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Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, 700 acres of oak woodland and sage-covered hillsides purchased by the state for open space some 12 years ago, has become a bright star in Poway's constellation of city parks and nature preserves. After a wet winter, the whole place acquires an almost unbelievable sheen of green. Mosses, ferns, annual grasses, and fresh new shrub growth coats everything, even the rocks.

This year's meager rainfall and abundant sunshine won't produce an Ireland-type landscape anytime soon, but they will coax perhaps two or three dozen kinds of wildflowers out of the newly moistened soil during April and May. In a banner rainfall year, more than 100 wildflower types have been observed blooming here.

You'll find Blue Sky Ecological Reserve's entrance along the east side of Espola Road, just south of its big bend toward Rancho Bernardo and 0.6 mile north of Lake Poway Road. On foot you can follow an unpaved road -- or a paralleling trail -- down along the right bank of a trickling creek. Traffic noise disappears, and frogs entertain you with their guttural serenades. Live oaks spread overhead, casting plenty of welcome shade, while willows, sycamores, and lush thickets of poison oak cluster along the creek itself. Poke around down there and you'll discover tadpoles, frogs, and perhaps other amphibious creatures.

At 1.0 mile a side trail goes south toward a hike-in campground and the Lake Poway Recreation Area, with its several trails circling the lake and radiating outward into the rocky hills. On the main Blue Sky hiking route, you may continue east another quarter mile, where powerlines pass overhead, and the scenery starts to become less interesting. This is the end of the line for casual hiking. Turn back for a quick return. Or, for a more vigorous piece of exercise, veer left on the dirt road (Green Valley Truck Trail) that crosses the creek and ascends for 1.3 miles to the Ramona Reservoir dam, high on the sunny slope above.

Naturalist-led interpretive walks are offered at the reserve at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Call 858-679-5469 for more information.

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