Monday, November 27, 2023

North County Hikes (Denk Mountain, Copper Creek Falls and San Elijo Lagoon)

The day after Thanksgiving, Tori and I hiked to the summit of Denk Mountain in the Rancho La Costa Reserve. We have driven past it countless times throughout our lives but never climbed it. It is the highest point in Carlsbad and named after the Denk family that owned most of the surrounding land during the 1900s. We started counter-clockwise on the Copper Creek Trail Loop which immediately began ascending the northern side of the 1,000 foot hill. It was a beautiful day with fluffy white clouds and we could see across the valley to the summit of Double Peak in the San Elijo Hills that we hiked last month. We could also see the San Marcos Landfill that closed in 1997. It now looks like just another green hill but I remember visiting it dozens of times with my father in the 80s. 

Only slightly out of breath after reaching the top, we had panoramic views of Carlsbad, Encinitas and San Marcos that join borders on the mountain. It was hazy along the coastline but it was easy to spot the Batiquitos Lagoon. After a short break, we descended the southern slope along the Whiptail Trail, stepping to the side several times to let mountain bikers pass.

At the bottom of the long winding trail, we joined the Copper Creek Trail that circles the eastern base of the mountain. We could hear the Copper Creek Falls before we saw them. It was small but still bigger than I was expecting. I was surprised to learn that copper was discovered here in 1864 and 4 mines collected low-grade ore for over 30 years. You can still see the old stone walls from the Encinitas Mining District that remained after the shafts were blasted shut in 1917. The exposed rock around the falls have a greenish hue from the remaining traces of copper in the ground. Small wooden bridges crossed the flowing creek several times before we reached the trailhead at the end of the loop. With our two extra detours to the summit and the falls, the hike ended up being 4.15 miles.

On Saturday, we went over to the San Elijo Lagoon after an early dinner at Best Pizza & Brew. (Awesome Greek Salad!) Parking at the Via Poco Trailhead, we crossed the new pedestrian suspension bridge under the 5 Freeway that opened in the fall of 2020. The setting sun gave a warm glow to the normally shady underpass.

Crossing the lagoon is so much easier on the North Coast Bike Trail that runs alongside the freeway. We walked all the way to the Solana Beach side of the lagoon on the Solana Hills Trail before returning on the bike path. The sun finished setting over the ocean right at the end of our short 2 mile walk.

Tori skipping along the San Elijo Lagoon at Sunset.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Old Town San Diego (Presidio Park, Heritage Park and Mormon Battalion Historic Site)

On Saturday, Tori and I went to Presidio Park in San Diego for the first time. The park sits on the hill above Old Town and was the site of the first permanent European settlement in California. A low yellow wall outlines what used to be the Royal Presidio de San Diego during the Spanish settlement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Catholic mission founded by Junipero Serra at the presidio later moved to its present location in Mission Valley to be closer to the San Diego River. During the Mexican-American War, the hilltop was taken over by American troops and renamed Fort Stockton. The fort was abandoned when California was ceded to the United States by Mexico after the war. We had a good view of Mission Bay and Mission Valley as we circled the hill and followed the trail around the Junipero Serra Museum. The museum was closed due to a wedding on the grounds but we visited the brick Junipero Serra Cross.

Driving down the hill into Old Town, we visited Heritage Park which was created in 1971 to save the city’s Victorian houses from demolition. These distinctive houses were first constructed during the population boom after the 1885 arrival of the transcontinental railroad in San Diego. The first house to be relocated to the park in the 1970s was the Sherman-Gilbert House that was originally built downtown in 1887. Six houses and the Temple Beth Israel synagogue were relocated in total. At the back of the park we hiked the short trail that climbs to a nice bench overlooking the Victorian Village.

Our next stop was the Mormon Battalion Historic Site right next door to Heritage Park. I had never heard of it even though I had been to Old Town many times. It reminded me of a Disneyland exhibit as our two guides led us though five period-decorated rooms along the trail of a voluntary Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War. Under the command of U.S. Army officers, over 500 Mormon soldiers set off in July 1846 and marched over 2,000 miles from Iowa to San Diego. The battle for California was over by the time they arrived, so they set up camp at Fort Stockton on the presidio hill and helped build the brick courthouse in Old Town before heading home after their enlistment was up.

After our first three new experiences, Tori and I walked around the Old Town State Historic Park, something we have both done many times in the past. It is the most visited state park in California and it preserves the history and culture of the town from 1820 until 1870 as it transitioned from Mexican to American rule. This is the first time I have visited Old Town since reading about it in the fascinating memoir, "Two Years Before the Mast" when the American sailor visited the Mexican town in the 1830s. Walking through Old Town, we spotted the First Brick Courthouse that was helped built by the Mormon Battalion. It was cool to see all the decorations for Día de Los Muertos up in the Fiesta de Reyes and Old Town Market.

For dinner, we went to Cafe Coyote, voted the "Best Mexican in Old Town" for 20 years in a row. We enjoyed the margaritas and both ordered seafood for a change. Tori had the Baja Style Fish Tacos and I tried the Tequila Lime Shrimp. The black beans served with my plate were very tasty. 

After our meal we went back up the hill to Presidio Park to see the city lights at night before driving home to Encinitas. Even though we were only down south for about 4 hours, it felt like we were on a mini-vacation in our own city, especially since people kept asking us where we were from.  :)