Finding tracks, signs of wildlife at Mission Trails!

A guided group walks through Mission Trails Regional Park looking for signs of wildlife.
A guided group walks through Mission Trails Regional Park looking for signs of wildlife.

This morning I went on a truly extraordinary guided walk. Two expert trackers took a small group on an easy hike in Mission Trails Regional Park to search for tracks and other signs of often elusive wildlife!

The immense, mountainous Mission Trails Regional Park, located within the City of San Diego, is home to abundant wildlife. But it can be hard to spot animals in the wild during a visit to the park. Many species are nocturnal. Many tend to hide in the scrubby vegetation to avoid predators, to watch for a passing meal, or protect a nest.

This morning I and others met at the Visitor Center to set out on this special walk. While we didn’t see anything very dramatic, we did observe how the living world around us is engaged in a perpetual dance. We learned that humans with open eyes and curious minds might find signs left by rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, deer, and even (but rarely) mountain lions!

We saw several spots where a skunk dug for grubs. We saw several wood rat’s nests. We leaned down to the ground to peer at the secret trap door of a spider. We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud, rabbit tracks in some green grass, and coyote scat. We learned what differently pressed tracks might indicate about an animal passing that way. Were they stealthily hunting? Leaning to one side? In a big hurry to avoid a predator?

We watched birds flitting through shrubs and trees and soaring in the blue sky high above, and we learned a whole lot about crows and ravens and red-tailed hawks. We learned why coyotes howl. We saw a hummingbird. We watched a fence lizard pump itself up and down. We discovered a small, perfectly circular hole dug by a digger bee.

We learned how scent is a critically important sense for both predator and prey, and how animals in the wild are all acutely aware of each other at any given moment. And how they are confused by oddly unpredictable human behavior. We learned far too much to mention everything in this blog!

Our two super knowledgeable guides have been leading these wildlife tracking walks, which are held the first Saturday of every month, for about 11 years.

Bob MacDonald and Mike Gibbs belong to the San Diego Tracking Team, an organization of experts and enthusiasts who track wildlife in our region. They advocate for good stewardship of the natural environment and provide researchers with data from about 20 sites around San Diego County, as far away as the Anza Borrego desert.

According to their website: “San Diego County has the most biodiversity of any County in North America… Many of the plants and animals that call our region home are found nowhere else in the world… The San Diego Tracking Team (SDTT) is dedicated to preserving the wildlife habitat in the San Diego region through citizen-based wildlife monitoring and environmental education programs…”

Both Bob and Mike were super interesting and personable, and even the young kids in our group never lost interest as we learned about the endlessly amazing dance of life all around us.

I learned that Mike Gibbs was an Army Green Beret with extensive wilderness survival knowledge. He has worked in law enforcement and search and rescue as an educator and as a human and animal tracker. I’m anxious to read his book Spirit Wolf, a novel that takes place on the High Plains. (Which, by pure coincidence, is where I once lived and is the setting for a short story I’m now working on!)

But enough of that for now! On to a few photographs!

