This year I am now retired, and I challenged myself to a goal. I am going for a Small Year!
What is a small year? First you need to know what a Big Year is.
In the birding world(bird watchers) they have a competition that starts on January 1 to December 31st.
In this time they must spot as many bird species as they can and mark it off of the list. The US competition has a record of 726 species seen. Yes, they are on their honor, no photographs need to be taken.
They travel thousands of millions, spend thousands of dollars and have a connection on the web where people can report sightings.
In my case, I am going for the Small Year of only 30 species and all in California, even though our state has 450.
Also, I am going to photograph them.
Why, you ask of such a small amount? Because, when I started counting birds on my hand, that I knew that I could possible see, I ended with about 18. I had the pelican and the seagull by the shore, no brainer. A crow, a hawk, hummingbirds, check. Black bird, finch, check. Then the list started
Happy to say within a few weeks I had 19. Some, as identified later were unexpected. Some, the identification is enough to drive you crazy.
Join me while I document the 30 and join in if you have the time.
Recently we received a pass to get into California State Parks free for a week. So, we made the most of it and set out to visit a few coastal parks in Southern California.
First up was Crystal Cove State Park which I have driven by hundreds of times in my life, but never stopped to see what it was all about. Mainly because it cost money to get in and I was always heading somewhere else.
After spending a few hours at stop number one, I am sorry I never took the time, it is an amazing beach.
Just south of Newport Beach as you are descending into the lowest part of Pacific Coast Highway, is when you get your first glance. Now at sea level, you can feel the ocean breezes and the sight before you looks like something from a travel magazine.
The water was always a crystal blue color and the large bluffs at the end of the long stretch of sand were rugged and scenic. At the top of the cliff far above the breakers sat a few large modern homes, the envy of any car passing by I am sure.
With the pass in hand, this time, I was going to finally take a stroll on this beach and get a closer look.
As it turns out, Crystal Cove State Park actually has three entrances with each one having a different look from the other. So, we would visit all three.
Entrance One, Moro Beach
The first entrance was at the lowest part of Pacific Coast Highway as mentioned, and we were easily waved through the guard gate with our trusty pass. Normally it’s a $15 a day charge.
There were numerous parking areas at different levels and clean bathrooms. Also, scattered about were picnic tables and gazebos for large groups. We chose a spot that appeared to be at the lowest level and closest to the beach.
Grabbing our stuff, we glanced to see where people were walking and headed that way. We soon came upon a tunnel filled with water. We hesitated as we really didn’t see the beach-goers walking through here and we didn’t know how deep it was.
A young lady came by, and we asked if this was the way to the beach and she nodded yes. She saw us wavering a little, and looked back at us and said, “you won’t be disappointed” So, we trudged through the above ankle-deep water and headed to the sea.
Once out of the tunnel, boy, she was right, it was a gorgeous!!!, and we were definitely not disappointed.
It spanned as far as you can see in both directions but only ending south by a massive and rugged bluff.
The one with the beautiful homes that I envied…er…admired.
This is where we headed first.
The sand was clean and the sea was sparkling on this warm October day. There were only a handful of people enjoying sunbathing and less than that in the water. By California standards the water was still swim-able at 70 degrees F. However, the waves were harsh as they hit the shore, making it unfriendly for swimmers in my opinion. In some parts it was a little calmer.
As we approached the cliff, there were a few surfers catching the waves as the breakers formed along the wall of the towering bluff.
Large green mossy rock formations were embedded into the sand making it very picturesque. There were these odd shapes intermixed with the rocks that looked like they were made out of cement. On research later, I couldn’t find out what they were. Or maybe I didn’t try hard enough.
Regardless, I decided that this is in the top ten beaches I have seen though my travels and it was there in front of me all my life!
The beach is mostly sand but in one area we found a thirty-foot wide section where small rocks were bringing in our beach-combing treasure…sea glass! Each time a wave came in, it would open up a new layer where more glass was exposed. We picked for about a half an hour and then decided to walk back to where we came in.
