Nature’s best, big and small

By Audrey F. Baker

From large to small, Mission Trails Regional Park offers an amazing variety of natural wonders. We boast the biggest and showiest examples of the Evening Primrose family, and the largest leaves of any native tree in North America, the Western Sycamore. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the world’s smallest bee (.08”), Perdita minima. While Aussies and Thais make the same claim to bee fame, we diplomatically say, ours is the smallest in North America.

Sycamore Leaf AF Baker

A park visitor holds his hand against a large Sycamore leaf. (Photo by Audrey F. Baker)

Come explore! 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, comfortable hat, water bottle and sunscreen and hit the trail!

Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. You’ll start from the park’s 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, at the 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.

Wildlife Tracking reveals the world of tracks, scat, bedlays and other critter evidence that indicate the presence of lesser-seen animals inhabiting the park. Join in for two hours of dirt-time fun – wear long pants for close-up observation. Meet your MTRP Trail Guide at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, July 2 in front of the Visitor Center.

Discovery Table: Animal Tracks is your opportunity to participate in hands-on science and learn which track looks like a baby’s handprint, whose is the largest of local wildlife and other interesting facts about San Diego wildland critters. See you at the Visitor Center lobby, Saturday, July 9 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Bird Lake Murray with MTRP Birders Jeanne Raimond and Millie Basden. In summer months, locations near water draw the largest variety of birds. You’ll enjoy the added bonus of viewing butterflies and dragonflies displaying aerial antics. Binoculars and bird book recommended. See you at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 16 for a two-hour exploration. Meet at the far south end of the parking lot off Kiowa Drive, Lake Murray, La Mesa.

Summer Twilight Walk is your opportunity to experience the nocturnal world of MTRP as dusk sets in and transitions into night. Bring jacket and flashlight for this Trail Guide-led walk through San Diego’s open spaces on Saturday, July 16, 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. We start from the Bushy Hill parking lot, across from Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, Santee.

La Mesa Walk and Talk combines a scenic lakeshore experience hosted by your MTRP Trail Guide with engaging topics in nature. This month, we’ll chat up, “Weather and Climate Change,” examining nature’s adaptations in modern times, then stroll. Meet at the boat docks Tuesday, July 19, 9 to 10:30 a.m., Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.

Star Party Sites delight under moonless skies with Saturn and Mars positioned overhead. Join MTRP Resident Star Gazer George Varga as he scans the skies. Scorpius and Sagittarius present Messier Objects for viewing, including Globular Clusters M4, Open Clusters M6 and M7, and the Lagoon Nebula. In Lyra, the Ring Nebula (M57) will be observable. Rain cancels. We view from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, and gather at the far end of the Kumeyaay Campground Day Use Parking Lot, Santee.

Family Discovery Walk presents nature’s summer magic as a family experience and highlights the seasonal changes it brings. Learn about plant and animal adaptations by examining those transitioning into summer inactivity and those flourishing under sunny days. Our Trail Guide-hosted interactive outing focuses fun, childhood enrichment, and memorable moments in nature. Meet us inside the Visitor Center at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 24 for a 90-minute adventure in nature.

Birding Basics enhances your nature experience by identifying birds “at a glance!” MTRP Bird Guide Winona Sollock’s class explains five simple techniques and gives tips on field guide use. Bring yours if you like. Class meets on Saturday, July 30 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. inside the Visitor Center.

Meanwhile, come on out and enjoy the park!

Visit 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

—Audrey F. Baker is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park. Reach her at

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