Golden poppies in the dessert

Golden poppies in the dessert

Deepti Ganapathy gets us a glimpse of the spring wildflowers in Torrey Pines

The Torrey Pines National Park is a stone’s throw away from the sprawling 1,200-acre University of California San Diego campus. It offers hikers a variety of trails to explore and enjoy. As we approach this area, we are mesmerised by the stunning blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the cliffs that overlook this. We see magnificent peregrine falcons soaring and dozens of painted lady butterflies and sphinx moths fluttering about. For a moment we rest a swooping gaze towards the land below this panoramic sight and we feast upon the orange California Poppies and yellow Sea Dahlias. We see the California Sun Cup, Popcorn Flower, Common Groundsel, and the San Diego Jewel flower. At the end of Razor Point, we also notice a patch of Johnny Jump-Up, along with some Pigmy Stonecrop and Padre’s Shooting Star.

The coastal sage scrub and chaparral plant communities found at Torrey Pines have very special adaptations that allow them to survive in this semi-arid climate. It was first described as a species in 1850 by Dr Charles Parry who named the tree after his friend and colleague Dr John Torrey, who was one of the leading botanists of his time. The only pine tree you will see here is the Torrey pine in a wondrous variety of shapes. These trees can live around 150 years and grow to a height of 60 feet and 30 inches in diameter. The Kumeyaay (indigenous people of this area) utilised the Torrey pine for its nuts. They also used Torrey pine pitch to repair cracks in their pottery, and pine needles to make some of their baskets.

Birds such as kestrels, woodpeckers, finches, sparrows, hummingbirds, bushtits, warblers, scrubjays and California quail have made this reserve their home. Approximately 90-97% of all Elegant Tern nests are in one colony on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California, Mexico. However, in recent years, more and more nests have been created in the south end of San Diego Bay. (At one point, San Diego Bay was the only nesting site for the species in the United States.)

Reptiles abound here too with varieties of lizard and snakes such as the Southern Pacific rattlesnake, the striped racer, Gopher snake and the California Kingsnake. The kingsnakes that live in this reserve, are mostly brown and cream-coloured. Their name “king” refers to their behaviour of eating other snakes. This includes the rattlesnake, who know to fear the kingsnake. Their body is immune to rattlesnake venom, making a smaller rattlesnake easy prey.

The Torrey Pines Park Road was earlier part of the main highway between San Diego and Los Angeles. Cars in the early 1900s, especially Model Ts, used gravity to deliver gasoline to the engine in front of the car, so motorists had to climb up this steep hill in reverse! When the number of accidents increased, the current road was closed to cars.

With the advent of WWII, the Army leased 750 acres of Torrey Pines Mesa in 1940 from the City of San Diego to be used for training purposes. Camp Callan became an anti-aircraft artillery replacement training centre.

The 121st US Open Championship will be held in 2021 at the Torrey Pines Golf Course. The 36-hole course overlooking the Torrey Pines State Reserve with splendid views of the Pacific Coast is already gearing up for the historic event. The entire west coast of America is dotted with many golf courses, but the Torrey Pines course stands out for its landscaping and creative design.

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