Balboa Park and
you find in your own backyard
Trip Report 20121209-09
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Our good friends Kai
and Tina invited us to join their family for an outing at Balboa
Park for the "December Nights" celebration. We had never
done this particular event before, so we readily agreed.
Parking was a nightmare but we ended up finding free street
parking only about 10 blocks away. So, once the car was
secured, we plodded up the hill to Balboa Park, along with the
other 50,000 folks and met them.
The photos below are
what we saw.
Just another day in
paradise. Not bad given that the National Weather Service
web site was showing blizzard conditions and wind chill factors of
-40 degrees in North Dakota this morning.
Balboa Park is one of the crown jewels of San Diego. The
park hosts the world-famous San Diego Zoo in addition to a host
of other attractions including El Prado, and a number of
museums. We entered on Laurel Street and encountered this
large tree in a concrete planter.
history of the park is detailed on the park's web site www.balboapark.org. The
site offers the following historical account (paraphrased):
Balboa Park began as 1400 acres of land set aside in 1868 by
San Diego civic leaders. Known then as “City Park”, the
scrub-filled mesa that overlooked present day Downtown San
Diego sat without formal landscaping or development for more
than 20 years.(Today the Park's total land parcel has been
reduced to 1,200 acres.)
The first steps in Park beautification were made in 1892,
largely due to the contributions of Kate Sessions. Sessions
offered to plant 100 trees a year within the Park as well as
donate trees and shrubs around San Diego in exchange for 32
acres of land within the Park boundaries to be used for her
commercial nursery. Several popular species, including the
birds of paradise, queen palm and poinsettia were introduced
into the Park’s horticulture because of Sessions’ early
efforts. In fact, many of her original trees are alive and
visible today. It is no wonder that Kate Sessions earned
the title “The Mother of Balboa Park” at the 1935 California
Pacific International Exposition.
Just after the turn of the century, a master plan for Park
improvements and beautification was formally introduced.
Supported by a City tax levied in 1905, the process began in
1903 and continued through 1910. Water systems were installed,
planting continued, roads were built, and the Park began to
take on much of the familiar look of today.
San Diego was set to play host to the 1915 Panama-California
Exposition, and “City Park” was a less-than memorable or
distinctive name for such an internationally prestigious
event. In 1910, Park Commissioners announced plans to re-name
City Park and the public was eager to throw potential names
into the hat, including: San Diego Park, Silver Gate Park,
Horton Park and Miramar Park. After months of discussion and
great public interest, the Park Commissioners decided on the
name Balboa Park, chosen in honor of Spanish-born Vasco
Nuñez de Balboa, the first European to spot the Pacific
Ocean while on exploration in Panama.
The 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorated the
opening of the Panama Canal and provided a major impetus for
the creation of the Park as it appears today—the first of two
Expositions that created many 1915 Poster of the cultural
institutions as well as the stunning architecture in the Park.
Most of the arts organizations along Balboa Park's famous El
Prado pedestrian walkway are housed in Spanish-Renaissance
style buildings constructed for the 1915 Exposition. It was
one of the first times that this highly ornamented, flamboyant
architectural style had ever been used in the United States.
The California Tower and dome, which houses the San Diego
Museum of Man, the Cabrillo Bridge (historic 1,500-foot-long
bridge) and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion (one of the world's
largest outdoor pipe organs) were built for the 1915
Exposition-some of the few permanent structures designed for
the fair. The San Diego Museum Association was established in
1915 as a museum of anthropology-its name changed in 1942 to
the Museum of Man (with "San Diego" added in 1978).
The extensive landscaping the Exposition brought to the Park
has earned it the moniker, the "Garden Fair." The Park's
landmark tree is the Moreton Bay fig growing north of the
Natural History Museum. This tree, planted before 1915, is
over 60 feet tall with a spread of 120 feet. Also built for
the 1915-16 Exposition, along with the adjacent Lily Pond, the
historic Botanical Building is one of the largest lath
structures in the world. The view of the Botanical Building
with the Lily Pond in the foreground is one of the most
photographed scenes in Balboa Park.
