Sunday, March 1, 2009

Coastal greenbelt hiking

Winters in this part of California do not even closely approximate the harsh seasonal conditions that are characteristic of other parts of the country. Actually winter conditions here are, in their own way, nicer than summer. If you live here, and you love to hike, you have an all season activity that becomes a different experience depending on the time of year. I had been hiking by myself the last few weekends while my wife was taking a class, but now that she’s through with that, she’s anxious to rid herself of the cabin fever, and has returned to the trails with me. I was surprised when she told me that after not hiking for several weeks she thought it would be better for her to do something easy. I wouldn’t think someone would loose their “hiking legs” that quickly. Especially since she accompanies me to the health club every weekday evening barring unforeseen situations demanding of our time. She asked to avoid doing a lot of climbing. Ok, that’s a good enough reason to head for the coastal greenbelt system around Santa Cruz California.

My photoset includes pictures from my solo hike last week at Forest of Nisene Marks in Aptos. With rain threatening that day I wanted to get off the trail early, so I opted for a quick hike out to Maple Fall. That’s an easy climb, which would have been perfect for this week, but we decided instead on Pogonip, with a brief car shuttle over to Moore Creek Preserve.

The name Pogonip is of Shoshone origin. Literally it means “icy fog”, referring to the thick, bone chilling, coastal fog common to this location. The site still has remains of the 1850s era lime works owned by Henry Cowell. After Cowell’s death in 1903, his son Harry Cowell established Henry Cowell Big Trees Park in 1906 which included the tract that is now Pogonip. In 1911, Fred Swanton, founder of the original Santa Cruz boardwalk, negotiated a lease agreement with Harry Cowell to create the Casa del Rey Golf and Country Club on this tract. The famed club perched atop the hills above Santa Cruz, featured views of the ocean, and played host to many celebrities and social elite. Activities included golf, polo, tennis, swimming, and various equestrian events. The club endured financial woes during WWI, and eventually closed its doors in 1935.

Today Pogonip is part of the Santa Cruz public greenbelt, and features a trail system that meanders thorough beautiful open coastal meadows, several pretty riparian areas, and stands of thick woods, all situated right on the edge of town. This park also links with trails at UCSC, Henry Cowell park, and even Wilder Ranch State Park. The dilapidated club house is still there along with the remains of the old pool, tennis courts, and stables. Hiking there is easy, with very little elevation gain, and the park has one of the most well marked trail systems I know of. It’s one of the best country strolls you can have. In the springtime many of the grassy meadows with their gentle ocean breezes, and coastal views, seem to invite wanderers to toss down a blanket for a sit-down picnic. Right now acacias are blooming, and other subtle signs of the approaching spring flourish are beginning to show. I noticed some periwinkle (non-native but pretty), some hound’s tongue, and wild currant blooming. The hills are very green and wet.

After sauntering around Pogonip we headed over to Moore Creek Preserve to check out the expansive meadows and nice little creek trail there. This required us to use our car because there is no trail connection. This is also a great little short hike that’s perfect for drinking in the sea air. We spotted some kites hovering and hunting over the grasses. We also crossed paths with a rather large bobcat. As soon as it saw us it calmly scampered off into the brush seemingly confident in it’s superior speed and agility to any mere human. A really beautiful animal. I got some photos of the cat, but couldn’t manage the kites.

Here's a link to my photoset on flickr

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