Balboa Park and Mission Bay

Enjoying what you find in your own backyard

Trip Report 20121209-09

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The Experience

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.

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.

The history of the park is detailed on the park's web site  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 daughter, Jackie.

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 display.

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 crowd.

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 Island.

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 skiing clubs.

On the east end of Fiesta we spotted the ZLAC rowing club out doing practice.

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 fishing.

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 restoration.

A view of the south end of Mission Bay looking north along the western boardwalk.

The Bahia Hotel runs a tourist transport boat called the "Bahia Belle".  There are two actually and both can be seen in the photo above.

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 beached here.

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.

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.

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