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Rustic signs along some of Clairemont's major streets call attention to one of the oldest designated open-space parks in San Diego: the 900-acre Tecolote Canyon Natural Park. Using the park's network of service roads and narrow footpaths, it's possible to follow most of the six-mile length of the main Tecolote Canyon and to poke into several of its tributary "finger canyons." By day you can spot hawks and ravens soaring on the strong coastal breeze blowing up the canyon. By night, you might hear the yapping of a coyote or the plaintive hoot of an owl, the creature for which this canyon was named.

The canyon's pathways are used by both hikers and mountain bikers -- though mountain biking is often "technical" due to the often excessively steep and rocky paths. Parts of the canyon are surprisingly beautiful, particularly when winter or spring rains bring forth a prolific growth of green grass and wildflowers. By now, however, most of the vegetation is parched and dormant.

A good place to start is the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park visitors' center at the far east end of Tecolote Road, east of Interstate 5, inland from Mission Bay. The wide dirt path leading east, initially smooth, becomes rougher as you approach the perimeter of the Tecolote Canyon Golf Course. There you'll start struggling up and down some steep hillsides. A narrow side path on the left stays above the perimeter fence. It eventually bends east on the slope overlooking the golf course's clubhouse and descends into a tributary, currently harboring a sluggish stream. A hike upstream along this fine oak- and sycamore-dotted ravine to Genesee Avenue is well worth it. If you reverse your steps upon reaching Genesee, your round-trip hike measures about five and one-half miles.

A number of narrow trails traverse the upper portions of Tecolote Canyon. Balboa Avenue, a de facto mini-freeway where it crosses the canyon, is a definite obstacle for hikers wishing to link the upper branches of the canyon with the lower canyon. North of Balboa Avenue, one path goes toward North Clairemont Park. A lesser path along a smaller tributary of Tecolote Canyon heads toward Mt. Etna Park.

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