One of two experienced animal trackers addresses our group near the Mission Trails Visitor Center before we begin our adventure.
Mike Gibbs, one of two highly experienced animal trackers, addresses our group near the Mission Trails Visitor Center before we begin our adventure.
Our short but super fascinating wildlife tracking walk took us up the Oak Grove Inner Trail.
Our short but super fascinating wildlife tracking walk took us up the Oak Grove Inner Trail.
A hiking stick has been laid down to show where a skunk has dug small holes in the soil looking for grubs.
A hiking stick has been laid down to show where a skunk has dug small holes in the soil looking for grubs.
As the skunk moved forward, nose to the ground, it dug a series of additional holes.
As the skunk moved forward, nose to the ground, it dug a series of additional holes.
Walking again along the trail, searching for more signs of local wildlife.
Walking again along the trail, searching for more signs of local San Diego wildlife.
One of our guides points to the lair of a trapdoor spider! They pop out to catch prey, and lay their eggs inside their smooth burrow for safety. Yes, spiders can dig!
One of our guides points to the lair of a trapdoor spider! They pop out to catch prey, and lay their eggs inside their smooth burrow for safety. Yes, spiders can dig!
We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud. The heavy front pads indicate a breed with a forward center of gravity. Coyotes have much neater, straighter tracks.
We saw lots of dog tracks in dried mud. The heavy front pads indicate a heavy breed with a forward center of gravity. Coyotes have distinctive, much straighter tracks.
Way up there on that distant tree we spot a hummingbird!
Way up there on top of that distant tree we spot a tiny hummingbird!
Rabbits made these tracks in the bent grass as they moved forward eating. We saw a couple calm rabbits feeding in the distance, seemingly unconcerned about predators.
Rabbits made these tracks in the bent grass as they moved forward leaving a U-shaped trail. We saw a couple of calm rabbits feeding in the distance, seemingly unconcerned about predators.
A gopher hole in the trail, long abandoned. The hole was subsequently widened by curious dogs poking in their noses, excited by an old scent.
A pocket gopher’s hole in the trail, long abandoned. The hole was subsequently widened by curious dogs poking in their noses, excited by an old scent.
Fresh moist coyote scat. These droppings seemed to show a recent vegetable diet.
Fresh moist coyote scat. These droppings seemed to show a recent vegetable diet.
But nearby, other dried, ropy coyote droppings contain rabbit fur.
But nearby, other dried, ropy coyote droppings contain rabbit fur.
This small perfectly circular hole was dug by a digger bee. Yes, bees can dig, too! It seems a lot of critters dig. Snakes don't. They like to digest their food in the safety of Wood Rat's nests.
This small perfectly circular hole was dug by a digger bee. Yes, bees can dig, too! It seems a lot of critters dig. Snakes don’t. They like to digest their food in the safety of a wood rat’s sturdy stick nest.
What will we discover next? Life continues its dance, and the natural world is ever changing.
What will we discover next? Life continues its dance and the natural world is ever changing.

Wildlife Tracking Walks are held at Mission Trails Regional Park the first Saturday of every month, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. To learn more about the park’s different guided walks, click here.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Isn’t it Amazing art captures nature’s beauty.

Prairie Dogs on Alert, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.
Prairie Dogs on Alert, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.

Artwork depicting nature’s awesome beauty can now be enjoyed inside the Visitor Center at Mission Trails Regional Park. The exhibition is appropriately titled: Isn’t it Amazing.

Dozens of pieces by award-winning artists Pat Dispenziere, Elaine Harvey, Otto Kruse, Victoria Alexander Marquez and Jami Wright are displayed on several walls of the Visitor Center. Through the use of watercolor, mixed media and photography, the artists have framed and realized scenes of natural beauty.

This morning, after finishing an extraordinary wildlife tracking walk (which I’ll blog about shortly), I stepped into the Visitor Center to admire the artwork. I took a few photos to provide a small taste.

Are you in San Diego? Do you appreciate excellent art? All of these pieces are available for purchase!

And guess what? Take home some collectible artwork and a portion of the sale will benefit the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation!

Isn’t it Amazing is open free to the public and runs through February 14, 2020.

Colorful artwork depicting nature's beauty on display in the art gallery at the Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center.
Colorful artwork depicting nature’s beauty on display in the art gallery at the Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center.
High Valley, watercolor by artist Pat Dispenziere.
High Valley, watercolor by artist Pat Dispenziere.
Smith Rock, Central Oregon, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.
Smith Rock, Central Oregon, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.
Dances With Waves, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.
Dances With Waves, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.
Sycamore Sun, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.
Sycamore Sun, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.
In the Forest Deep, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.
In the Forest Deep, watercolor by artist Jami Wright.
SC12 #12, mixed media by artist Victoria Alexander Marquez.
SC12 #12, mixed media by artist Victoria Alexander Marquez.
Seldom Seen, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.
Seldom Seen, watercolor by artist Elaine Harvey.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

A short walk through downtown El Cajon.

Last weekend I enjoyed an easy walk up and down Main Street through downtown El Cajon.

I started at the El Cajon landmark sign, where I read some historical information concerning Amaziah Lord Knox, founder of Knox’s Corners, later the City of El Cajon.

