Fat Man’s Misery; Child’s Delight
Maria T. Groschup-Black
On warmer nights Dad would pile us all into the family car, drive to the bluffs at Carlsbad State Beach and walk down to the shoreline. There, we kids ran ahead in the sand to collect aluminum cans left behind by the daytime revelers while Mom and Dad strolled hand in hand. Sometimes Dad would pile us up for a drive to the local Baskin Robbins for an ice cream. Each summer there was a vacation drive across the country, either north to my aunt’s home in Washington or east to my Nanny and Papa in Texas. It all sounds as sappy as it was. But these are the memories, and as I’ve learned from my own children, we want to remember the good times as if they were grand times.
One of the grand parts of my ideal family was that Dad ran the church youth group. Although we were too young to participate in youth group, whenever the church kids went somewhere cool, we got to tag along. There were annual trips to Disneyland, ice skating, beach parties and the hikes through Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Fat Man’s Misery has long since been closed for safety. According to the rangers, none of whom ever had the pleasure, the trail became too unstable and costly to maintain. Unfortunate hikers found themselves stuck in the crevices and rescues were dangerous operations that used too many resources. But the trail’s closure does not take the magic away; it only enhances it as new areas are explored and shared with my own children.
I was determined to make the most of our hike and sought the advice of the ranger. “Which trails led to the beach and which one was the easiest path of return?” As it turned out, all of the trails were mild to moderate and each one had something different to offer. We started at the top; a trail-head lead to five different hikes that intersected at various points and inevitably led to the same outlet – the beach trail.
We hiked to the red butte. Although small, it offered fantastic views of the ocean and gave the boys a place to climb and explore without violating park rules. From the butte we followed a trail through an elfin forest to an area more desert in nature than coastal. The scrub was sparse and yucca plants thrived along with other succulents.
Eventually we merged to the beach trail and headed down past a few wind caves. I was sure to point out where tube worms had drilled through the rock and where the walls held fossil remnants of ancient tree roots or perhaps (at least to my imagination) where fossil bones had once been. On the shore I pointed out the different layers of sand that comprised the ages of time and made sure they understood that the bottom layer filled with shells was a fossil bed.Shirts and shoes were shed and they immediately headed for the large flat rock in the surf line. The rock has a huge hole in the middle known as “the bathtub,” though I’d not recommend bathing there. One of the anemones had a six inch diameter! The boys learned hands on how anemones capture their prey, and had much fun looking at the tube worms and crabs in the tub. Of course they had just as much fun splashing in the water, collecting rocks and searching for leftover grunion. Boys are fairly easy to entertain once you get them away from the television and computers.
The hike back up wasn’t hard at all and we veered off to a few more outcroppings and viewpoints. The last trail followed somewhat parallel to the slot canyon where remnants of Fat Man’s Misery could be seen. I regaled them with stories of Grandpa and how he had to struggle through the tight spots and how much fun I had at their age wandering through the canyon. Most of the trail is overgrown with sage and scrub now. Perhaps that is good. The growth will slow erosion and heal canyon. Perhaps in another few hundred years there will be another parent leading his kids through the slot canyon to the shore. Just maybe if we treasure today this gift God gave us yesterday, tomorrow it will delight and intrigue one more family.