Secrets of Del Mar Canyon


By Gordon Clanton

Del Mar is blessed with a profusion of parks and open space. Sandwiched between two coastal lagoons (San Dieguito and Los Penasquitos), the smallest city in San Diego County and its neighbors and visitors enjoy the amenities of the perfectly groomed Seagrove Park and Powerhouse Park on the ocean side and the wilder, convoluted coastal shrub landscapes of Crest Canyon and the Torrey Pines Park Extension to the east.

The Torrey Pines State Beach and Natural Preserve abuts Del Mar on the south. Bluff-top trails with spectacular ocean views run along the rail route. Dozens of pocket parks dot the neighborhoods of Del Mar and a web of hidden trails and alleys invites exploration.

The Del Mar Canyon Preserve is a neglected gem in the abundant system of Del Mar parks. The preserve is located on the coast, west of Camino del Mar (aka Old US 101), near its intersection with Carmel Valley Road.

Visitors can park free on the street near the intersection of Fourth Street and Stratford Court (at the foot of Del Mar Heights Road). Then walk south through the Del Mar Woods condos to a foot and bike path that brings you out onto Camino del Mar.

The canyon falls away dramatically on your right, a bowl-shaped wonderland of colorful eroded sandstone and green terraces. Two luxury homes and another under construction occupy the upper north slope of the canyon. For the truly adventurous, a steep and twisting dirt trail winds down to the bottom of bowl to a drainage tunnel that runs well beneath the railroad tracks, a wondrous portal that allows access to the beach.

South of the bowl, at road level, lies a triangle of sandstone bluff top some 300 yards long, honeycombed with social trails, studded with Torrey pines, accented with bright yellow bush sunflower (

Encelia californica

), and offering breath-taking views of the Pacific. High-flying pelicans pass by at eye-level.

The 3.7-acre Del Mar Canyon Preserve, aka Anderson Canyon, was acquired in 1979 with Del Mar open space funds, federal grant money, and the support of the Bardocos and Garro families.

Evidence suggests that homeless persons may sometimes overnight under the low-lying pines near the south edge of the bowl — just across the canyon from some of the most expensive real estate in Del Mar.

Gordon Clanton teaches Sociology at San Diego State University.

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