San Diego's Own Eden
By: Oliver Truesdale
Taking time to rediscover the treasures we have here in San Diego is a reminder of all the stunning natural resources that abound. From the coniferous forests to the sand mountains, there are vast areas in the neighborhood that are still ours to explore. It doesn't take much to arrange a venture within the county to fill a Sunday or create an absorbing vacation with the family. We don't have to go far, we don't have to spend a ton of money, and we don't have to use much gas to revel in the riches that are in our backyard.
The Chula Vista Nature Center is the closest to downtown San Diego, making it easy to visit on a holiday or weekend. You can take a guided tour or ramble along the many trails to observe the flora and fauna. The Tijuana River Estuary lies at the south end of the bay, offering some interesting exhibits that show the different kinds of wildlife in the area. Border Field State Park is another option, with its wildlife refuge, dunes, and salt marshes, and then a view of the international border fence dividing California from Mexico.
The 600,000 acres of land that is contained within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the east around Borrego Springs make this largest state park in California. With 500 miles of dirt roads, there are infinite amounts of hiking trails where you can see a variety of palm tree species, cacti, wildflowers, and a plethora of wildlife. Kit foxes, bighorn sheep, and mule deer make this area their home, as well as golden eagles, iguanas, and red diamond rattlesnakes.
Take a trip to the San Dieguito River Valley where the trail reaches from Volcan Mountain to the ocean between Solana Beach and Del Mar.
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, which includes Seal Beach, Tijuana Slough, and Sweetwater Marsh, is filled with wetlands, over 400 species of birds, and loads of endangered species. It is a great place to bring your binoculars as you hike along one of the many beautiful trails.
The Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, which rises more than 5,000 feet, goes from Lake Henshaw to the Anza Borrego Desert. With its diverse ecosystem, it is one of the most pristine areas where you can hike to the summit for some spectacular views. Cleveland National Forest has a multitude of hiking trails, camping areas, and lets you get cozy in a wilderness that is close but seems so far from home.
From native grasslands to clear, drinkable mountain water, San Diego County brings us everything from rugged terrain to wide meadows. The area leads the country in the amount of native species at risk and harbors an enormous number of plants and animals that find a haven in the many types of terrain. Take your binoculars to spot the California gnatcatcher, the arroyo southwestern toad, the San Diego horned lizard, or the long eared owl. Keep your eyes sharpened to identify the Tecate cypress, the San Diego thorn mint, or valley needlegrass. Open your ears to hear the different migratory songbirds that abound.
With urban sprawl threatening wildlife throughout the nation, it is important to remember that there are wide open spaces that deserve attention. The Nature Conservancy's San Diego Country Project has brought both private and public partners together to help preserve the wilderness in San Diego by protecting rural land use and providing buffer zones to maintain the integrity of big nature's gifts. Biologists and other experts are continually working on finding the perfect a blueprint for protecting and maintaining the many habitats that make San Diego County so important to all manner of wildlife.
With big nature all around us, there is no excuse not to get out there and take advantage of its benefits. It is how we improve our physical and mental health, nourish our souls, educate our children in how to respect the land and its creatures, and how we become inspired to leave less of a footprint throughout our lives. Join nature clubs such as The Sierra Club, where you can take part in events and outings. Don't forget how fortunate we are to live in this part of the country, where we have our own definite version of Eden.
Oliver Truesdale is a frequent art critic whose interests also encompass finding ways to improve life through conscious living.