Sunday, February 1, 2009

Skyline Rocks

Ever heard of that? Even if you live in the Bay Area and you do a lot of hiking you've probably never heard of that. It’s not some music festival, not an adjective, or even a park. Don’t google it, I’ll save you the trouble. I made it up! Sometimes I like to use my imagination a little when I’m out hiking. I suspect most avid hikers have a similar process of suspending modern reality for a time and allowing themselves to walk freely as though they hadn’t a care in the world. I like to imagine that the boundaries of any given “park” or tract of wildland didn’t exist, and that I might just walk forever. I really like the high degree of connectedness that exists between many of our bay area parks that allows for planning unusual, less traveled, hiking routes that cross over into other lands. I often try to invent different route variations, but sometimes I make up names for my favorite routes that only I or my wife might actually know, and she probably thinks I’m a little nuts. Skyline Rocks is one of them. I call it that because the best view points along the way are from various sandstone rock outcroppings along California highway 35, or “Skyline”.

Considering the close proximity of the trailhead to our house, this route is kind of a gas saver special for me. It begins in Sanborn County Park. With park headquarters located just a few minutes out of Saratoga off of highway 9, it’s almost in our back yard. Sanborn is another of those places that hikers tend to associate more with family picnicking than serious hiking, but it seems that most hikers don’t bother to consider all the possibilities. The map shows you can hike all the way to skyline, but doesn’t show that if you can do that, then you can connect with the skyline trail and the BART. And if you can do that, you really could almost walk forever. The Sanborn Trail is actually a much underappreciated trail. The beginning section is steep for about the first mile or so, but then becomes more gradual climbing up through a nice diverse tree canopy including stands of redwood, Douglas fir, tanoak, and madrone. This is one place where you can see many examples of old growth Douglas fir. I have to laugh, or perhaps cry, when I think that most children in America think of Douglas fir as some little 6 foot shrub that you buy at the supermarket for Christmas, and then pitch it out like trash. Here you get to see the grand-daddies. You get some fairly good views in places, if through tree cover. The canopy is dense enough to keep you cool in hot whether, and to partially shelter you in a drizzle. In one section called Todd creek there are a few old growth redwoods amongst the second growth and the stump remnants of their majestic grandfathers. In a few places you can begin to notice the unusual sandstone formations jutting from the hillsides.

Near the top of the ridge is the junction with the skyline trail which runs roughly adjacent to highway 35. Sometimes a little too closely adjacent if you can hear the cars, but most of the trail remains far enough away from the highway not to notice its there. Here too there are broken views down across the valley below partially obstructed by tree cover. After just over 2 miles of gently rolling trail you approach the junction with Indian rock trail and the main entrance to Castle Rock State Park.

Castle Rock is very popular with the general public, and on this day it was as popular as ever. The main section of the park makes a good outing for families with children, and the parking areas were all full. Here too however, getting off the beaten track will avoid most of the crowds. And because I hiked up from Sanborn, I didn’t need to park. I have a favorite little rock outcrop that I go to sometimes which is not on the maps. This point provides great views out toward the San Lorenzo valley, and weather permitting, out to the ocean and Monterey bay. It’s a good place to enjoy some quiet time. From there I found my way up the Ridge trail to Goat rock, which is a popular practice rock for climbers. There’s lots of knarly sandstone and tafoni around for the curious to keep busy, and more awesome views westward and to the south. To avoid more crowds, I took in some quick views from the overlook, but didn’t hang around there. I continued northwest on the Ridge trail all the way to the trail camp, enjoying various west looking view points along the way including Varian peak. The Ridge trail and the Saratoga Gap trails are both excellent. At the trail camp I walked up the service road and found the Loghty Woods trailhead in order to loop back around to the other side of the ridge. This is also pretty trail, but it’s a little strange to hike because it encircles the private rod and gun club lands adjacent to the park. You have to put up with a lot of racket from the sport shooting.

Back across highway 35 is a connector to easily get back onto the skyline trail to head southward again back toward Sanborn. Along this section of trail are some more good viewing rocks which provide fantastic views on the other side of skyline ridge looking down to the Santa Clara valley, and weather permitting, north up the channel of the bay. Some of these rocks are also popular with climbers as practice and training rocks. Summit rock was actually closed by the County because of “endangered species nesting”. The signs were not specific, but I heard from some climbers that some peregrine falcons have nested there. No word on when it may re-open. I have some old pictures which I will link below. The other big rock along here is called Indian rock. Both places have fantastic inspiring views. From Indian rock use the skyline trail back southbound to the Sanborn trail. After making your way to the next junction below you can choose to descend on the Sanborn trail which is quicker and steeper, or to take the Y to the left to use the San Andreas trail which has a lot of switchbacks. It’s a matter of preference. I usually climb steep and descend on the more graded route. That’s one version of the Skyline rocks hike. Imagination can dissolve boundaries.

Click here to see my photos
Click here to see my Sanborn/Castle rock photoset from July 2008

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