I then headed east to the corner of Main Street and Magnolia Avenue, where old photos provided by the El Cajon Historical Society adorn the vacant Salvation Army Thrift Store building. I believe the photo murals were put up for the El Cajon Centennial, which was in 2012.

I continued walking east to Prescott Promenade, where I checked out the handsome old Rotary Club of El Cajon clock and some fun street art. I saw many different banners hung from lamp posts that celebrate El Cajon. Some banners depicted the Cajon Speedway, the Mother Goose Parade, and seven-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson, who grew up in El Cajon.

I crossed Main Street, checked out a beautiful fountain and artificial stream near the El Cajon Civic Center, then turned west and walked past a variety of small shops and colorful eateries.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Historical markers at entrance to Presidio Park.

Several historical markers can be found near the northwest entrance to Presidio Park. If you’ve ever driven along Taylor Street just past Morena Boulevard and the Presidio Recreation Center, you might’ve glimpsed them. They stand beside a sidewalk that comes to an abrupt end, in a place where almost nobody walks.

The three markers were placed years ago near three sites of historical importance: the Serra Palm, Derby Dike, and the La Playa Trail.

I’ve transcribed the words on each plaque.

I was told by a park ranger who happened to be parked nearby that the Serra Palm is long gone. He said it was probably blown over in a windstorm, and pointed out a pine tree that was toppled by our most recent storms.

The Serra Palm was planted in 1769 by Padre Junípero Serra, and marked the beginning of El Camino Real.

I’ve photographed a similar La Playa Trail marker near Mission San Diego de Alcalá. To view that photo, click here.

According to Wikipedia: “In 1934, six commemorative terra cotta plaques were placed along the length of the trail by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other groups, based on a relief designed by sculptor Rose M. Hanks. The original six were located at Mission San Diego de Alcala; at the foot of Presidio Hill in Old Town; near the intersection of Rosecrans St. and Midway Blvd. in the Midway area; at the corner of Rosecrans and Lytton streets in Loma Portal, across from the Naval Training Center San Diego golf course; at the corner of Rosecrans and Byron streets in Roseville; and at the site of the fuel depot at Naval Base Point Loma…”

SERRA PALM

TRADITIONALLY THE EARLIEST PLANTED TREE IN
CALIFORNIA. DIRECTLY IN THE REAR, BENEATH
THE BROW OF THE HILL, LIE THE DEAD OF THE
SACRED EXPEDITION OF 1769, BURIAL PLACE OF
OUR FIRST UNKNOWN SOLDIERS.
STATE REGISTERED LANDMARK NO. 67
MARKER PLACED BY CALIFORNIA CENTENNIALS COMMISSION
IN COOPERATION WITH
SAN DIEGO COUNTY HISTORICAL MARKERS COMMITTEE
DEDICATED SEPTEMBER 2, 1950

DERBY DIKE

UNTIL 1853 THE ERRATIC SAN DIEGO RIVER DUMPED TONS
OF DEBRIS INTO THE HARBOR OR POURED INTO FALSE
BAY, NOW MISSION BAY. AT TIMES IT THREATENED TO DE-
STROY OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO. LIEUTENANT GEORGE
HORATIO DERBY, U.S. TOPOGRAPHICAL CORPS, BUILT A
DIKE THAT DIVERTED THE WATERS INTO FALSE BAY. THIS
WAS THE FIRST EFFORT TO TAME THE RIVER, AND ONE
OF THE FIRST U.S. GOVERNMENT PROJECTS IN CALIFOR-
NIA. THE RIVER WAS NOT FULLY HARNESSED UNTIL THE 1950s.
CALIFORNIA REGISTERED HISTORICAL LANDMARK NO. 244
FIRST REGISTERED JUNE 10, 1936. PLAQUE PLACED BY THE
STATE DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION IN CO-
OPERATION WITH THE SAN DIEGO DEPARTMENT OF PARKS
AND RECREATION AND SQUIBOB CHAPTER, E CLAMPUS
VITUS, AUGUST 4, 1990.

