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WELCOME BACK : Mission San Juan Capistrano Once Again Rings in the Return of Its Most Celebrated Flock

March 19, 1992|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Cliff swallows have a wide breeding range for a migratory bird--all the way from the northern Yukon down into southern Mexico--but it's their annual return to one tiny spot in San Juan Capistrano that brings out the crowds.

The return of the swallows (celebrated in a hit 1940 tune) to Mission San Juan Capistrano will be marked Thursday, St. Joseph's Day, when 98-year-old town patriarch Paul Arbiso rings the mission bells, just as he has done for more than six decades.

As the cynics point out, the swallows aren't really that punctual--some have been in the area for several weeks, some will straggle in later. Also, they don't flock to the mission in the numbers of old, thanks to the surplus of potential nest sites provided by all the local construction in recent decades.

Still, some swallows will build their mud nests under the eaves of the old mission, just as they have done for more than 200 years, and that's enough for the city, which kicks its 34th annual Fiesta de Las Golondrinas (Festival of the Swallows) into high gear Thursday.

That's when, just after 8 a.m., Arbiso will ring the bells at Mission San Juan Capistrano, followed by a full day of events that includes mariachi performances, traditional dances by mission school children, demonstrations of Indian basket weaving and bread baking, and tours of the mission.

Other activities are planned throughout the city:

* A carnival jointly sponsored by the Capistrano and San Clemente Lions clubs will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at Camino Capistrano and Junipero Serra Road. Admission is $1, and rides are 50 cents each.

* A "Hat and Boot" contest commences at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rio Grande Bar and Grill, at the Depot. Entry for contestants is $3.

* "Hoosegow Day" will be celebrated in business establishments all day Friday by the city's Fiesta Assn. posse. The posse roams through town "arresting" folks not in Western attire.

* Town Decoration Day on Friday is a contest among the downtown's businesses with honors awarded to the shop with the best decorations.

* The 25th annual Pancake Breakfast will be held from 6 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Women's Club. The cost is $3.50 for adults and $1.50 for children.

* The 34th annual Swallows' Day Parade will wind through downtown San Juan Capistrano from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday. The parade is completely non-motorized, and will feature more than 650 horses.

* A community barbecue is planned from noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce office on El Camino Real. Prices will vary.

* The Flying U Rodeo is to be held at Camino Capistrano and Junipero Serra Road after the parade Saturday and all day Sunday.

What: Return of the swallows.

When: Thursday, March 19, with events planned throughout the city through Sunday, March 22. Thursday hours at the mission are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Mission San Juan Capistrano, 31882 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego Freeway, take the Ortega Highway off-ramp west two blocks to the mission.

Wherewithal: Admission to the mission is $3 for adults, $2 for children.

Where to call: (714) 248-2048 for the mission; (714) 493-4700 for city events.

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