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Savoring the Sunset Amid Lurking Rattlesnakes: The Perilous Beauty of a National Landmark in San Diego

Savoring the Sunset Amid Lurking Rattlesnakes: The Perilous Beauty of a National Landmark in San Diego

  • Renowned for its breathtaking views at sundown, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, has an abundance of flair, fauna and wildflowers.

Indians have a penchant for sunset viewpoints. While attending a dermatology conference in San Diego, we opted to visit the Torrey Pines coastal state park in the La Jolla area renowned for its breathtaking sunsets. One of our friends was parasailing there. 

This vista point is located approximately 30 minutes from our hotel in the GasLamp district. We hailed an Uber and arrived at the preserve at 5.30 p.m., the sunset was more than an hour after that, at  6.52 p.m.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is 2,000 acres of coastal area in San Diego, off North Torrey Pines Road. It remains one of the pristine stretches of land on the Southern California coast. It is bordered immediately on the south by Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course and La Jolla on the north by the city of Del Mar. The reserve consists of a plateau with cliffs that overlook Torrey Pines State Beach, and a lagoon for migrating seabirds. 

Many fauna and flora are sheltered in this reserve: bobcat, fox, skunk, raccoon, coyote, rabbit, cacti, and the rare endangered Torrey pine supported by the Santa Ana winds. During whale migration, humpback whale and gray whale are seen here. The eight miles of trails within the park offer an attraction for hikers and beach-goers and a small museum sits at the top of the hill. 

As a nature enthusiast, my attention was drawn to the wild daisies, cowslips, and coastal cactus adorning the sandy cliffs. While admiring the horizon, I noticed warning signs about rattlesnakes. I took a deep breath and called my daughter to apprise her of the situation. Just then, the sunlight illuminated the coastal chaparral, enhancing silhouettes of the ancient Torrey pine and palm trees on the cliff. Torrey pine has vanished over time due to extended periods of drought and has an intricate root system that helps attach it to the overbearing bluffs.

I urged my daughter to stand close to the underbrush for a photo, and it was then that we spotted it — a mature rattlesnake coiled on the edge of innocent white and yellow daisies. A perfect decoy for a lethal peril. Recoiling in fear, I momentarily considered calling an Uber to return to safety, but my daughter encouraged me to stick to the cleared path where we could see what was around us. 

Navigating our way around parked cars, we stumbled upon a clearing adorned with an old maritime mural. Despite the warnings, several people were enjoying activities like hiking and walking along the cliffs. Heading towards the area where people were parasailing, we discovered a small snack shack with a picnic spot. 

Seated on tall chairs behind a railed fence, we savored the view of the Pacific Ocean, the setting sun, and the colorful parasails fluttering like massive kites in the sky. We vicariously soared with the revelers, cheering for perfect landings on the grassy knoll.Near the shoreline, a man showcased a Peregrine homing falcon, demonstrating its agility amidst some who were parasailing.

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As the sky transitioned to a salmon pink hue, we became engrossed in capturing and admiring the sunset when a sudden shout broke the tranquility. Dogs barked in response. A rescue helicopter hovered above the cliff to our left, diverting everyone’s attention from nature’s grandeur. An unfortunate hiker had fallen from the slippery slope of the sandy cliff, plunging 300 feet below. A paratrooper was deployed for the rescue, successfully retrieving the stranded hiker. The helicopter then flew past the setting sun to land on our right, where an ambulance awaited. Within minutes, the San Diego Police Department had saved yet another soul who had disregarded the warnings. 

We were not able to enjoy the sunset after all, but got a lot more than we bargained for. With reluctance, we bid farewell to this special place, mindful of the encroaching darkness and the lurking rattlesnakes. Catching an Uber back during the blue hour, we drove away from the bluffs reflecting on the rich ecological heritage yet perilous beauty of this national landmark. 

(Top photo, courtesy of

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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