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January 21, 2018

Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve - Urban Hiking San Diego

The watershed around the Jamul valley provides reliable water, which forms Lake Moreno, Barrett Lake and the Otay Lakes.  Cattle have grazed here since the first Mission San Diego was established.  In 1829 the Jamul Rancho was formalized with a land grant to Pio de Jesus Pico, who would later become the last governor of Alta California.
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Rancho Jamul was taken by Captain Henry Burton following the Mexican-American War.  In 1889 the Burton family founded the Jumal Portland Cement Works on their property.  Although the venture went bankrupt a few years later, the borrow pit and most notably the kiln still remain, that is our destination today.

The property continued to change hands until the Daley family gave the lands to the State of California, forming the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve.  Of the nearly 9000 acres that Pio Pico owned, the Daley Ranch of nearly 6000 acres is now under the control of California Fish and Wildlife, and are closed to the public except for ‘special occasions’.

Today was one of those special occasions because the Canyoneers have obtained permission to lead a nature hike within the reserve.  I pick the last and smallest group led by Jim and Stacy.  Before we are out of the staging area Stacy takes us through the olive trees.  Yup – they are not native, but with its long and varied history a lot of the reserve is not native.
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The grasslands to the south are populated with borrowing owls.  Their nests are marked with the piles of twigs at the entrance.
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Jim is giving us the etiquette of the trails, including not to pet the rattle snakes.  He knows how to get our attention.  The lead group was some 24 people including the 2 guides, that’s too big.  My group may be last but we're just a dozen.
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The views along the trail seem endless.
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I really get a kick out of Stacy, who gets totally excited over the scat and especially the tracks we see along the trail.  In this muddy spot she points out the bobcat, coyote, raccoon, mouse, deer and rabbit.  Didn’t get them all in the photo but yes they were all there.  I’ll spare you the photo fox scat with its dung beetles, but she was positively giddy at that find.
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The limestone borrow pit is above the kiln.  As a full ore car was lowered to the kiln it would pull the empty car up for another load.
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The 1889 kiln comes into full view descending the hill.  Note the fence around the kiln, this is new, it was being installed last October when Fran and I first tried to hike here, but the local sheriff was passing out citations to others at the Pio Pico trailhead.
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When the property was first placed under the care of California Fish and Wildlife all cattle were removed.   However the invasive non-native mustard grasses that were planted to feed the cattle grew out of control.  The cattle are moved to avoid overgrazing.  In the second photo it’s obvious where they’ve been and need to go.  With the mustard grasses too tall the raptors can no longer hunt
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I really like the non-native Mexican Fan Palm, nearly 100 feet tall and self pruning.  Although early in the season a few flowers were in bloom.  Look close at the buckwheat to see the little pink pollen stems.
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I do not know the flower in the first photo, but there was quite a bit of mulefat in bloom.
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The blatterpod was also in bloom, often the colorful Harlequin Beetle (Bug) can be found on the plant.
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The Canyoneers billed this as “an intermediate 5 mile hike with an elevation gain/loss of up to 1000 feet.”  I do not think it was that long nor with that much elevation change.  But for sure there is no shade, if/when the reserve is again open bring water and sunscreen.
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