Torrey Pines, 2010 (Click on Image to See Larger)
The California coast is full of visual majesty. But a lot of the really dramatic coastal scenery is up north, where the coast is rocky and the cliffs projects high up into the air over the shoreline.
Unfortunately, that’s not where I was this week. Instead, I was in San Diego, where the beachfront is about as flat as it is in coastal Virginia where I life.
But you can still find a little majesty if you’re willing to drive a dozen or so miles to Torrey Pines, just north of La Jolla. Torrey Pines is the site of the Torrey Pines Gliderport, an official FAA-sanctioned glider airport.
Some call Torrey Pines the “Kitty Hawk of the West” in recognition of all the great aviators who’ve flown off these cliffs without benefit of propellers or engines. They include Charles Lindbergh, Airstream travel trailer designer Hawley Bowlus and human-powered aviation engineer and Gossamer Albatross creator Paul McCready. Most days, though, the pilot crowd is made up of a hardy bunch of guys who look like aviation’s version of old surfers.
I first visited Torrey Pines while driving down the coast in the late 1970s. In good weather you can watch glider pilots run up to the edge of the cliff like so many Fred Flintstones and throw themselves and their wings into the warm gusts of the Pacific sky. If you’re feeling especially lucky, you can pay to take a ride off those cliffs yourself. I’m not so inclined, but that first morning I sat for several hours watching glider pilots ride the thermals, dipping and weaving their way up and down the coast. I don’t imagine there’s anything you can do that makes you feel more like a bird than strap yourself into a fabric wing and jump off a cliff.
Scale can be a little hard to gauge here. The bluff at the Gliderport is almost four hundred feet above the beach. From the top of the cliff people walking along the beach appear as little dots. Looking out to sea there’s absolutely nothing to see but more sea. One of the things I’ve always thought defined people who prefer to live along the coast is that we look upon the open horizon of the ocean as something of a psychological expansion valve. It’s hard to feel hemmed in when you’re standing on the edge of an ocean.
Fair Warning, 2010
It can be a little tricky walking along the cliffs at Torrey Pines, riddled as they are by erosion. A deep cut that from afar looks like something you could simply walk across turns out to be wide and deep enough to swallow a car when you get up close to it. I would imagine a fall off the cliff would almost certainly be life-ending.
But if you’re willing to scurry around the cliffs a bit it can be thrilling to stand atop the bluff and let the wind off the Pacific Ocean knock you around some.
Oh, and about those waves. The trouble with photographing water, especially if you want to stitch several pictures together to make a panorama, is that coastal water’s always moving. As you can see in the middle of the picture above, even though the successive images were made no more than a second or two apart, the action of the waves made them almost impossible to line up neatly.