The world-famous San Diego Zoo was established in the second
year of this exposition (1916). Dr. Harry Wegeforth, a surgeon
for the fair, conceived the idea of starting a zoo after
hearing the roar of a lion, one of the few wild animals
displayed in cages at the Exposition. Wegeforth became the San
Diego Zoo's first president and remained in office until his
death in 1941 Today the Zoo is home to more than 4,000 rare
and endangered animals representing more than 800 species and
subspecies-a world famous conservation organization where
visitors view exotic animals in habitat environments.
Laurel Street crosses over SR-163 via the Cabrillo Bridge.
The bridge gave us a hazy view of the larger buildings in
downtown San Diego.
I figured that there would be crowds, but I was unprepared for
the scale of the crowds. The assault started early on the
bridge with the religious types out in force with bull-horns and
loudspeakers. Kathleen's comment was "it reminds me of the
political advertising trucks we saw in Puerto Rico".
The California Tower and Dome house the Museum of Man within
Balboa Park. We made a strategic mistake because we did
not see the "Instruments of Torture" exhibit early in the
day. Part of the "December Nights" event is that the
museums are free after 5pm so we waited. That was a really
bad idea as the line stretched around the block, and of course
waiting in that line would have been torture. Look
carefully at the photo above and you will see a person in the
archway under the speakers.
I believe that this is the Moreton Bay fig tree that was planted
in 1915. The root system on this thing is awesome.
Oops, we have a
problem. One of the visitors to the fair has passed out
and the police are trying to figure out what to do next.
I don't like "tree
huggers" much, but this one I do like: she is my buddy's
The park has some very nice Spanish-style buildings. Dark
was rapidly approaching and the street lights were coming on.
We decided to check
out the Automobile Museum. It had been awhile since we
had been there last, so one forgets the subtle nuances of the
exhibits. This car was modified to allow extended
duration, continuous road trips without stopping. The
car was modified with a number of features to allow performing
maintenance while the car was in motion including changing oil
and tires. In the front, you had all the necessities of
travel including a hooka, a spigot for whiskey, soda and
water, a phone (in 1952) and best of all, a reel-to-reel tape
deck for your favorite Glen Miller tunes.
The running boards along side allow passage between the car and
trailer while in motion. The small wheels on the back can
jack the car while in motion to allow a wheel change. The
trailer carried fuel, water, oil and extra parts.
Under the hood were all kinds of doo-dads and gizmos to support
the added systems.
The automotive museum had many fine specimens on display.
There were many more cars than I can show in a single web page
and a number of them were quite rare.
In addition to autos, the museum also had a substantial
collection of vintage motorcycles from the very first to the
modern era. This one has a nice, aerodynamic side car.
From the Automotive
Museum we went to the Aerospace Museum. Above is a Ford
Tri-Motor. Note the external cable controls for the
flaps and ailerons. As a side note, I was quite pleased
with the performance of my flash unit. It did a great
job of illuminating the plane as the ambient light in the
display hall was quite dim.
There were a number of vintage WW1 planes on display.
Kai checks out one of the bi-planes on display.
A small racer with a spiffy paint job.
The museum had a number of nice restored power plants on
This photo is a mystery to me. I think that the camera
triggered accidentally when I went to shake hands. That
turned out to be a good thing as the intentional photos that
Kathleen took of us together were not usable. The fellow
on the left is Iwo, a work-mate of mine from Musicmatch days; I
have not seen him in almost 10 years and he picked me out of the
We left the Aerospace Museum and attempted to see the Museum of
Man that had the "Instruments of Torture" exhibit. But,
the line around the block, so we decided to call it a night and
headed back to our car. On crossing the Cabrillo Bridge,
we could see huge lines of cars waiting to get to the exit to
come to the park. Our timing was excellent because we
faced a river of humanity oncoming over the bridge as we exited
the park area.
