The Perfect Way to Spend a Winter Saturday in North County Inland San Diego

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img_9778-mediumToday I am going to write about an experience I had been looking forward to for a nearly a year. Even with the extended length of anticipation and high expectations, I was not disappointed. Not only did I end up having an enjoyable Saturday morning, but I found a thrilling stretch of San Diego roadway and came to realize how easy it is to put together a perfect, inexpensive family outing during the lull of winter.

Last spring, I began my research to build the best tourist web site in San Diego. One of my surprise findings was the opportunity to see hawks and eagles in the wild with the help of guides in Ramona. I love visiting wildlife at the Zoo and Wild Animal Park but seeing large birds of prey in a relatively small enclosure just doesn’t seem to provide the majesty I always imagined for the national birds of the United States (bald eagle) and Mexico (golden eagle). To have the opportunity to see them up-close in the wild was something I couldn’t wait to experience. The only problem was, the Hawk Watch event is only offered on Saturdays during the months of January and February.

When January finally came around, I couldn’t wait to make the drive into Ramona. But no sooner did I start heading into the hills when my transmission started to die. It turned out I would have to wait another week to make my visit as I needed a new transmission.  (I was incensed that the transmission could not wait a half- day before conking out.)

Not only did I not make it that Saturday but my plans to visit on the subsequent Saturdays fell through at the last moments. (At least one of them was due to the fortunate opportunity to tour the USS Ronald Reagan.)

OK. I’ll get back now on how to create the perfect family outing in San Diego’s North County Inland area.

Start your cool, crisp San Diego morning driving into the nearby countryside. The open fields and old farm homes eases any tension you may have built up during the week. Enjoy a warm welcome from the folks at the Wildlife Research Institute. They’ll offer morning refreshments as you take a look around their gift shop and wait for the outdoor presentation to begin at 9AM. (The event is free!)

img_9781-medium1As you gather around the founders, Jeff and Dave, you will see their staff has captured about a half dozen red tail hawks, falcons, and other birds of prey. As part of their studies, they place tracking devices on these rare birds to track their movements in the wild. One-by-one, the huge birds with wide eyes, sharp beaks, and wings spread to show their strength, are brought out to be tagged. The crowd gets a ‘bird’s eye’ view (pun intended) as guests get the opportunity to take pictures at nearly point-blank range.

You will learn about the basic differences between the varieties of hawks, their status in the region, and the efforts to help their populations grow.  Jeff and Dave have a lifetime’s worth of stories to share and easily answer countless questions from the gawking onlookers.

Later, Jeff and Dave take guests further down the road where visitors can watch the birds circle overhead or perch themselves on top of the various rock formations spread throughout the Ramona grasslands.  It is an enjoyable morning that visitors will not soon forget, for it is an unusual opportunity that most people in our country will never get to experience.

A few things I learned:

  • When you see a crow or raven chasing a hawk, don’t worry. Crows are the prey and they know it. So, they try to intimidate the hawks. Usually, the hawks just want to be left alone. But, if they get too annoyed, the crows better watch out.
  • When you see a hawk circling, look for colors. If see red, it’s probably a red-tail hawk. If you see white, it is probably a bald eagle and not a golden eagle. Eagles also fly very gracefully without movement of their wings. If you see a bird with a bit more of a forward angle to its wings and a constant movement (as though it is trying to balance itself), this is probably a turkey vulture.

So, how should you spend the rest of your Saturday? First, head into Ramona for lunch. It is just a few miles east on SR-67. After lunch, continue towards the opposite end of Ramona and make a left on SR-78. Within four miles, you will find yourself driving around hairpin turns along the side of a mountain with a panoramic view across a river bed to mountains on the opposite side of the valley. It will be the type of drive you see in car commercials. This will last for about five miles before you arrive in the San Pasqual Valley.  Despite my love for driving, this was my first time driving this stretch of road. I’ve driven throughout our county but never new about this particular route. It is by far my favorite short drive in San Diego. It is all the more beautiful during this time of year when the winter rains turn the hillsides bright green.

Once you are in the San Pasqual Valley, you can visit the San Diego Archaeological Center, San Pasqual State Historic Park, Wild Animal Park, and the award-winning Orfila Winery. After passing these attractions, you will only be a few miles away from highway I-15.

Before I forget, here are some more details about the Hawk Watch at the Wildlife Research Institute that I wrote about in my travel web site.

San Diego has a lot to offer. Take advantage of it!

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