Opinion: Secret trails of Crest Canyon


By Gordon Clanton

North Coast columnist

Crest Canyon Open Space Park Preserve is a regional treasure, an exquisite wonderland of steep, orange sandstone cliffs and slopes dense with fragrant coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral.

Lying between Del Mar and Del Mar Hills, Crest Canyon is carpeted with California buckwheat, bush sunflower, lemonadeberry, prickly-pear cactus, the bayonet-like yucca, and toyon, also known as California holly, the tree for which Hollywood was named.

The plant community includes two endangered species. The magnificent Torrey pine grows only on our North Coast and on Santa Rosa Island off Ventura. The tiny, delicate succulent, Dudleya brevifolia, produces star-like, cream-colored blossoms with bright yellow-green centers touched with red, like flecks of blood.

At orange dawn and dusk, the canyon is alive with birds and rabbits. The canyon provides a home for the threatened California gnatcatcher and for the California quail and the California towhee. The canyon is a stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds from faraway places. I have heard stories of coyotes among the big white rocks on the east side of the canyon, and of foxes and bobcats — but I have never seen them.

Crest Canyon originally was included in the plan for Torrey Pines State Reserve but was omitted because of concerns about cost. The canyon was badly eroded by increased runoff from the development of the Del Mar Hills neighborhood in the late 1960s. Crest Canyon was saved from development in the 1970s by local activists who persuaded Del Mar and San Diego to buy and restore the land for public use.

Today Crest Canyon is part of the San Dieguito River Park. To volunteer for on-going canyon restoration efforts, contact Leslie Woollenweber (volunteer@sdrvc.org) of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.

The designated trails of Crest Canyon can be accessed from Race Track View Drive on the north, from Durango Drive at Lozana Road on the east, and from Crest Road at Hoska Drive on the west. All three trailheads give access to the canyon floor, where two parallel main trails allow for easy hiking.

An unofficial “social trail” starts near Recuerdo Drive at Mango Way and descends crookedly to the canyon floor. Another social trail enters the canyon from Crest Way at La Amatista Road. An unmarked trail winds deliciously uphill to the east from near the north entrance to an overlook with panoramic views of the San Dieguito Lagoon.

Stay on trails to minimize erosion and the tracking in of seeds from non-native plants.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at gclanton@mail.sdsu.edu.