Unique Torrey Pines State Reserve

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

The Torrey pine reigns among the rarest of the rare plants on the California shore. Before the last ice age over 11,000 years ago, Torrey pine forests covered large areas of southern California. Then changing climatic conditions reduced the stands to one of the world’s smallest native distributions of any tree. A few thousand Torrey pines grow scattered between La Jolla and Del Mar and a small stand survives on Santa Rosa Island in the sea 170 miles northwest. Most of the trees are protected in the State Parks system’s 2000-acre Torrey Pines State Reserve.

The pines gained recognition as rare in 1850, California’s first year of statehood, when Dr. C.C. Parry, a botanist with the U.S. government, noticed the trees and named them after his botany professor, Dr. John Torrey. Torrey never saw the trees named after him. Years later Parry returned and urged the city of San Diego to preserve the species against the human depredations of cattle grazing, firewood cutting and road building. Finally in 1899, the city designated 369 acres for a public park. Ellen Browning Scrips purchased and donated more land, and in 1924 the city added an additional 1000 acres. In 1950 the Torrey Pines Association formed to work toward full protection for the pines and the surrounding habitat. In 1959 the city gave the park to the California State Parks Reserve system.

Torrey Pines State Reserve offers much more than its rare pines, containing some of the most dramatic and diverse terrain on the California coast. It remains much as it did when the Kumeyyaay people lived here, before settlers came and transformed San Diego’s coastal terraces and hills with urban sprawl. The highly erodible sandstone geology of the hills creates fantastic erosional formations. Peñasquitos Lagoon remains one of the more healthy on the south coast, and the 5-mile-long beach fronting the reserve offers solitude and quiet at the base of spectacular 300-foot cliffs. Diverse, rich plant communities covering the land include coastal strand, coastal scrub, chaparral, Torrey pine woodland, salt marsh, freshwater marsh and riparian. More than 430 species of flora and fauna live within Torrey Pines State Reserve, including 144 birds, 110 invertebrates, 85 plants, 39 mammals, 28 reptiles, 23 fishes and 7 amphibians.

The Reserve restricts some activities in order to protect the habitat. No food is allowed. You can walk the 8 miles of maintained trails, visit and hike the beach, and tour the Visitor Center and Museum. That classic adobe structure, built in /923 and styled after Hopi Indian houses, commands views of the surrounding terrain. Both locals and tourists come for docent-led walks, hiking, school tours, photography, painting, running, surfing, bird watching, plant identification, and to simply wonder at the magnificence of the natural world maintained here.

The area still suffers the threat of urban encroachment. Surrounding development cuts off wildlife corridors and creates erosion and pollution which damages the lagoon. The pines themselves are weakened by a small gene pool, allowing disease to attack the trees. Three groups aid State Parks in preserving the well-being of the park. Torrey Pines Association, Torrey Pines Docent Society, and the Torrey Pines Wildlife Association concern themselves with park expansion, public education, and wildlife protection. To find out more about the Reserve and these groups, visit the Torrey Pines State Reserve web site at www.torreypine.org/tpnathis.htm

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume Two: Monterey to Mexico by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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