Whilst Alex and Harriet were here we took a few days off from the ocean to do some sightseeing – no point travelling all that distance and not taking in some of the other attractions available after all. So on the Sunday we followed the coast road from Oceanside down towards San Diego which passes through a number of beach towns, which vary from gated communities with multi-million dollar beachfront pads for the local super-rich to others which look as though they’ve barely changed since the 60s when they were colonised by artists, hippies and drop-outs – not sure about you, but I much preferred the latter as they were more open, welcoming and pleasant to see than the seemingly clinically divorced from real life world of the mega-mansions…
It took about an hour to get to La Jolla (pronounced La Holla) which is a suburb of San Diego, about 5 miles north of the city. On the face of it, there’s nothing particularly special about it, there are a lot of posh looking restaurants and top-line designer boutiques which would not be out of place in the upmarket areas of London, Paris, Rome etc… but once you leave the town centre and head to the cliffs overlooking the ocean, there’s are two real wonders in store. Firstly, all along the 2 miles or so of coastline there are rocks and coves which have been completely colonised by sea-lions, so much so that in some places there is barely a square metre free. The second wonder is that they are totally at ease with the presence of humans, to the extent that when they’re lying on the sand and rocks sunning themselves, you can stand or sit within a metre of them and they completely ignore you, as though you weren’t there. It’s truly remarkable. Added to that the flocks of California Grey Pelicans which cruise about above you in aerobatic flight formation and you get a real sense of closeness to the natural world.
On another day Alex and I went inland to Anza Borrego Park which is located in the Colorado Desert of southern California. Its name comes from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza who “discovered” it and ‘borrego’, the Spanish word for sheep as the park is home to Long Horn Sheep. Until quite recently due to the unusual amount of winter rain which fell there have a great deal of brightly coloured wildflowers growing all over the park, however as Spring is well underway with day time temperatures not much below 27/28 Celsius many have now disappeared – in July and August, the average temperature is 40-42 Celsius, so caution and lots of water are advised.
One of the park highlights is a 3 mile round trip hike up Palm Canyon which follows the course of a mountain stream to where a natural spring emerges from the ground forming an oasis and which provides enough water for a grove of 40-50 full size palm trees to grow. The walk is not very arduous and clearly marked, but should definitely not be undertaken without plenty of water and at least trainers on your feet. A ranger at the trailhead was also advising visitors that a rattlesnake had been present earlier in the day and to exercise appropriate caution should you see it (poking with a stick to “get an action shot to show grandma” is not one which comes recommended. The walk took about two hours all told in the heat, but once you get to the oasis, it’s very much worth it as the tranquillity and peace together with the natural coolness which comes with there being water and breeze make it a wonderfully calming place.
At the oasis there is a lot of water which spills down the rocks and into the stream, but as you follow the walk back down, it is interesting to see how little of it actually makes it to the bottom as it begins to evaporate in the increasing seasonal heat. We were pleased not to come across the advertised rattler but then also equally pleased to see a number of the Big Horned Sheep about 20 feet above us on the hillside who were perhaps watching to make sure we left their home in an orderly and undisturbed state, a very fitting end.