Friday, January 24, 2014

Wildlife From Bike Trips Around San Diego County

A wild peacock near Dehesa Rd.
A boat-tailed grackle at Lake Murray. A handsome fellow, isn't he?
I was rolling thru Liberty Station one afternoon when I noticed a bunch of European starlings perching on a tree, chirping something silly.
These white-tailed deers on Mesa Grande Reservation weren't chirping, though.
Of the many sheep grazing along Dehesa Rd, this ram was the most magnificent.
You never know what you'll see along rural San Diego roads. These camels were at Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona.
I tell you, kestrels are the cutest of birds!
I really can't get enough of them!
A Western horned meadowlark hiding in the dry grass by SD Velodrome.
This cute bunny rabbit hopped over to the fence to say hi to me as I rolled though Spring Valley.
One of the kamikaze barn swallows that buzzed me near J St Pier in Chula Vista.
A pair of cormorants was too busy grooming to look at the camera...
This Grace's warbler wasn't grooming, though. He was just being pensive.
A western tanager lass hopping along a side street in Alpine.
We sure do have many yellow birds around here. This is an American goldfinch.
I'll confess to liking the blue birds better, tho. This cute western bluebird male seemed quite fascinate by my camera!
His girlfriend, the female western bluebird here was too busy feeding to notice any camera at all, tho.
But the gray hawk that occasionally visits my alley notices everything!
And so does this cool dog!
This cat also noticed me, but was too much of a cat to show much interest...
Blackjack, Lyons Valley's cutest donkey, wanted to know if I had any celery hidden away in my jersey pocket.
At least that's what this chatty little acorn woodpecker told him...
Spooky the squirrel says otherwise. He was convinced that the thing I had hidden in my pockets were actually acorns!
Alas, I only had a camera in the pocket, and when I pulled it out this roadrunner did a runner on me...
Btw, if you've ever cycled up to the spine of Pt Loma (Catalina Blvd) you might have noticed the quacking palm trees. I managed to catch one of their vocal chords one morning. It wasn't easy... these guys really blend in very well!
This beautiful wild turkey was a part of a group roaming around the eastern slope of Starvation Mountain a few months ago.
A steller's jay in Pine Valley.
For a while I thought he was a peregrine falcon, but I think he's really a young red-shouldered hawk. From below he doesn't seem to have the mask.
The three acorn-woodpeckers on Cuyamaca Mtn.
Can you believe that these...
...grow up to be these? American coots!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just missing Juliette Galstian

Can you use some dark hot voice and infectious personality to warm a chilly winter day with? So can I! Here is the (sadly rarely seen on stage anymore) talented Juliette Galstian as opera's most famous tuneful gypsy.

Does Carmen ever come better intoned than this? It's a shame Mme Galstian is spending more time teaching than singing on the operatic stages now. Lucky for her students, but not for us audience at large!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hiking Mission Trails: South Fortuna Mountain & Suycott Wash

The end of 2013 brought a particularly cool friend into town, and, lucky me, Dr T had recovered from her cold and had an afternoon free to visit! With the weather being accommodatingly clear and warm out we decided that we both could use a little exercise and headed east to explore Mission Trails Regional Park for a few hours.
Descending Visitor Center Loop trail to San Diego River.
I should confess that though I have cycled through Mission Trails Park many times I had only ever hiked it once, many many moons ago when I still cane-dependent, and so am not terribly familiar with the park's many trails. To be safe, we stopped in at park headquarter to pick up a trail map and ran into a really helpful park docent who pulled out the map, a pencil, and then proceeded to describe in detail his favorite 'little romp' for us to follow. Our less-fat-than-average look sort of worked against us as our enthusiastic guide plotted our way UP South Fortuna Mtn and traversing it to the Fortuna Saddle before heading back down through Suycott Wash. All my mountainous century bike rides of the past year have made mountains seem less formidable for me of late, but the talk of steep terrains and 300+ rock steps that are much better scaling up than descending down was a bit unsettling. Neither of us are known for shying away from any adventure (especially when there's an audience looking on), however, so off we went to find the Visitor Center Loop trail head at Mission Gorge Rd and Jackson Dr before proceeding down the wide dirt road to the San Diego River.

Cottony arroyo willow seeds padding up the rocks along the San Diego River.
Dr T fording the midgetly San Diego River
We were a bit too instructed on how to cross the river the least wet way possible, I'm afraid, and ended up crossing it at the wrong spot because the right place looked very much, to our untrained eyes, like the the place our guide had told us to avoid! Some moderate amount of bushwacking ensued before we popped out on the trail again, serendipitously right at a sign warning hikers not to stray off the marked path! Smiley

Up the San Diego River Crossing Trail toward the tower.
From then on we managed to stay on the, er, straight (ahem!) and narrow path, so to speak for the rest of the hike. The gravelly trail led us steeply up toward the landmark white tower before we picked up the S Fortuna Trail east down to the wash.

