Sunday, July 14, 2013

Photo Essay: Amongst the Unexploded Ordnance at Mission Trails Regional Park

Turns out San Diego has their own version of Griffith Park, a huge parcel of wild land in a relatively urban environment.

It's Mission Trails Regional Park, which also houses the highest peak in San Diego (the city, not the county): Cowles Mountain.

But, unlike Griffith Park, much of this area was once used as a U.S. Marine Corps Weapons Training Center, called Camp Elliott (1917-1960), where soldiers in training shot at the mountains for target practice, leaving shells, mortars, and other projectiles scattered about. It still borders the MCAS Miramar. Although some of it has been cleaned up over time, Mission Trails is huge, and the path of the munitions was far and wide, leaving ordnance and explosives behind. Some failed to explode, and are now literally ticking time bombs, usually under cover of heavy brush, in more remote areas (some of which are privately owned but still open to recreation). Unexploded ordnances also delayed our trip to the infamous private arsenal Bannerman Castle a few years back.

So if you find something that looks like a bullet, don't disturb it.

On my second visit to Mission Trails (across two days), I didn't find any munitions, but I did find the remains of the San Diego River, which isn't much of a river at all, but more of a green valley.



In San Diego's North County, and relatively far inland, Mission Trails has more of a dry, desert-like feel to it...



...replete with sunbathing lizards...



...but with instances of some remaining wildflowers, like the California daisy...



...Laurel sumac...



...and California buckwheat with its tiny pink sprouts.



Late in the season, on a hot day, we were able to find some blossoms holding on...



...like some red monkeyflower...



...and the parasitic dodder ("witch's hair").




On our easy walk, we also ambled under shady oaks, showing the diversity of the landscape within a relatively small geographic area.



In its pre-military days, this area was used for ranching and farming, as well as mining, and before that, it was inhabited by the Kumeyaay people, who lived off the land, as evidenced by many still-existing sites throughout the park...



...including rocks where they ground acorns and seeds into meal.



Experienced in manipulating rivers to create pools for bathing and trapping wildlife, the Kumeyaay probably also helped the padres build the Old Mission Dam out of granite boulders and limestone mortar, creating a dependable water source for the Catholic missionaries, who thought the granted land otherwise unusable. Now a national registered historic landmark, the Old Mission Dam was part of the system that helped bring water to California's first mission.

These are just a couple of the sights to be seen in Mission Trails Regional Park, whose fascinating history and biodiversity will probably earn it several return visits. People always associate San Diego with the bay and the bluffs or surfing and oceanside sunsets, but just a few miles in from the shore, it transforms dramatically.

I always prefer to be a little bit more inland anyway...

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Cowles Mountain, Mission Trails Regional Park