Today my daughter and my hiking buddy Alex spent almost five hours hiking a seven-mile trail in the stunning Santa Ysabel Preserve. Alex and I hiked the Kanaka Loop trail before, taking less time, but today we stopped often for photographs of the abundant birds, insects, plants and incredible views.
Managed by the County of San Diego Parks Dept., this open space preserve has two entrances. The West Loop Trail, which is short and mostly easy, is off of Highway 79, and the main entrance and staging area is off of Farmer Road past Julian (http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/parks/openspace/Santa_Ysabel.html ) . Each entrance offers loop trails, and are connected by a portion of the Coast to Crest Trail.
This preserve is the home of ancient oak riparian woodlands,
200-year-old sycamore groves,
stunning views of the mountains and hills west, with a glimpse of Palomar Observatory in the far distance
and equally serene pastoral landscapes of mountain homes, apple orchards and rolling hills in the southeast.
At this time of year the grasslands are pale gold, and ripples travel for acres in the very welcome warm breeze that kept this July day from being overwhelmingly hot.
A new experience for us was to walk miles of trail while disturbing thousands of grasshoppers that flung themselves out of the way or took wing to avoid us. It was like setting popcorn off as we walked, trying to not tread on any but also being hit by some misdirected fellows. One took a ride on my pants for awhile until he began to investigate my pants pocket and I had to give him a boost to freedom.
It was a glorious day for birding; some of the birds we saw were flocks of Western bluebirds, kingbirds, a lark sparrow, a Lazuli bunting, ravens, chipping sparrows, goldfinches, bushtits, both spotted and California towhees, acorn and Nuttall’s woodpeckers, a Northern flicker, a Cooper’s hawk, an American kestrel, Western meadowlarks, brown-headed cowbirds, cliff swallows, Steller and scrub jays, Mountain chickadees, and many turkey families, their brood half-grown and comically awkward. We saw bright red Large Milkweed Beetles on blooming Indian milkweed, a late blooming Summer lupine, and did I mention grasshoppers? Thousands of grasshoppers. Almost the entire hike. A pair of ravens sat in the tall grass to the side of the trail with their beaks open, catching them as they leaped, as did Western bluebirds and others.
The Preserve is also home to cattle, and groups of the little ladies and their offspring dotted the landscape. Many bad cow jokes ensued (they’re in a bad MOOd; you can’t HIDE from them, they are UTTERLY charming, we’ve got to HOOF it past them, let’s MOOve it along… well, you get the picture), and although they watched us warily, they gave us no problem and we spoke to them soothingly as we passed by.
The Kanaka Loop Trail is easy up to the streambed crossing,
then it goes uphill in areas which are bare due to elevation and past fires, so there is little cover. Many pines have sprouted up and their fragrance in the heat is intoxicating. However twice during the trail up through the trees we smelled greasy french-fries, and have no idea what plant or combination of flowers created that scent. It is an exceptionally beautiful trail and not difficult for the average hiker, but be sure to take a hat and lots of water, and a good attitude towards cows!