Next day we were invited to join our friend Robin on a bike ride
around the perimeter of Mission Bay, the other crown jewel of
San Diego. We started at Crown Point and rode clockwise
around the bay. There are a series of surfaced bike paths
that circle the bay and during the summer these paths are
crowded with bikers, runners and walkers. Today, it was
quite empty. True, we were early (if you could call 10am
early) and it IS winter (such as winter is in San Diego) but
essentially deserted. Above is a view looking north over Rose
Creek toward La Jolla.
As the bike path parallels I-5, we could see an interesting area
of the bay. This area is known as De Anza Cove.
There is a mobile home park that has been there for the last 60
years. The resident's lease on the land expired 9 years
ago but the whole situation has been tied up in
litigation. Seventy six acres of prime real estate are at
stake here as well as the homes of the residents. The
current story is that a resolution over eviction costs and
relocation costs will be completed in early 2013. To me it
seems simple. The residents knew what was going to happen
when they signed a 50 year lease. The lease has expired,
now you have to go. But, once you get lawyers in the loop,
things get complicated and costly. It is interesting to note that Mission
Bay is actually a reclamation project. The tidal marsh was
filled in in some places, dredged in others until it reached its
current state. In the process, the course of the San Diego
river was changed to the south end of the marsh. Given the
current environmental laws, there is NO WAY this project would
have ever been approved today.
We decided to take a several mile detour around Fiesta
Island. From Fiesta we could see Mt. Soledad and the
high-dollar homes of La Jolla on it's flanks. The marine
layer is providing haze and generally obscured visibility.
The girls allowed me to take their photo when we got onto Fiesta
While I was taking photos, we heard a tremendous racket from the
water. It seems that the sea birds located a school of
small fish and were busy having breakfast. The pelicans
and gulls made repeated dives into the school of fish.
Close to the pelicans
a Blue Heron was watching with great interest.
Oh, I had forgotten that Jed Clampett also lives in San
Diego. Jed was here in his "christmobile" adorned with
crosses and signs. Note the fine construction of the
cupola on the roof. In the distance, the structure on the
man-made island in the bay is actually a VOR transmitter for air
traffic control. The locals call it the "bowling pin".
On the west end of Fiesta Island we could see the Sea World
gondola ride. I am not certain what the floating structure
is exactly, but it likely belongs to one of the local water
On the east end of Fiesta we spotted the ZLAC rowing club out
We biked around the south side of Mission Bay and crossed over
one of the arms via a bridge on Mission Bay Drive. From
the top of the bridge we could see La Jolla through the haze.
Our route would take us past the large buildings visible on the
shoreline across the bay.
Looking across to Vacation Isle, we could see the ZLAC gals
making good time in their boats. Also, in the foreground,
note the yellow kayaks that their occupants are using for
In the parking lot of the Bahia Hotel, we spotted this antique
fire truck. Sometimes, we think that our camper, "Thor" is
underpowered with a GVW of 24,000 lbs and 170 hp. This
1949 REO is 22,000 lb GVW and had 86 hp. In 1958 the motor
was replaced with a 140 hp unit. But, as any four wheeler
can tell you "gears will get your farther down the road than
horsepower". Yeah, but at a snail's pace.
The truck was in excellent shape clearly having undergone a full
A view of the south end of Mission Bay looking north along the
The Bahia Hotel runs a tourist transport boat called the "Bahia
Belle". There are two actually and both can be seen in the
We followed the boardwalk along the west and then north sides of
Mission Bay by the Sail Bay area. The north end of Sail
Bay has many large apartment buildings right on the beach.
The sign states that only licensed and registered boats can be
I spotted this couple doing their meditation thing on the grass
near the boardwalk.
I have no idea what is going on here. Usually, we see
plenty of homeless folks sleeping under the trees during the
day. At night, the police come and invite them to move on,
but they cannot do anything about them during the day. This
fellow may or may not be one of that set of individuals, but
frankly, the green bag looks way too nice for that sort of
environment. And way to hard to carry.
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