Robert Arends

5 To Try on the Wild Side!

Lions and tigers and bears – Oh my!

But I’m not talkin’ about animal encounters at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park.

Rather, wild and mighty creatures (plus one of the most mysterious kind) can be found in East County – an expansive rural area we refer to as San Diego’s backyard. Here the great outdoors beckons and inspires folks to not only embrace, but also give back to nature by caring for and giving a home to animals great and (very) small.

Following are 5 to try:

  1. Howl!…The California Wolf Center, located just south of Julian, is dedicated to increasing public awareness and understanding of the history, biology and behavior of gray wolves which once roamed North America in countless numbers.  The center offers a thrilling opportunity to view packs of Alaskan gray wolves and highly endangered Mexican gray wolves. Travel tip: Visit in the morning when they’re most active. Click here for a public tour; private tours available too!

    Who let the wolves out - woof!

  2. Roar!…Lions, Tigers & Bears (LTB) animal preserve in Alpine provides a safe haven for abandoned and unwanted exotic animals, including 13 big cats like lions, tigers and a leopard, plus a cute black bear cub named Liberty who was rescued and brought to the habitat on July 4, 2010. LTB gives animals the opportunity to live in a safe and caring environment while educating the public about nature’s most magnificent wildlife. Word of advice: DON’T turn your back on the lions (yikes!). Click here to schedule a visit.

    They're grrreat! Feeding the tigers at Lions, Tigers & Bears.

  3. Stomp!.. The tiny high-desert town of Ranchita is home to the Rancheti Bigfoot statue, a monstrous 11 foot, 300-pound white yeti sculpture built by local resident Joe Rauh which keeps watch over the Ranchita Country Store. For years, the beast has supposedly been spotted in the region. Make tracks to the souvenir shop for a memento or two to remember your abominably-cool encounter.

    Ranchita + Yeti = Rancheti!

  4. Fish fry…As in native fish that call our scorching desert home. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, keep your eyes peeled for a palm-lined pond full of tiny desert pupfish. The little guys are hard to spot at first. They look like mini minnows camouflaged to match the murky waters. These “extreme” fish are tough for their size, as they thrive in fresh or salty water and can survive temps from near freezing to 108 degrees! {whew!}
  5. Oink!…Bate’s Nut Farm in Valley Center is not only chock full of nuts, candies and dried fruits, but also a menagerie of animals you can feed: pigs, goats, geese, sheep – OH, and even ostriches! During big events, they also offer pony rides for the kids. It’s charming and quaint in a Norman Rockwell kind of way, but that’s why we love it. They put the fun in farm!