My dad sometimes calls me Carmen San Diego. He’s been doing it for years, but it seems even more fitting these days. On those long-term travel trips, sometimes, even the traveler doesn’t know what or where comes next. The act of exploring or finding one’s way is pivotal in the journey. The explorer in me has been speaking louder and louder since we began this cross-country jaunt. I always knew she was there – she always did have things to say and she’s never been quiet. I imagine it was that same little explorer who helped me step on the plane for my first overseas flight, who helped me sit in the infectious disease doctor’s office to get that unpleasant Yellow Fever vaccination, and to convince me that no matter the anti-malarial meds necessary-travel is worthwhile. She’s always been a fan of water and sand, but more recently, that little voice has grown louder when it comes to hiking on land. Who knew there was a National Park in San Diego?
This is the first year I’ve ever had a National Parks pass. Purchasing it was one of the best decisions we made before we began this journey across the country. Who knew we could use it in San Diego? Cabrillo National Monument sits atop a high point in Point Loma (a part of San Diego). Filled with military history, documentaries, a lighthouse, statue, hiking trails and protected tide-pools, there’s much to see at this tiny national park looking out over San Diego’s skyline. As it was the same with many national parks we’ve encountered, one visit is certainly not enough. What often happens? We move a bit quicker through the historical portions and are drawn in by the natural wonders, vistas, creatures, habitats and stories that the land has to share. Nature spoke, we listened.
Between the park rangers, volunteers and people all in search of simple joy, national parks have quickly rocketed up my list of fun places to visit. Filled with stories to teach in that informal educational way, books, images, moving pictures, maps, statues, plaques, trails and viewpoints – they offer discovery and enjoyment while sharing messages of an historical nature. Each time I hand over that pass, the explorer in me does a happy dance. When entering this space where exploration and imagination play key roles, getting dirty is a most likely occurrence and nature is king; all are welcome and all are seen as equal. As we have experienced in various other parks, regardless of so many of the things on which society judges, park goers are all on a level playing field. Sure, there might be a more significant camera lens, fancier trail runners or a bigger cooler for snacks, but for the most part, bug spray, sunscreen, hats and joy unite all who enter. And even in this tiny park teetering over the bay, we found that same welcoming feeling of wonder.
Thinking it would be a great place to bring visitors, we stood at the vantage point which allows you to truly feel like an explorer discovering the different parts of San Diego for the first time. We took in the view, hiked the trails, and learned a bit about life at the time of Cabrillo. Departing from Mexico to lead the first expedition of Europeans finding what today is the west coast of the United States, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (who in his youth was a conquistador of Hernan Cortes) was an explorer. After travels, encounters and an interesting journey, he settled in Guatemala where he would later get the opportunity to lead the expedition to the Pacific, landing at the shores of San Diego. We found some symmetry with his stories of wanderings, changing direction, living in different locations and seeking life anew. Standing on the overlook peering out at the sea knowing that at this point all those years ago explorers landed here – needless to say it’s quite inspiring. I’ve felt it before at Massachusetts’ Plymouth Rock, South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and a few other places, but something about the exploration happening in a place where (at the moment) we hang our hats – is quite different. It’s as if, at least for that moment, we were meant to stand there.
The hiking trails were lovely, but for me (there’s that water kid again), the most intriguing part was the Tide Pools. Known as ‘the rocky intertidal zone, a window into the ocean ecosystem’ (nps.gov/cab), this land and water connection is a kid’s discovery center all its own. Perched on Point Loma’s western side, this ‘sensitive ecosystem’ is filled with marine life, slippery delight and my favourite part – heaps of white caps of waves. Depending on the time of year, level of tide and force of waves on any given day, you’ll find visitors trekking the rugged and often slippery terrain to get a closer look at the swirls of water, living anemones, ocean’s spray and a chance to commune with nature. As with any natural habitat-be mindful, take out only what you bring in and trust the rangers to give you up to date details of your surroundings.
There’s not always time to galavant for long periods of time, but most of us can find a few hours or a day for an adventure (and if the financial costs are minimal to nil, even better). Sometimes, through the ‘daily grind’ we need moments or days of adventure and/or solace. This was a travel day, or at least it felt like it. Just minutes drive from where we live (at the moment), we tapped into that adventurous spirit of explorers of old and channeled them for an afternoon. Seeking new paths, viewing new vistas, learning new and different methods and embracing the wonders of journeys of all kinds in one short afternoon, it was as if we too were seeing San Diego’s sights for the first time. Here’s to explorers of all generations – able to find adventure at every turn.
How do you ‘adventure’?