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.


pixseal said...

Randy, I like how you've also posted your pix on EveryTrail - with GPS track, of course.

Waypoints said...

Thanks Dave. I finally have a GPS that performs up to the job.