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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Coast to Cactus exhibition entrance, San Diego Natural History MuseumNative or transplant, indigenous or invasive—whatever you call us, we all share one thing in common: we love living in San Diego County. So much so we’ve made it one of the top 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The new permanent exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum, Coast to Cactus in Southern California lets visitors see just how diverse the region is without driving hundreds of miles in places that cell phones don’t work.

Serving as a kind of Visitors Center to the entire region, Coast to Cactus gives bipeds a unique opportunity to safely sniff around the habits of hundreds of different species of both plants and animals who currently or once called Southern California home. From the coastal chaparral of Torrey Pines to urban canyons, inland mountains, and deserts, no stone is left unturned.

The county’s main ecosystems are re-created in seven different immersive environments, including an oversized tidal flat that pups can crawl around in, a nighttime desert experience complete with a real Airstream Bambi, and a residential patio overlooking a canyon, oddly similar to the one where I live.

To flesh out the story, a dozen of my friends have agreed to serve as live animals-in-residence alongside more than 40 high and low-tech interactive displays and 200 specimens preserved for posterity.

If you thought the neighbors on your cul-de-sac were wild, you won’t believe some of the surprising creatures who still take up residence in an open field near you.

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Cosmos's friend, RayneRayne writes: Dear Cosmos, I’ve been following your blog since you were still using piddle pads, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Balboa Park from you, there’s always something great going on. So what’s all this fuss about 2015? Why should it be different from any other year?

Cosmos: And what makes you think I don’t use piddle pads anymore? When I’m on a deadline, I find them awfully convenient.

Your question does bring up an interesting point, however. There’s certainly no shortage of activities in the Park any time of the year. So in order to understand why 2015 and its many events are so important, we need to look back 100 years when San Diego itself was still using piddle pads. 

visitors to the 1915 Panama California Exposition in Balboa Park arrive in droves across the Cabrillo Bridge on opening dayIn 1915, the entire population of San Diego was around 40,000 residents and could easily fit inside today’s Petco Park. Seeing plenty of room for growth, top dog business and community leaders seized on the recent opening of the Panama Canal, which greatly reduced travel time by boat from the East Coast, as an opportunity to raise San Diego’s national profile and attract more visitors, transplants, strays, and businesses.

They conceived of an exposition on the scale of a World’s Fair with Balboa Park as its focal point. Back then, Balboa Park wasn’t much more than a 1,200-acre leash-free dog park, i.e., a big open space.

The Panama-California Exposition plan provided the impetus to undertake a massive building campaign that gave birth to many of the landmark structures we sniff today: the Cabrillo Bridge, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Museum of Man, Casa del Prado, Casa de Balboa, House of Charm, and the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. And what good are a bunch of new fancy buildings without surrounding walkways, gardens, fountains, and trees (glorious trees)?

So in a nutshell, the 2015 Centennial activities celebrate a history-making event (the 1915 Expo) that not only had folks barking about San Diego all over the world, but also established Balboa Park as the city’s cultural heart and laid the foundation for the Park’s unique Spanish Colonial style of architecture.

Posted in Ask Cosmos | add a comment

Spanish Village Art Center, historical black and white photoI won’t be going out on a limb when I say Balboa Park’s Centennial year promises to offer ample opportunities to learn about the history of Balboa Park, its architecture, and many cultural attractions. But only a small pawful will be as colorful, tasty, and dog friendly as this weekend’s event in the Spanish Village Art Center, which was originally built for the 1935 Exposition to re-create an old village in Spain.

To kick off the year-long Spanish Village history exhibition in Gallery 21, Community Spirit: History of an Arts Village, the art center invites human and canine art lovers alike to an opening tea on Saturday and Sunday, January 17–18, from 11am to 4pm.

Period dancers will provide the entertainment from 1pm to 3pm, as guests enjoy old-fashioned tea and cookies. To really experience how it was done when it opened in 1935, the Spanish Village suggests attendees dress as they did in 1935 (assuming those old clothes still fit).

