Scenic Vasquez Rocks, Agua Dulce on March 20, 2022. Photo by Jeff Lowzik

With pending midterms, confusing COVID-19 regulations, and 24/7 Russian Invasion news coverage, a lot is going on that causes students’ anxiety levels to rise.

Where can one go to escape all the stress?

Nature and the great outdoors have long been the organic way to bring stress levels down without taking dangerous, addictive medication.

A study done by researchers at Stanford University showed spending quality time in the great outdoors reduces stress, calms anxiety, and can lead to a lower risk of depression.

For COC students, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a nature trail just a few miles northeast of the campus off the 14 freeway, can help those looking to leave their stress behind connect with nature.

(A sign identifying the Pacific Cres Trail inside of Vasquez Rock, 03/20/2022 photo by Jeff Lowzik)

The trail offers a beautiful natural hike perfect for getting away from the stress of classes and deadlines and Covid.

“I was so depressed and stressed out, so my boyfriend took me on this trail, and being here makes me feel so much better,” said Isabel G, a young woman hiking on the trail.

The entire trail is 2653 miles long and goes through 25 national forests and seven national parks as it leads from the borders of Canada to Mexico.

Proposed by Clinton C. Clarke, the chairman of the Mountain League of Los Angeles in 1932, as a running trail linking with other hiking trails through three different states, It became official in 1968.

For local hikers, the path is about 3 miles long and guides them straight through the heart of Vasquez Rocks, a 932-acre park and nature center known for its striking rock formations created by millions of years of land erosion and the buckling of the San Andreas Fault.

The park gets its name from the bandit Tiburcio Vásquez, who used the area as a hideout to elude law enforcement in the late 1800s before he was eventually captured and put to death.

Used in movies, tv shows and commercials, including Star Trek, Blazing Saddles, and even a Michale Jackson music video, the area has gained international fame.

As for the PCT, the trail starts at the front gate of the park and can quickly move hikers from the modern world’s tension-filled noise to the calming quiet of nature.

Moving along the PCT, travelers will pass by some of the more prominent features of Vasquez Rock, including the jagged 45-degree angled rocks, which are favorites of climbers of all ages. 

(A Scenic View of Vasquez Rocks 03/20/2022 photo by Jeff Lowzik)

Hikers moving through the park will also notice that not everything is a barren desert landscape as the further up the trail you progress, more flowers and trees begin to dot the landscape.

(A Scenic shot of a field of flowers at Vasquez Rocks 03/20/2022 photo by Jeff Lowzik)

Continuing to follow the path, travelers descend into a valley where one might have the chance to encounter others using the trail, sometimes for some very usual reasons.

Matthew Kareo is escaping the stresses of his life by using the lush grounds and a small stream to simulate a war landscape for his war reenactment photo project.

(Tyler (Right) Matthew Kareo(Left) Getting ready for a photo shoot at Vasquez Rocks 03/20/2022 photo by Jeff Lowzik )

“The area around here is great for recreating different battlefields,” said Kareo. “Today, I’m here for Vietnam training photos.”

 As hikers press forward, a different, more up-close view of rock formation combines with an empty sound of the wind blowing through the canyon.

The PCT though Vasquez rocks, end at a tunnel that goes under the 14 freeway, and for those that go through the tunnel, a feeling of the weight of the highway above tugs at their senses and makes for a memorable encounter.

(A Tunnel leading under the 14 freeway 3/20/2022 photo by Jeff Lowzik)

“Being out in nature always calms me down, and this place always makes me feel better,” Isabella G. says,

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