Wright's Field, just south of Alpine's commercial district, is a refreshing bit of open space plunked down amid East County's growing rural and suburban development. Alpine's homegrown Back Country Land Trust has managed to purchase 230 acres of rolling grassland and oaks here so far. The nonprofit organization is currently seeking funds to add another contiguous 141 acres of undeveloped natural habitat to the existing protected area. Although small in area compared to neighboring Cleveland National Forest lands, Wright's Field preserve will likely become an important site for wildlife, rare plants, and local recreation in the years to come.
Hikers are welcome to tramp around the site, which has seen much use by both hikers and equestrians in recent years. To get there, exit Interstate 8 at Tavern Road, and follow Tavern just over one mile south to MacQueen Middle School on the left. Find a space to park along Tavern Road in front of or near the middle school. On foot, follow the residential private road going east along the school's northside fence for 0.2 mile until you reach its dead-end. Continue through a gap and into Wright's Field preserve.
From this point on, for a looping route of 1.5 miles (more or less, depending on your exact route), bear a little left, following a narrow footpath. Continue working your way clockwise all the way around the perimeter of the treeless meadow known as Wright's Field. Pick and choose your route amid many intersecting dirt roads and trails.
The grasses here are a mixture of native bunchgrass and exotic imports such as wild oats and filaree. Gray-green Engelmann oaks dot the edge of the meadow and can be seen growing on the rocky slopes above the meadow's eastern edge. Other common vegetation includes toyon shrubs; white sage (notice the pungent scent); California sagebrush (notice the sweet-pungent scent); and small clumps of poison oak (don't touch!). Near the beginning of your clockwise circling of the meadow, look for a straight row of rounded boulders on the right, the bare remnants of stone walls belonging to a Spanish rancho that dates back to 1840 or earlier. Here and there along the route you'll get fine vistas of the regional landscape, including Viejas and El Cajon mountains, both looking a little stark in the aftermath of last year's Cedar Fire.
You'll optimize your visit to Wright's Field if you confine your exploration to early morning or late afternoon/early evening, when long shadows drape across the sensuous contours of the meadow. The spring season here is typically characterized by morning coolness and sometimes fog, followed by midday heat, followed by a brisk, cooling west wind late in the day.