that connect the varied habitats from salt marsh to freshwater marsh areas to coastal sage and chaparral. Wedged between the freeway and the coast highway and surrounded on all sides by Solana Beach, Cardiff and Rancho Santa Fe, the lagoon remains home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals – many endangered. Despite all the encroachment, it’s still a nice spot to savor nature and take in lagoon and ocean views.

Now for the unexpected delight of Annie’s Canyon. After a short, easy, less than mile hike to the canyon (look for signs), you’ll find yourself transported to a miniature canyon-land experience. Sure doesn’t feel like Southern California anymore, more like the slot canyons of Utah or Arizona. While it’s narrow, footing is fairly easy and there’s a steel ladder at the very top. Nothing treacherous here – just fun. It’s a super quickie (5 minutes), but super cool. What a great place to take young kids for a mini adventure with a little supervision and assistance. I know this kid at heart had some fun.

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The view from the top. And no, it’s not a nudist colony, my hottie BF is wearing pants. ; )

 

Notes

Dog friendly in the lagoon – not so much for the canyon unless, they are trick pups trained to go up narrow steel ladders

No bikes

There’s a bunch of construction underway as part of the highway and rail improvements program in the North Coast Corridor. Click here for trail closure updates before you go.

Apparently this spot was previously vandalized and closed and has only recently reopened, which explains why I didn’t know about it. Please enjoy, respect and protect the nature around you.

Location

There are a number of entrances to the lagoon. Here’s ine

Solana Hills trail head address is 450 Solana Hills Drive, Solana Beach. From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (exit 37) West. At 0.2 mile  turn right onto Solana Hills Drive for 0.3 mile. Park along the dead end street. There’s also a great nature center on the Cardiff-by-the-Sea side, which is quite nice and you can rent it for private events.

McGinty Mountain Trail: a sweet little gem in Jamul, CA

Location & directions

Trailhead: 13852-, 13998 Jamul Drive, Jamul, CA 91935

~25 miles from downtown San Diego.Take 94 East, exit at Campo Road. Follow Campo Road for ~ 4.5 miles, turn left onto Lyons Valley Road  and then left on Jamul Drive and you’ll see the dirt turnout / parking lot at 0.4 mile.Trail starts at the kiosk.

Main trail

~5 mile out & back

1,400 feet gain & loss

Moderate to strenuous depending on your fitness level

Dog and mountain bike friendly


My take

Drove down from North County for this one and so happy I did. Had low expectations as I’d never heard of this trail, but was pleasantly surprised. What a sweet little gem. This area is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Not as well known as many of the popular SD area hikes nearby Mount Woodson, Iron Mountain, and Cowles Mountain, but definitely a contender for it’s beauty and views.

It’s a great hike with mostly friendly terrain, except for the steepest area not far from the top, which was a bit of a rock field. (If you have tender feet, you might be happier in hiking shoes versus running shoes.) Don’t worry, the steepest area is fairly short so you won’t suffer long.) Mountain bikes are allowed, but I didn’t see any and there were only a few hikers sharing the trail. It’s a good spot for a trail run too. It’s a relatively quick hike and a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Highlights

Late season wildflowers and wonderful views of San Miguel Mountain and Tecate peak to the East, Mount Helix , Cowles Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, and even Cuyamaca in the distance – apparently on some days you can see all the way to Coronado, Point Loma and the expanse of Pacific. And hiking uphill is always more rewarding —better views and better workout!

 

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Rock scramble at the top – optional.

 

 

Caution

There are no trail signs so stay on the most obvious (widest & well traveled)  route. (You can take a couple viewpoint detours, but return to the main trail.) Be on guard for rattle snakes and ticks and bring water. The trail is exposed the entire way so you’ll want to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.

For more info, visit:

US Fish & Wildlife Service: McGinty Mountain trailhead

View route or download GPX from CalTopo

 

Feline Distractions Post 3: A dieting Alfie wreaks havoc indoors & in the wild (Warning may be too graphic for sensitive viewers.)

Ok, so Alfie (a.k.a. the Alfinator) was getting a bit large even for his “tall, big-boned frame” and I had to put him on a little diet. He was approaching 19 lbs and it’s healthier for him to be in the 16 lb range.

The good news is Alfie is looking much better and has an extra spring in his step and his jump. The bad news, he’s turned into a grumpy scavenger and is wreaking havoc indoors and in the wild.

 

 

Of course, he disdainfully denies his involvement:

 

 

Alfie’s redefining mean & lean and channeling his predatory ancestors.

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Unfortunately the poor squirrel was DOA. : (

And then there was the giant locust I caught him with. When I approached, he started ingesting it head first, defying my command to drop it as he crunched away on in fiendish delight.

Not to be outdone, Lucky has been terrorizing the local lizard population.

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Backyard Turf Wars – These two don’t see eye to eye.

Fortunately, I was able to rescue this one… I don’t like violence or senseless killing of any kind, but nature is cruel and cats are known to be among the cruelest. I do keep my eyes on my little rascals and intervene whenever possible.

Nature Meditation: Spontaneous Spring, Fallbrook CA

My new Nature Meditation section is inspired by the CBS program Sunday Morning. It’s a homage to how they close the show with the sights and sounds of nature. Today, I leave you with a video of the spontaneous spring (a bonus from our recent rains) that I came across in a rocky alcove on my footless and fancy free, off-trail hike in Fallbrook last weekend.

 

Let me know if you’d like to see more of these.