Monday, January 17, 2011

Wilder Ranch

Coastal Bluffs
Just north of the city of Santa Cruz, and roughly adjacent to UCSC, are the historical remnants of the 1871 DD Wilder and family dairy farm. The land was once part of the immense Rancho Refugio, and had been acquired as a partnership. It was of course originally home to the Ohlone people, the descendents of which still practice their traditions today. By the mid 1870s, the Wilder family owned all 4,160 acres of the purchase. Five generations worked this land until 1969 when 20th century taxation ruined the business. In the 1970s, developers were scheming to acquire the land intending to convert it into housing, but the voters wouldn’t allow that. The eventual result was the creation of Wilder Ranch State Park. The park includes a 6 mile long coastal section where the Ohlone Bluffs Trail snakes along the contour of the jagged rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The interior section on the east side of highway 1 sprawls out across the coastal hillsides abounding in open grassy meadows, intermingled with shady groves of trees including some pine, fir, and redwoods. The old Wilder family farmhouses and some of the out-buildings are still there.

California Brown Pelicans
Wilder Ranch is a nice change of pace from hiking the bay area’s beloved mountains. When you are lucky enough as we are, to live within reasonable distance from the coast, it’s nice to pay a visit once in awhile. I often crave hiking in the sea air. We decided to begin our hike by heading straight out to the Ohlone Bluffs Trail. On previous visits we have always finished our hikes by returning along this trail, but Sue got the idea to hike it early, while we could still have the trail virtually to ourselves. We’re always trying to dream up ways to be different, allowing us to enjoy hikes with fewer distractions. This popular trail was much quieter in the morning, and except for a few trail runners, it was ours to share. It was just clear enough to get some pretty good long range views. We had a nice time enjoying the sound of the surf, the crisp ocean breezes, and looking for various sea birds. The land between the trail and the highway is still used for agricultural production. We spotted some nice artichokes that looked just about ready for picking, and lots of brussel sprouts. Artichokes like these are going for $3.50 apiece in stores in the valley, but local farmer’s markets have them at $1.50. Some surfers were out in a couple of areas that have decent waves, and seemed to be catching some good rides. The sea birds were a little more scarce this time for some reason, and we didn’t see any of the usual sea lions, otters, or seals that are frequent visitors to the rocky ourcrops lying in the surf.

Redwoods along the Enchanted Loop Trail
 After reaching 4 mile beach there is a concrete underpass to allow hikers to safely walk underneath highway 1 without having to deal with the traffic. The character of the hike changes, as you continue on up into the coastal hills. We were soon enjoying nice wooded areas along the Enchanted Loop Trail, and the Twin Oaks Trail, along with the open chaparral on the Baldwin Loop Trail and the Wilder Ridge Trail. The shady areas include oaks, pine, fir, and some redwoods. You can usually spot wildlife here too. Mule deer graze the grasslands as an array of raptors soar above, and little rabbits and squirrels scurry about to find refuge in the chaparral. Bobcats are wary and reclusive, but they are around. From the gentle hilltops we were able to see south to Monterey and Moss Landing as the skies had cleared up a little more. We completed a 12.5 mile loop with a moderate 1313 feet of total elevation gain. All the trails are multi-use and are popular with local cyclists and horse riders, so you have to be alert and prepared to share the trail. Wilder is an interesting place with a nice diversity of trails that can help you get yourself grounded back in the natural world. We had a really nice time. A map is available here, but the park office has a better one on sale. You can check out my EveryTrail trip report here, and my photos are also on flickr here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Westridge 3 Falls Hike

View from Chalk Mountain
I was hiking solo again this week, so it seemed like a good time to hike yet another variation on the Falls Trail at Big Basin. Old favorites never die. You just have to keep inventing different variations on the theme. I have done at least 6 different loops to visit this series of falls in the last few years, but never this one. I decided to begin at Waddell Beach, and hike to Chalk Mountain by way of the Clark Connector and the Westridge Trail. This route is a pretty good 14 mile out-n-back by itself. Chalk Mountain is worth visiting for awhile when I am craving some quite space. I love to enjoy the sun, breezes, long range vistas, and the stillness of this place. But today, I would not hang around too long. Especially after lazily sleeping in, getting a late start, and not reaching the trail head until just after 9:00 AM. I only stayed long enough to scarf a Clif Bar and admire the panorama for a bit. Then I was off on Chalks Road to cover the 2 mile distance to the junction with the Henry Creek Trail. The weather was not facilitating very good views anyway.

Westridge Trail
The Westridge Trail is a trail you have to love or hate. It’s not the usual type of trail. It’s classified as a horse trail, which in State Park vernacular simply means, it’s not graded very well. There are some steep up and down sections, as the trail takes a direct route over the washboard terrain. Most hiking trails are gouged into the hillsides in order to circumnavigate peaks and gullies, and make use of switchbacks to gain altitude gradually. But this trail simply follows the contour of the ridgeline. Many sections also have lots of erosion damage which will cause you to watch your footing a little more carefully. Some sections are shaded, but most are not. Not many maintenance crews make it up here except to party. But as much as I enjoy this trail, I always make it a point to share the true nature of this route. It’s not the kind of hike that everyone would enjoy. In short, it’s a little more challenging, but it’s one of my favorites because it’s remote and peaceful.

Immediately after turning down Henry Creek Trail, I was looking for the unmarked cutout from the main trail that heads down the side of this little ridge to meet up with the Sunset Trail just above the Golden Cascades. The trail is an old park trail that is no longer maintained. The current maps do not show it, but it’s actually in pretty good shape. Lots of other hikers use this trail as evidenced by the primitive markers that are found along the way. It’s a nicely done switchback trail through some thick trees heading down to the creek. Crossing the creek will bring you right up to the Sunset Trail. If you check out my track log over at EveryTrail, I have marked some waypoints at the two ends of the trail, and where it crosses the creek. Only experienced hikers should attempt this trail because of the lack of maintenance, and lack of proper markers. But the more people that hike it, the better shape it will be in.

Berry Creek Fall
From this point it’s an easy hike down the Falls Trail to visit the upper and lower Golden Cascade, Silver Fall, and Berry Creek Fall. This is one of the most beautiful sections of Big Basin, and it’s always a much better experience in the wet season. After taking some time to enjoy the singing waters, you can then hike back out to Waddell Beach by way of the virtually flat Skyline to the Sea Trail. Total distance for this route was 18.2 miles with 3995 feet of total elevation gain. Of course vast majority of that gain is on the Clark Connector and the Westridge Trail. Check out my elevation profile and hike tips at EveryTrail.
I had a great time doing this hike, and made quick pace back to Waddell Beach in order to be on time to make it to Swanton Berry Farm on the way home. They are located on Highway 1 just north of the town of Davenport, and they make some seriously mouth watering homemade berry pies, truffles, and preserves. I succumbed to the temptation and had a slice of fresh home made pumpkin pie, and an olallieberry truffle, and my mouth was in heaven for that short time.

Click here to see my photos on flickr
Click here to see my trip report on EveryTrail

Note: I probably won't link the Everytrail gadgets here anymore because they seem to slow down site loading. But you can following the links here to see my trip report with GPS tack log and elevation profile.