By Audrey F. Baker, Trail Guide
In San Diego, you’ll likely see Santa in board shorts, leaning against a bright red surfboard. His message reminds us that ‘tis the season for a holiday in nature! Your visit to Mission Trails Regional Park is also an opportunity to enjoy Mother Nature’s holiday offerings –– especially her festive fauna that can be found throughout the trails.
There’s “San Diego Snow,” the star-like flowerings of Broom Baccharis that evoke a dusting of snow flakes. Among our evergreen emeralds, it’s growing season for Coast Live Oaks. Toyon (San Diego Christmas Berry) decks its boughs with holiday cheer. Its leaves resemble holly and showcase dense clusters of red apple-shaped berries.
December’s real stars become a festival of lights dazzling in an ink-black firmament. The long-night moon of winter solstice witnesses the shortest day and longest night of the year.
Discoveries abound! Wrap your holiday in the gift of kinship with Mother Nature.
Our MTRP Trail Guide walks are an opportunity to learn more about natural Southern California, with its unique landscapes, habitats, local history, plant and animal life. The walks are free, interesting, fact-filled, and geared to all ages and interests. Grab sturdy shoes, that comfortable hat, water bottle and sunscreen and hit the trail!
Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, 9:30 to 11 a.m. Start from the Visitor and Interpretive Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos. The walk beginning from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos-Santee border, gives a different perspective of the park and its diverse habitats. These walks are offered from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and take in historic Old Mission Dam. We meet by the flag poles.
Wildlife Tracking reveals the secret life of animals and brings insight into their survival techniques and habits. Tracking Team members assist in identifying and interpreting tracks, scat and habitats. Join us at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 5 in front of the Visitor Center, for a two-hour tracking adventure.
Discovery Table: Photosynthesis delves into a most intriguing natural process, a plant’s ability to make its own food out of thin air. Stop by for hands-on science presented by MTRP Trail Guides. See you inside the Visitor Center lobby, on Saturday, Dec. 12 between 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Star Party Marvels is your invitation to explore winter skies. MTRP resident star gazer George Varga tells us the day-old waxing moon should allow good views of Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and companion M32. He’ll also scope Pleiades (Seven Sisters), Double Cluster in Perseus and numerous open clusters across the sky. Rain or fog cancels. Join in between 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12. We meet at the far end of the Kumeyaay Campground Day Use Parking Lot.
La Mesa Walk ‘n Talk combines ambling scenic shores with your MTRP Trail Guide and chatting up the topic, “Plants and Ceremonies for the Holidays.” Learn about iconic holiday flora, a connection to Hollywood, and the Winter Solstice ceremonies of Native Americans. 9-10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Meet at the boat docks, Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.
Winter Birding at Murray with MTRP Birding Guides Jean Raimond and Millie Basden is a great opportunity to spot resident and migratory water and sage and chaparral species. The Tri-colored Blackbird, found year-round only in California, is on our possible sightings list. Binoculars and bird book are recommended. Join us Saturday, Dec. 19, 8-10 a.m. Meet on Lake Murray’s north side, Murray Park Drive and Belle Glade Avenue, and park in the dirt lot by the ball field, San Carlos.
Winter Solstice Hike is an unparalleled visit to a Kumeyaay spiritual site to observe the phenomenon of rising sun rays visually split in half by distant Lyon’s Peak boulders. Wear solid shoes, bundle up and bring your flashlight for a memorable predawn walk up Cowles Mountain with your MTRP guide. Monday, Dec. 21 or Wednesday, Dec. 23, 6-8 a.m. Meet at Cowles Mountain trail head (south of the comfort station), Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road, San Carlos.
Family Discovery Walk, our essential outdoor experience designed for parents and their children, offers quality time in nature as Trail Guides and “The Fam” explore the Kumeyaay grinding rocks trail. See you inside the Visitor Center, 3-4:30 Sunday, Dec. 27.
Meanwhile, come out and enjoy the park! Visit mtrp.org for more information and our events calendar, or call 619-668-3281. Special walks can be arranged for any club, group, business or school by contacting Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-2746 or at email@example.com.
––Audrey F. Baker is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.