Tecolote Canyon (plus Torrey Pines Extension)

Distance: 2.5 (Total)
Elevation gained: 200
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 0:46:00
Critters: None

Pros: (Tecolote)
– None

Cons: (Tecolote)
– Overdeveloped
– Dirty
– Noisy

6/30 hikes



Tecolote Canyon, while not a bad place in itself, is a hike that should probably be avoided unless you live nearby and you need a convenient place to walk the dog. It’s also a lesson in the pitfalls of development, which makes me crankier than it ought to.

Tecolote Canyon is part of a series of canyons carved into a mesa that represents a good chunk of the geography south of Del Mar and north of downtown. This mesa, a huge chunk of sandstone uplifted by plate movement, had numerous canyons carved out by water flowing from the mountains to the east. Penasquitos Canyon is a beautiful and mostly well-preserved example of this. Several other canyons within the so-called “Golden Triangle” – the region between the 5, 805, and 8 freeways, also include Rose, San Clemente, and Tecolote, all of which suffer from similar problems.

As you probably know if you live in San Diego, this region is heavily developed, with a lot of biotech companies, hospitals, universities, and mormon temples gracing the mesa/canyon landscape. Early on, the city planners decided to protect the canyon bottoms, which are typically undesirable to develop due to the lack of view and flow of water.

Tecolote was one of these canyons, but the protection of the canyon hasn’t saved it from being a fairly tragic cautionary tale. On my brief hike there (I turned around because I wasn’t enjoying it), I saw a creek diverted into a concrete canal, a suburban subdivision on the other side of said canal, buildings perched on top of the canyon walls, a box of opened condom wrappers and used condoms, spray-painted rocks, invasive, non-native species like ice plant and fennel, chunks of concrete and asphalt, and a lot of torn-up vegetation.

I’m sure that, further in, there are some nice trees and the canal goes away, but I couldn’t make it past all of this detritus. It’s true that hiking gets better the further out it is, generally speaking, and that I shouldn’t expect much out of this type of hike, but I got way less than I expected, which wasn’t much. Instead of a decent hike in a developed place, I got something that made me angry and sad, altogether.

One of the bi-products of hiking so much is that you develop a much more intimate connection with the natural world. That connection includes an understanding that we are as much a part of the natural world as a tree or a mountain lion. We’ve waged a lot of war on the world, and that is essentially self-destruction. While I understand that there is a cost to civilization, it breaks my heart to see that aspect of our world so wantonly disregarded.

So, instead of going the full five miles I was planning, I left and headed over to Torrey Pines Extension, where the mist had coated the vegetation in dew drops. Water dripped from pine needles, and a million coastal scrub plants bloomed along the trail. It was wet, silent, still, and beautiful, and it washed the taste of Tecolote clean off my pallet.

It’s a shame, really, because Tecolote would likely be as beautiful as anywhere else in San Diego. Sprawl won out, and that’s too bad.

June: 14.9 Miles
Year-to-Date: 636.5

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