Starting down S Fortuna Trail from the crossroad.
One of the things I had learnt from my many long distance cycling expeditions is to note pavement condition on the opposite side of the road when on an out-and-back route... So the steepness of our descent into Suycott Wash concerned me a bit as we'd have to climb back up it toward the end of our hike. I had not chosen my footwear very wisely and my well worn soles weren't gripping the trail very well.
Down S Fortuna Trail into Suycott Wash.
We soon reached the bottom, though, and found the promised two picnic tables hiding in the shades. Starting up the gentle lower slope of S Fortuna Mountain I was busy finding a good spot to place my cane when Dr T let out a gasp. It was a fat little roadrunner running across the path just a few yards ahead! That quite perked up both Dr T and me. No matter how the hike turned out, at least we had spotted a wildlife up close. I was still relishing that thought a few minutes later when Dr T let out another yelp... I looked up just in time to see a coyote running up the trail ahead of us and disappearing behind some boulders! First a roadrunner then a coyote... Real life is just like cartoon sometimes! Smiley
The lower steps on S Fortuna Mtn. The dog and his parents were on their way down.
The steep steps up S Fortuna Mtn.
By the time we got to the lower steps up S Fortuna Mtn I was getting quite warm and very grateful for my insulated cycling water bottle... and for the cane! Since I took up cycling almost two years ago my balance and stamina have improved a lot, but I'd still soon deteriorate to a drunkard's walk if I try to go more than a mile on my feet without using a stick. Now as the hike was turning into a climb, I don't think I'd have made it all the way up the mountain without my third leg (and Dr T's endless patience!). The upper part of the steps was really steep and eroded. I really wouldn't have liked to descend down the same path!

There's a coyote in the foto, believe it or not. I just managed to catch his ears behind the boulders and bush.

As we cleared the steps and neared the crest of the climb Dr T let out another yelp. By this time I had learnt to associate her yelps with photographing opportunity, so I got the camera out just in time to catch a little bit of our second coyote of the hike... disappearing behind a set of boulder and surrounding bushes!
Fortuna Saddle. N Fortuna Mtn in background.
The view from the top of S Fortuna Mtn was pretty good (though I think it was better at the top of the steps than at the summit itself). We might have lingered there a bit longer, but didn't want to risk not making it back to the car by 5pm, when the gates would be locked, so we started down to Fortuna Saddle...
The trail down to Suycott Wash.
And then down what turned out to be the most hazardous bit of the day's hike, the steep and very slippery descend into Suycott Wash. Really, folks, don't do this thing without having on a good pair of hiking shoes. It's so eroded and bare and steep that I had a hard time zigzagging down without turning into a human tumbleweed! Once down to Rock Garden Trail (formerly known as Suycott Trail) we sped along nicely and was back at the San Diego River in time to catch the local flora in some really splendid light.

Western sycamores catching the evening light with their autumn gold leaves.
We even had 30 minutes or so to spent browsing around the park's visitor center museum. It's quite a cool space!
Mission Trails Park HQ museum
Bobcat and roadrunner.
Coyote. I couldn't get a good shot of a live one, but here at least is a stuffed version.
Our nice park docent was still around and came over for good (and mostly educational) chats. I particularly liked the collection of stuffed local wildlife on the second floor... seeing as their live version are so good at disappearing in the presence of my camera! One of the 'stuffed animals' is a fake, though. If you're ever in town, drop in at Mission Trails Park HQ and see if you can tell which!

- Mission Trails Regional Park
- Mission Trails Park trail map
- Dr T's Opera Rambling Outlet

Saturday, January 4, 2014


I have a thing for switchback turns on narrow country roads...

A switchback high up Nate Harrison Grade on Palomar Mountain.
I wonder what a psychologist would have to say about that. An incurably twisted personality? A fixation on the now rather than the future?
Al Bahr Dr on Mt Soledad, completely twisting itself into a knot.
I like climbing up and descending down switchback curves, with the road ahead only revealing itself to me a little bit at a time as I round its corners. Switchbacks are almost only found on mountainous roads, of course. Their sharp turns cut down the road gradient on steep routes up mountain ridges and faces.
Not quite a switchback, but a tight ring around Mt Helix.
In a way, not being able to see far ahead makes many of San Diego's tough mountain road climbs seem more manageable. I get pretty demoralized sometimes when I look up and the climb seems keen on continuing on forever.

There aren't many San Diego roads twistier than Camino del Aguilar on Starvation Mtn.
 The tighter the switchbacks, the more to keep me occupied with what I have to do right now. It's like living in a perpetual survival mode...

Round the turn for more and more climbing on Camino del Aguilar.
Of course, one can't live like that forever. There's only so much psych to wear down before you blow...
A tight switchback on Mesa Grande Rd climbing up from Lake Henshaw.
Luckily, this isn't the Alps or the Andes, and there is no road going higher than 6500 ft or so in San Diego County. You might suffer for an hour or two at the most, but all climbs do end... usually before your reserve runs out. And then... the view... and the twisty downhill that a cyclist doesn't have to worry about keeping to the right edge of the road while descending. We are more maneuverable than cars, and it's easy to hold the same speed (or even faster) navigating the curvy downhills as those big lumbering machines do.
La regina del mondo...
The same exhilaration experienced by Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Titanic as he perches on the nose of the ocean liner, breaking into the fair wind like 'the king of the world'... without having to buy an ocean cruising ticket or win a card game and then getting sunk by an ice burg in a frigid ocean.... or something like that.