LA PLAYA TRAIL
JEDEDIAH STRONG SMITH
PATHFINDER OF THE SIERRAS
HERE COMPLETED THE FIRST TRAIL FROM
THE ATLANTIC TO THE PACIFIC JAN. 1827
ERECTED BY
SAN DIEGO CHAPTER D.A.R. 1937

This blog now features thousands of photos around San Diego! Are you curious? There’s lots of cool stuff to check out!

Here’s the Cool San Diego Sights main page, where you can read the most current blog posts.  If you’re using a phone or small mobile device, click those three parallel lines up at the top–that opens up my website’s sidebar, where you’ll see the most popular posts, a search box, and more!

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Views of bright buildings from Pantoja Park.

On a clear morning, viewed from Pantoja Park, many of the highest buildings in downtown San Diego shine brightly. Particularly those that rise north and northwest of the park.

These photos that I took today provide a glimpse.

If you’d like to learn a little more about Pantoja Park and its statue of Benito Juarez, a gift from the Mexican government, you can visit one of my earlier blog posts here.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Bayside Performance Park rises on San Diego Bay!

Look what I spotted this afternoon during my walk along San Diego Bay. I was approaching the Marriott Marina when my eyes were surprised by a monumental steel structure rising from Embarcadero Marina Park South.

It’s the enormous stage of the new Bayside Performance Park, now under construction!

This permanent concert venue is an amazing gift from the San Diego Symphony to all of San Diego. How appropriate it appeared in time for Christmas!

As I walked around the construction site on my way to the Embarcadero Marina Park South pier, I spoke to a crew member of the Silvergate, a Coronado ferry that docks nearby, and he informed me the steel structure you see in my photographs went up rapidly four or five days ago.

You can also see a banner on a fence that shows what Bayside Performance Park might look like when completed. The concert stage’s curving shell is not only visually attractive, but it’s designed to provide a high quality acoustic experience.

Bayside Performance Park is due to open in time for the 2020 season of San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights.

I can’t wait to see how it looks (and sounds) when completed!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Photos of Bill Muncey Memorial and plaques.

The Bill Muncey Memorial stands on Mission Bay’s beautiful Vacation Isle, on a grassy spot just north of the Ski Beach boat launch ramp. It rises above the nearby blue water like a wing flying through the sky.

Bill Muncey is a legend in hydroplane racing. He is considered by many to be the greatest hydroplane racer in history. The gracefully curving memorial honors his contributions to the sport, and the creation of a 2.5-mile oval hydroplane racecourse in San Diego’s Mission Bay.

The memorial contains two bronze plaques. The first reads:

BILL MUNCEY UNLIMITED HYDROPLANE COURSE
PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE OF SAN DIEGO
BY THUNDERBOATS UNLIMITED IN THE
MEMORY OF BILL MUNCEY, WORLD CHAMPION.
62 CAREER VICTORIES
4 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
7 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
8 GOLD CUP WINS

The second plaque, which depicts the smiling face of Bill Muncey, reads:

“just running and playing like all the kids I know…”
Bill Muncey 1928-1981

There is a third plaque on a nearby park bench that remembers Bernie Little, legendary owner of the famous Miss Budweiser team. It reads:

IN MEMORY OF
Bernie Little
1925-2003
“The King of Boats”
THE WINNINGEST UNLIMITED HYDROPLANE OWNER IN HISTORY
134 UNLIMITED HYDROPLANE RACES
14 APBA GOLD CUPS
22 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
“IF YOU AREN’T TRYING TO WIN…WHY WOULD YOU RACE?”

To learn more about Bill Muncey and the Bill Muncey Unlimited Hydroplane Course on Mission Bay, visit the San Diego Bayfair’s history web page here.

This blog now features thousands of photos around San Diego! Are you curious? There’s lots of cool stuff to check out!

Here’s the Cool San Diego Sights main page, where you can read the most current blog posts.  If you’re using a phone or small mobile device, click those three parallel lines up at the top–that opens up my website’s sidebar, where you’ll see the most popular posts, a search box, and more!

To enjoy future posts, you can also “like” Cool San Diego Sights on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.