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Stepping into Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is entering an ancient woodland that once existed along the San Diego Coast! Today, it protects the rare Torrey Pine Tree – which only exists naturally within the Reserve and on Santa Rosa Island. It’s a survivor, being able to withstand drought with long roots (some 200 feet!) that meander through the underlying sandstone to reach water. Torrey Pine Trees near the cliffs are dwarfed and snarled from battling ocean winds and saltwater spray, where they play an important role in preventing soil erosion. .
Winding, sandy hiking trails take you to overlooks of plant and animal life and amazing ocean views. Visiting at low tide is a great way to experience tide pool creatures and see the ancient 45-million-year-old rainbow-like sandstone cliffs! The entire reserve is located on distinct layers of ancient sandstone. This sedimentary rock is constructed in visible layers and creates interesting formations in many parts of the world. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rocks since they are not created by magma or heat, which can destroy fossils. Be sure to visit the beach and experience the ancient sandstone layering by looking up at the cliffs.
Spanish explorers named this area the “Point of Trees” because they used the trees as landmarks to help navigate their journeys. By the 1800s, however, the trees were cut and land cleared to make room for cattle grazing. Years later, 395 acres of Torrey Pines was donated by journalist Ellen Browning Scripps and set aside as a protected public park. She and others worked hard to stir up interest in protecting the trees and inspired the establishment of the Reserve. Now the 2,000-acre Reserve is home to about 300 endangered species of plants including the Torrey Pine.