From atop a cliff just above the shore, a pelican rides the updraft and is so close I can almost reach out and touch the great bird.
Much higher within Torrey Pines State Reserve, a gopher snake appears briefly on the path, a sign that spring is at hand.
In the distance, ravens patrol surreal-looking canyons and wind-shaped pines, and this would be a serene hiking experience were it not for the deafening roar of fighter jets, racing purposefully to the west.
This is the essence of the Torrey Pines hiking experience, enjoyable and unique. It is not a wildlife-seeking odyssey; in fact, aside from seabirds, ravens and towhees, you see very few wild critters. This is partly because the reserve is so popular among hikers and joggers. But the surreal landscape, shaped by wind and time, and the park's native flora and namesake trees, are what make this San Diego County destination so special.
Never have I seen a state park so well-kept. Trails meander through chamise and toyon trees and sage and wildflowers. Sandstone canyons are deeply rutted and wonderfully shaped. The rare pines are elegant yet appear almost tortured in their stance, as if determined to survive despite a prevailing harsh and salty wind, and parasitical bark beetles that have claimed a sad share of evergreen victims.
The trail system at the south end of the reserve is a series of loops, the longest being the Beach Trail to the Broken Hill and North- or South-fork trails. This is a downhill-uphill hike of about three miles and is simple, but moderate enough for a robust cardiovascular workout. The Guy Flemming Trail is a quick jaunt but affords spectacular ocean vistas, and the Parry Grove Trail is similar but involves a much steeper incline.
There are side trails too, leading to more vistas and moonscapes. A person could spend all day here and not grow bored.
In fact, I hiked all three trail loops Thursday, and might go back for more today.
-- Pete Thomas
Photos by Pete Thomas