Far north we could see another group of surfers and more of the shoreline which spanned very far. As we splashed along in the ankle deep water, pure relaxation hit us like a ton of bricks. There is nothing more therapeutic than dipping the feet into the sea.
We decided next, to check out entrance two which would be a short drive up the road via PCH.
About a mile or so away, sits the second entrance to Crystal Cove State Park. Plenty of parking here but it is higher up on Coast Highway so you have to hike down a trail from far above the ocean.
I stayed on top and snapped some photos while Staycationer JoJo made the trek all the way down via a man-made trail.
Once down on the sand, she looked so tiny, making me wonder just how high up I was. A few people trudging up the steps were huffing and puffing as if they had just ran a marathon. There were plenty of groups heading down the hill, so I guess the steep trail doesn’t deter most.
Again, this was a very intriguing and scenic beach with rock formations and parts that looked like tide pools that would be exposed in lower tides. On research later, I found out that in reality there are at least four tide pool areas.
If you wanted peace and quiet, this is not the spot for you. This is part of the Crystal Cove State Parks’s Historical District and honestly when I was down on the beach, I actually felt like I had gone back in time.
This is another State Park that we visited while we had a free entry pass for a week.
Twenty miles north of San Diego, the Torrey Pines State Park is a hikers dream.
However, we weren’t going to do any hiking as I was recovering from a leg injury, we just wanted to take the dog for a walk and look at the pretty Torrey Pines.
But we read ahead of time that dogs were not allowed in the park. Okay, there goes that idea.
So, we bought a sandwich and were going to find a comfy bench to enjoy it with the scenic sights.
That is until we saw this sign: No Food or Drink Allowed on trails. Okay, there goes that idea.
So, we chomped down our sandwiches in the car, and headed out for investigation time.
What is it about Torrey Pines that brings in so many visitors daily? Let’s find out.
Torrey Pines is a stretch of land that has been preserved and remains so, as the rest of San Diego and environs are developed. These 2,000 acres are home to Pinus Torreyana, better known as the Torrey Pine, one of the rarest pines in the United States. In fact, there is only one other place that the Torrey Pine grows naturally, Santa Rosa Island just off the coast from Santa Barbara. Since that island is miles offshore, it is special that it grows here on the mainland.
This natural reserve is a protected area because it contains threatened plants, animals, and habitats. That explains no dogs or food, understandable. However, tell my shirt that, as I am looking down at the mustard stains from eating in the car.
It also has steep cliffs, deep valleys, and ocean overlooks. Benches are scattered about for hanging out and enjoying your day in nature.
Beside world visitors, locals come by everyday to walk along the tranquil trails, or rest at the stunning outlooks. Plus, you cant beat this place with its venue for exercise, running, and jogging.
A friend of mine said it is one of their favorite places to hike with its natural habitat and ocean views. Although on this day, it was so gray, you couldn’t tell the water from the sky.
There are two beaches you can access while in the Torrey Pines Reserve but make sure you are informed about the tides. On high tide the waves leave no room to stroll safely between the waves and the cliffs.
We also explored the visitor center where there was information about the park and docents were scattered about to answer questions. In the center, a well informed lady told us about the animal species in the reserve and I was most amazed at a huge stuffed mountain lion. I didn’t realize how big they were and was surprised they were in the area. She assured me that they are rarely seen and only come out at night anyway. She had many stories of other sightings and ‘inquisitive me’ was most grateful to hear it all.
We walked a little down a path and then made our way back to the car, my leg could only go so far.
Although we didn’t hike more towards the shoreline, the Pacific Ocean views are amazing I am told so, if anything, this is something to see if you are in the vicinity. Remember, no dogs or food!
Hiking or no hiking, food or no food, come see for your self and don’t forget to admire the rare name sake pines, after all, the next place is 23 miles across the sea from Santa Barbara. Now that’s a hike.