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Silverwood. The name comes from the glittering effect of sunlight upon the dark-green leaves of the coast live oak. Scores of these trees, some of them two-century-old giants scarred by fire, shade the canyon floor at the entrance to the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary. Owned and managed by the San Diego Audubon Society, the sanctuary preserves 700 acres of flora and fauna indigenous to the foothill region.

Silverwood is open to individuals and families every Sunday (except in August) between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Organized groups may reserve time during other days by phoning the director at 619-443-2998. You'll find the entrance on the east side of Wildcat Canyon Road at mile 4.8. (Mile markers on Wildcat Canyon Road begin from 0.0 at Maple View and Ashwood Streets in Lakeside. Ashwood becomes Wildcat Canyon Road north of Lakeside.)

For your first visit, plan to attend the guided nature walk (Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. through June, and again after August) to familiarize yourself with the area's natural history. Interpretive themes include plant identification, chaparral ecology, geology, bird watching, and identification of animal tracks and scats. Bird watching is now in its seasonal prime; with help from the guides, you may be able to spot and identify up to 30 different bird species on a given day.

A compact network of short and sometimes steep hiking trails lace the area. A short and easy stroll from the parking lot to the director's house will introduce you to a cool, moist environment in the shade of the spreading oaks. This time of year, half a dozen kinds of fungi can be found clinging to fallen limbs or pushing through the leaf litter. Just beyond the house is a small cienaga, or soggy meadow, adorned with spring wildflowers.

The outlying trails of Silverwood are narrow, rugged, easily overgrown, and not always maintained. Most of these climb, like spokes in a wheel, to Circuit Trail, a loop trail following the rugged, chaparral-clad ridges that overlook the oak-filled valley. A single eucalyptus tree, planted next to the director's house, stands head and shoulders above all else in the valley and marks the direction of return for confused hikers.

On the Circuit Trail you can spot, off to the east and within the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary boundary, a rounded granitic dome about 500 feet high, half-covered with lichens, mosses, and shrubs. Some geologists believe this to be the largest granite monolith in San Diego County.

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