Tuesday, November 9, 2021

San Diego: La Jolla Beach and Sea Caves

La Jolla Sea Caves.

I don't remember how I found out about the sea caves in La Jolla but I decided to reserve a guided tour by kayak for my first full day in the San Diego area. This turned out to be a perfect day. One of the issues with kayaking to the sea cliffs is surf conditions. I'd only previously ever been to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, where the surf is normally modest (and a couple of the Great Lakes - even smaller). West coast Pacific surf belies the name; it isn't pacific (peaceful) most of the time. The surf was modest, and the morning overcast and fog cleared up just as we began our tour.

Pacific Ocean living up to its name.

The kayaks were the sit-on-top variety and built to handle open water. They tracked straight but were heavy and little difficult to turn. I'm used to whitewater kayaks that turn on a dime. I haven't paddled much in recent years, usually only once or twice and year, and it took me a few minutes to get used to the swells. La Jolla is a preserve and teems with sea life and birds, and people watching them from various boats, paddle boards, scuba, and snorkeling. If I'd had more time, I would have snorkeled as I have a cheap setup, but for the day I was worn out by the paddling.

A couple of harbor seals. I had trouble photographing them due to currents and choppy water, but also due too many kayaks.

Much of the tour covered the local wildlife. We saw MANY leopard sharks, which are about 3 to 5 feet in length and favor the shallow, sandy waters of La Jolla. The water was remarkably clear and I could not have kept track of how many of these we saw. I also saw a handful of Garibaldi, the state fish of California, which has the same coloration as a gold fish. The waters were also filled with kelp and sea grass. On the surface and in the sky we saw numerous waterfowl. I can't remember all the species but there were the usual pelicans and gulls, but also cormorants and a single Peregrin falcon perched on the cliffs. I got a poor resolution photo of it. We also saw harbor seals. Unfortunately I struggled with the current around the rocks and failed to get a good photo of them.

The sea caves.

The cliffs along La Jolla are collapsing gradually into the sea. The guide pointed out a place where a structure had collapsed many years before. Some of the houses along the cliffs are uninsurable and can only be sold "cash only." Other sections of the cliffs, including the caves, are more stable.

In one of the caves.

We got the opportunity to paddle into the caves one by one. Some people got lucky and experienced whitewater, but I was unlucky and the waters were placid despite waiting a couple of minutes. There was a baby seal sleeping on a shelf. The guide suggested it had fallen asleep when the tide was high and then was afraid to drop the few feet to the water to leave. The seal did not react to our presence, but there were many kayakers visiting cave, so probably they are a little bit tame.

On the same topic, probably one of the few issues with La Jolla, was how busy it was on the weekend. My trip was on a Sunday, so I assume it can be worse on Saturday, but the waters were crowded with swimmers, divers, snorkelers, and several different kayak guide groups. The community of La Jolla seems to be fairly wealthy and the small business district has a few shops and restaurants. I think there may be some other business areas that I didn't get around to visiting. It's a lovely neighborhood and I'm sure weekdays are wonderful. Other than crowding, it was an amazing experience and was my favorite thing from my trip to San Diego.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Road To San Diego

Some of the strangest mountains I've ever seen on I-8 in Southern California. They erode into piles of boulders that almost look like construction debris.

I've wanted to visit San Diego since I was in elementary school, which was so long ago it almost seems like it happened to someone else. San Diego has a reputation as a city with perfect weather year round, long beaches on the Pacific Coast, towering sea cliffs, and plenty of culture. I made plans for much needed time off and a road trip. Having been there, I can't entirely confirm the "perfect weather," but it is remarkable that the daily low and high temperatures hardly varied while I was in town, day or night, five degrees difference Fahrenheit, about 2 degrees Celsius. Incredible. But this is less true the farther inland you travel.

The drive itself proved to be interesting. I covered hundreds of miles of territory that was "new to me." I grew up in North Central Indiana until I turned 16, at which time I moved to the Southeast. After that, the story complicates, but suffice it to say that I've never seen such diversity of climate and landscape as I did on the drive from my home in Flagstaff to San Diego. It's an amazing landscape, though severe in places.

Dry, really dry, very extremely dry mountains from some rest area on I-8.

The shortest route from Flagstaff to San Diego travels south around the west side of Phoenix into Southern Arizona, onto Interstate 8, then along the Mexican border. It passes through a part of Arizona I'd never seen. The drive starts with classic Sonoran desert with saguaro cacti. Some of the areas are severely dry, though there is some irrigated agriculture. As always in the basin and range region, the highways usually pass through broad, flat valleys with mountain ranges in the distance.

When you reach Yuma, things green up as the Colorado river valley is farmed, but you can see the desert is extremely dry there without irrigation. I thought I would see Joshua Trees but didn't notice any. The most notable thing I have to say about this area is that Yuma is a larger town than I thought it was, which is not to say it is large.

After you cross into California there is an erg (a sea of dunes); beautiful, impressive.

Massive dune field ahead.

You have to stop at a checkpoint a couple of miles into the state. Why do they do that? They didn't search my car but just waved me on through. After a few miles, there was another checkpoint run by the Border Patrol, which makes more sense. They waved me through there too. I assume they are looking for people who look Latin American, or perhaps just vehicles with an unusual number of people in them, as this seems to be a common practice of human smugglers.

After a while you drive out of the Colorado Desert (as the dry areas are called near the Colorado River), and enter agricultural areas that are recognizable from a thousand movies and TV shows filmed in the area over a hundred years. It's a region of small towns, green fields, irrigation ditches, and water towers. Then you go back into a deep rain shadow of the Peninsular Ranges as you approach the coast. Some of the mountains there are among the driest, most desolate places I have ever seen, rivaling even Death Valley. Yet you crest out over 4000 feet above sea level in the mountains before beginning the descent to the coast.

I was in greater San Diego before I realize it. There are expensive homes in high mountain valleys as you approach the city. Some of these have flowing streams and pine trees. As I approach the coast, I could see a strange cloud bank that I realized might mark the beaches. This proved to be true.

I finally dropped down onto a coastal plain just three or four miles from my vacation rental. One of the most surprising things about San Diego is that the terrain is mostly hilly to mountainous. For some reason I didn't expect that. Only areas right along the coast are flat, and even then not all of the coast is flat. I will write about sea cliffs in a later entry.

On the whole, the drive was interesting, but kind of oppressive in places. I have several friends who say desert is more beautiful than forest, but I prefer forest. Parts of the Sonoran Desert are beautiful and team with life for 6 months out of the year, but the Colorado Desert conveys a sense of emptiness, thirst, and desolation.