The exhibition itself explores the 80-year history and architecture of Spanish Village and will hopefully explain once and for all the who, how, and why behind the painted cobblestones in the courtyard.

A discovery tour will then put guests on the trail of clues to the past hidden throughout the Spanish Village (this is where being a tracking hound has its advantages). All the studios will be open, so visitors can poke their snouts in and see the artists at work in a variety of media, from glassblowing and jewelry making to metalwork and fiber art. I’ll personally be paying a visit to Studio 26 to meet my fellow doggie blogger, Bella … that is, after I’ve ensured all the cookies have found a good home.

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Balboa Park Visitors Center information counter after remodelWith such highly publicized improvements throughout Balboa Park to welcome visitors to 2015’s Centennial Celebrations, including those to the Cabrillo Bridge, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the Plaza de Panama, and the lighting throughout the Central Mesa, I wouldn’t blame the Balboa Park Visitors Center for feeling like the runt of the litter (I know I would).

But it doesn’t take a dog’s keen senses to immediately recognize the remarkable transformation that’s taken place right under everyone’s nose. The Balboa Park Visitors Center has gone from being one of the pet-friendliest venues in the Park to being the most human-friendly one as well.

Visitors will immediately notice that a much larger information counter has taken over the entire west end of the center, allowing more people to be helped by more volunteers at the same time. This will help ensure that visitors aren’t any later for the park tour they came in late looking for.

But this larger counter doesn’t mean everything else has been squished into a smaller space, like a Great Dane inside a Chihuahua’s pet carrier. Quite the contrary. The rest of the Visitors Center has a much more open and spacious feel, giving me hope that it will one day be named Balboa Park’s fourth leash-free dog park. At the very least, it's much easier for me to find what I came in for: candy bars, energy drinks, and potato chips.

Other enhancements to the Visitors Center include new cash register and jewelry counters, restored hardwood floors, new ceiling fans, and a fresh coat of paint.

Though it’s much quicker now for visitors to get in and out of the Visitors Center with the information or souvenir they came in looking for, they are just as likely to stay and chill out for a while.

Posted in Visitor Information | add a comment

Florida Canyon, Trail Runner, Balboa Park, Richard Benton photoThis time of year, the media is saturated with tips on keeping New Year’s fitness resolutions. But it shouldn’t take a dog with a blog to tell you that the best advice is to simply do something you enjoy in a place you enjoy doing it.

If my only exercise option was to run around a smelly (even for a dog) strip mall gym, with music blaring so loud I couldn’t hear my own iPaw, I don’t think I could maintain my fitness resolutions for a week. However, thanks to the 1,200-acre fitness facility I call home, Balboa Park, it’s impossible for me to miss a workout. And the best part: membership is always free and any activity fees are usually charged on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Since many big box gyms like to boast about their indoor lap pool, jogging track, or full-size basketball court, I thought I would put things in perspective by highlighting just some of Balboa Park’s fitness facilities and activities:

  • A 14-lane outdoor swimming pool
  • 24 hard court tennis courts
  • A par-72, 18-hole golf course, a 9-hole executive course, driving range, and practice putting greens
  • 65 miles of marked trails for jogging, hiking, and biking (bike rentals available)
  • Two public field archery ranges (the last remaining ones in Southern California)
  • A 30-acre disc golf course
  • A 333.3-meter banked velodrome track
  • Multiple baseball, softball, and soccer fields
  • Lawn bowling greens, leg ball courts, and petanque courts
  • Indoor facilities that offer, among other things, multiple full-size basketball courts, volleyball courts, badminton courts, table tennis, yoga classes, and ballroom and folk dancing lessons
  • And last but not least, three leash-free dog parks!

It might also be worth mentioning that all of the above is set in a historic cultural park with plenty of free parking.

Posted in Sports and Recreation | add a comment
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