In 1973, Wilderness Gardens became the first nature preserve for San Diego Parks and Recreation. It is located just a few miles east of Pala Casino, but feels much further away. The 584 acre preserve looks like it did when the Luiseño people inhabited the area. (We found a few rocks with mortars, one on the map the other not.) There is also evidence of life after the conquest. In 1881, the Sickler Brothers built a gristmill (for grinding grain into flour). It was the only one in San Diego county and was so popular in its heyday that people would come with their grains, camping out for weeks on the property until it was their turn in line.
As we were walking we noticed two crows on the edge of a cliff, we stopped for a moment to observe what all the ruckus was about only to find a beautiful owl being harassed. It makes me wonder how many owls we have walked right past while hiking. The area is actually known to be a birdwatcher’s paradise, and we caught a glimpse in the two hours we were there.
Every time we have driven by the entrance on our way to the desert we are reminded we want to visit but today is the first day we stopped for a hike. There are now enough County Parks that we visit regularly that we are going to go ahead and get the yearly pass. There is a lot more trail to explore on this underused preserve.