Jeff Smith 3:30 p.m., Jan. 19
Winter Solstice, Hiking to High Places, Ripening Palm Fruit
Winter Solstice, the moment when the sun reaches its southernmost point on the celestial sphere, occurs this year at 4:04 a.m., Sunday, December 21. This event signals the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. With only about ten hours of daylight, San Diego must endure its darkest and gloomiest nights this week and next. During the day, the sun struggles to an altitude of only 34 degrees (as seen from San Diego), then quickly sinks toward the horizon.
Hike to San Diego County's High Places to take advantage of the winter season's characteristically clear air. From spots such as Cuyamaca Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Wooded Hill in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, and Boucher Hill at Palomar Mountain State Park, vistas stretching a hundred miles across the Pacific Ocean are not uncommon at this time of year. Look for the dark profiles of Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands, lying northwest and west of San Diego respectively.
Spectacular Sunsets and Sunrises are characteristic of winter's dry spells. You can drive up to Soledad Park in La Jolla or Mount Helix near La Mesa for an all encompassing view. Or try hiking up to vantage points such as Cowles Mountain in the San Carlos area and Woodson Mountain near Ramona. Don't forget to bring a flashlight for the trip up or down.
Ripening Palm Fruit, hanging in great clusters on California's native fan palms (Washingtonia filifera), can be seen (and tasted) this month. The black, pea-sized fruit consists of a deliciously sweet but almost paper-thin skin surrounding a hard seed. (These are not "California dates" -- the fruit of cultivated palms introduced into California's deserts from northern Africa.) Our native fan palms can be seen in their natural habitat in about two dozen canyons within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. They have also been planted widely elsewhere in California, including along the main streets of Palm Springs.