Friday, July 8, 2016

A bit of country in the midst of a city: Los Penasquitos recalls long-ago California

Nubian goats are part of the fun for school kids and families.   Egg-laying chickens entertain city kids and archaeological digs are ongoing, finding new information about the long history of human habitation at Los Penasquitos. 

Adobe ranch house, gardens, hiking trails, history await visitors to San Diego's treasured Los Penasquitos  

The ranch house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
as the Johnson-Taylor Adobe Ranch House.''
Thistle is abloom in glorious purple on a hiking trail.

NOT FAR from the bustle of city life, the sounds of airplanes taking off and the hum of traffic and commuter trainsa quiet and restful haven awaits in southern California.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve is a wonderful place to spend a morning or afternoon -- hiking, biking, picnicking, learning about a historic part of southern California.
ITS ROOTS GO deep and way back. For as long as 12,000 years, the Kumeyaay people lived in beautiful Los Penasquitos Canyon, attracted to the artesian spring, plentiful food and  other abundant natural resources..
School outings are welcome to walk around the 1800s adobe house and grounds.
IN 1769 SAN DIEGO was founded by Spanish soldiers and priests and a mission was built nearby.  Fast forward to 1823, when Capt. Francisco Maria Ruiz was granted 4,000 acres by the first Mexican governor of California. From this land grant, two small adobe buildings rose up. The ranch remained in the family through battles and droughts. Even after changes of owners and bank foreclosures, the place survived, through incarnations as a cattle ranch and lemon farm. Thoroughbred horses galloped there for a time and the Alvarado, Johnson, Taylor and Mohnike families took turns at farming and other enterprises.  A wood barn and other buildings arose, surrounded by wild flowers and many birds and mammals .
The views along the hiking and biking trails are wonderful in "Little Cliffs."
WHERE IS THIS wonderful place? Most San Diegans know Interstate 15, which forms the eastern boundary of Rancho Peñasquitos, with Carmel Mountain Ranch on the far side. Los Penasquitos means "little cliffs" and one can imagine the thrill of early explorers looking upward to the screech of hawks.
We loaded up our bicycles, and headed out, picnic and Yorkshire terrier in tow.  Leashed dogs are allowed, but when we biked, we made sure Nick and Nora had plenty of water and were comfy in the shaded car with open windows. Then the four of us lunched under a massive oak tree 50 yards from the ranch house.
SCHOOL KIDS were also enjoying an outing, and sat attentively while a staffer explained the history of the home, and the rich variety of wildlife.  Snakes were shown to the students, with an explanation of which ones to watch out for, since rattlers inhabit the rocky terrain.
The city of San Diego operates Los Penasquitos, with gardens, hiking trails and historic home.
WE WERE delighted to discover that remains of the prehistoric culture can still be found, with artifacts and fossils in the ranch house named after those lovely "little cliffs" on the hills.
A plaque denotes Rancho Santa Maria de los
 Penasquitos, with parts of the original walls.
The ruins of stalwart structures of adobe are fascinating, and the splendid canyon and walking trails wind through 4,000 acres of the Penasquitos and Lopez canyons.  It's one of  the largest urban parks in the United States
THE PRESERVE has an exciting history. In 1823, when Ruiz was awarded his acreage -- it was as thanks for his service as Commandant of the San Diego residio. The land -- at the eastern part of the Canyon -- extended into Sabre Springs and up to Rancho Bernardo. Ruiz spent many years in loyal service to Mexico, and this splendid canyon was his reward. He built a one-room adobe casa there in 1824.  
THREE OF the walls of his revered home remain in the main ranch house conference room.  What a thrill to visit, and realize you're standing in the oldest remaining private structure in San Diego.
Community gardens and many other attractions await, including a waterfall cascading through
volcanic rock; a streamside forest of giant California live oaks; groves of majestic sycamore trees; a year-round stream populated by Pacific tree frogs, crayfish and large mouth bass;a freshwater marsh hosting many aquatic birds including great blue herons, egrets and mallard ducks and more; mule deer, bobcat, coyote and raccoon along with other mammals.
Flagship's boats are known for their elegance and spirit of fun.
NEXT UP: A toast, and a seaborne salute to Flagship Cruises. The operation has been entertaining people in southern California for decades, with elegant dinner cruises and fantastic whale watching treks. Sail the high seas with us, remembering to explore, learn and live. And don't miss Stillwater Protective Asociation's July 16 fundraiser, with a lively country band, fine food, drink and company, and an opportunity to support a grassroots organization that watches over the land for all of us. More next week at 
Check out last year's SPA event at:


  1. Thanks for this timely piece. We are avid history buffs, planning our annual foray to San Diego. Will include this on our itinerary.

  2. East Coasters No MoreJuly 10, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    "Little Cliffs." My great great-grandfather told tales of this place, then outside the city limits. Now that we have retired in La Jolla, we will make the pilgrimage.