Another Hollenbeck Quickie
I know I’ve already posted a few times about Hollenbeck Canyon, and I really need to get some new locations written up, but Hollenbeck is close to me, beautiful, and serves many of my needs. I have actually been there a few times in the last month or so. Most visits have been picture-taking trips, and unsuccessful ones at that. Since I’m not a huge fan of the hot, summer hike, I usually lay off hiking in the summer, and try to regain (something resembling) fitness, and hit the trails in the fall, winter and spring.
I had intended to be spending a leisurely three nights camping in Mount Laguna this week, but some early-season snow and cold temps dissuaded me from that. I was still thinking of going until I went to a meeting in Cuyamaca Saturday morning, and 35 degrees ceased to just be a number, and became a cold, involuntary-shiver-inducing temperature. A temperature I did not fancy spending my coming days in – and that was almost as near the high as it was the low. There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground in Cuyamaca, which really makes for a beautiful day up there, but not for a comfortable day in camp. I did get to see a coyote trot through the snow from my chair at the conference table, which was pretty amazing.
Back to Hollenbeck… I decided I would get out there for a good hike. No lollygagging around with a camera, or binoculars, no looking for acorns (a project for Cuyamaca), or at crawdads, no fooling around at all. Just me, my daypack, and trekking poles. I intended to record the GPS track, for my own knowledge, but the batteries were low, and it pooped out pretty quickly.
Two people, and a dog, were leaving the trail as I stowed my wallet, keys and phone in my pack, but those were the only souls I saw on my hike. The recent rains have activated the many aromas of the chaparral, which in the dryer weather aren’t as apparent. The licorice-like aroma of the browning, but damp, fennel reminded me of running around the canyons of Chula Vista as a kid. Fennel, or Anise, grew thick in the disturbed areas by trails, and we’d munch on the seeds or the tender new growth. My mom even sent me over the back fence once or twice to harvest it off our neighbor’s unkempt back hill. Fennel is an introduced, invasive plant from Mediterranean Europe, but has been in California over 100 years.
Right as I was amongst the fennel an absolutely enormous bird caught my attention, as I startled it off of a fence post about thirty yards off to my right. It was vulture-large, but more colorful than a vulture. There were large, single, white patches on its wings, and a white band near the base of its tail. I watched it until it disappeared behind some trees, trying to memorize as many details as I could. I’d never seen such a large raptor with those markings. I kept an eye out, but it wasn’t until I was a little way down the trail that some squabbling crows disturbed it off another perch across the canyon that I caught another quick glimpse. When I got home I got out my Sibley Guide to Birds I realized I saw my first-ever Golden Eagle; a juvenile.
The rains also wiped the trails clean of footprints, and only prints made since Sunday were obvious. Once past the main trail, which showed mostly human and domestic dog prints, I saw some deer tracks, and some coyote, but no obvious bobcat or mountain lion. Mud puddles are great places to view tracks, but can exaggerate the size of a print. There were some other obvious deer signs, which I’d only seen once out there. I’ve still never laid eyes on a mule deer in Hollenbeck, and the rarity of even finding tracks is probably a reason why. I’m pretty sure I was following one up a hill in Hollenbeck today, as its tracks were pretty fresh, and turned abruptly up a steep bank. I stopped and scanned the hillside for quite a while (not just to catch my breath and listen to my pounding heart), but saw nothing. Another sign of the likely small deer population in Hollenback is that most tracks I saw were of individual deer, not groups like is common in Cuyamaca or Mount Laguna.
It’s too soon for the rains to have greened the canyon up much, but with a few days of rain predicted for this weekend, I’d imagine Hollenbeck will enter its green winter glory soon enough. It’s really the best time of the year to be out there. San Diego is odd, in that the winter is really the greenest part of the year.
I plugged away, with the rhythmic ticking of my trekking poles, as I tried to get around the roughly 4.5-mile route in a reasonable amount of time. I did have to stop to catch my breath on the hills, and was distracted by soaring raptors occasionally, hoping to see the big raptor again, but mostly chugged along, trying to erase the guilt of summer inactivity. Hollenback looks pretty much the same as my last longish hike there, some of the ingle-track trail on my way out was showing signs of wear, and water erosion. Some of the stone retaining wall, making the the trail possible has crumbled. I wonder if those will ever be maintained, the damage could conceivably block the trail at some point. There is already a large boulder in the middle of the trail, I suspect accidentally dislodged by geocachers. There is a geocache on the hillside immediately above the boulder.
I made it back to the car in about two hours, and home from the parking lot in about 25 minutes. It’s great to have a nice place like that to erase the sights and sounds of the city. I have mixed feelings about imploring people to get out there, but it’s so close to East Lake, and Rancho San Diego you shouldn’t pass it up. I should also mention last time I was there I chatted with, or saw quite a few quail hunters. It’s worth a visit, check it out. Time for a beer.