Thursday, August 20, 2020

Razor and Yucca Points

Badlands near Razor Point
2 miles loop, 400 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve parking fee required

The loop hike taking in Razor and Yucca Points in San Diego's Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is short but extremely scenic, delivering views of yuccas and endangered pines clinging to dramatically eroded hills rising directly from the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the myriad of plant life on land, this is also an excellent place to see sea life: seabirds glide below the cliffs of the two points while these bluffs are the perfect place to spot migrating whales offshore. The wealth of interesting and beautiful things to see along this coastal hike makes it a must-do for visitors in the San Diego area.

I hiked Razor and Yucca Points with my mom during a February trip to southern California to catch the superbloom at Anza Borrego Desert State Park. To reach Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve from downtown San Diego, we drove north from the city on I-5 to exit 33B for Carmel Valley Road; we turned left on Carmel Valley Road and followed it to its junction with Camino del Mar. We turned left here again and followed the ocean past Torrey Pines State Beach to the turnoff on the right for Torrey Pines State Reserve. We followed this road up a bluff to the parking lot at the visitor center; this lot fills up on weekends, so come early.

Many trails head out from the visitor center. We took the one heading southwest from the visitor center (on the ocean side of the road) heading towards Razor Point, Yucca Point, and the Beach Trail. This trail dove into the chaparral and came to a junction where the Razor Point and Beach Trails split off; as this was a loop, we started down the Razor Point Trail but returned via the Beach Trail.

Torrey Pines
The Razor Point Trail passed just to the north of Red Butte, a small and bare hill next to the trail. The trail then began a switchbacking descent down the slopes leading to the seaside bluffs. Many of these switchbacks provided sweeping views down a ravine to the eroded badlands of Razor Point. Torrey Pines- the signature tree of this state park- grew along the slopes of the hill. Found only on this coastal bluff and on remote Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands, this rare pine relies largely on moisture from coastal fog to survive in this arid environment.

Torrey Pines seascape near Razor Point
In February, the plentiful yucca near the trail was blooming with white flowers, an odd juxtaposition of desert plants and coastal plants in this spot where a dry landscape meets the sea.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, we took a spur trail off to the right that led downhill for a hundred meters down to Razor Point. At Razor Point, we were surrounded by a landscape of rugged, heavily eroded badlands. To the south were some of the most intricately eroded badlands that we saw in the park, with a multitude of small gullies cut into a cliff in an almost fractal-like manner. Yucca Point lay to the south, rising above another bluff along the badlands coast. The town of La Jolla lay further to the south.

La Jolla and the coastal badlands from Razor Point
The views along the coast to the north were remarkable as well: we could see along the coast past Carlsbad and Oceanside into Orange County. A cold and wet winter had applied a coat of snow on Santiago Peak, the tallest point in Orange County's Santa Ana Mountains.

Santiago Peak rises above the Southern California coast
Behind us were the rocky, chaparral-covered hills that we had descended from. Torrey pines grew atop these colorful hills.

Hills of Torrey Pines above Razor Point
Razor Point provided a high viewpoint above the Pacific Ocean and was an excellent place to spot wildlife. We saw brown pelicans and other seabirds glide over the water below. We also saw the fins of a humpback whale mother and calf poke above the water offshore; although we watched them for a while, we never observed them breaching. The coastline around San Diego is well known for its whale watching, hosting humpback, blue, and gray whales throughout the year.

Brown pelicans 
Humpback whale mother and calf off of Razor Point
We retraced our steps uphill back to the junction with the main trail. We took the right fork at the junction to continue along the hike to Yucca Point. The trail headed south, descending a bit as it circled around an intensely eroded badlands wall; there were constant views of the oceans and the badlands through the open landscape of chaparral. 

Arriving soon at the junction with the Yucca Point Trail, I turned right and followed this spur trail downhill about 200 meters to the end of Yucca Point, a high bluff directly over the ocean with views of Blacks Beach and La Jolla to the south and the Torrey Pines badlands to the north.

Blacks Beach from Yucca Point
Torrey Pines badlands from Yucca Point
Retracing my steps from Yucca Point, I returned to the main trail and continued onward, immediately coming to another junction with the Beach Trail. Here, I took the right fork to go towards the beach. The Beach Trail quickly dropped downhill into the canyon below Yucca Point, with nice views of the eroded cliffs of Yucca Point rising above. After a fifth of a mile, the trail began descending more steeply, dropping down staircases; soon I came to a junction with the Broken Hill Trail, which was closed at the time of my visit. At this junction, I took the right fork, which descended down to the beach via a staircase.

At the rocky beach below, the waves of the Pacific pounded on nearby Flat Rock and the other bluffs rising from the sea side. It was possible to walk north along the beach for some distance but I stuck around the spot where the trail came down and enjoyed the view of Flat Rock and La Jolla before returning uphill.

Waves crash on Flat Rock at the beach below Yucca Point
Returning via the Beach Trail, I headed uphill past the Yucca Point junction and then climbed through the chaparral slopes of the park via switchbacks past Red Butte back to the junction with the Razor Point Trail; from there, I continued straight and returned to the visitor center.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve protects one of the most beautiful stretches of the southern California coast and there is no better way to experience the park than through this excellent hike. 

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