From the Mountains, to the Oceans

On Monday I was finally able to get out on the hiking trails, this time my long-planned outing from Highway 9 at the Rincon trailhead of Henry Cowell park, mid-way between Santa Cruz and Felton, to Highway 1 at Wilder Ranch State Park, and then home. It was a great hike, but with one major flaw, which I will get to at the end.

Here is the ever-popular map of my route:
My route from 9 to Santa Cruz

Sarah-Hope drove me to the trailhead early in the morning and dropped me off. The advantage to starting at the Rincon trailhead is that you don’t have to cross the San Lorenzo River (see my blog entry of April 16). You do start out following the train tracks, which seems to be a standard motif to my hikes around here.
Following the rails

But soon I crossed Highway 9 –looking carefully both ways!– and into Pogonip Park with its towering redwoods.
Redwoods in Pogonip Park

The path meandered through the forest, climbing steadily. I enjoyed the cool of the morning, and the dappled sunlight on the trail.
Sun and shadow on the trail

And since I was heading towards the University, it seemed appropriate to run across a banana slug enjoying its breakfast.
The Mighty Banana Slug
(For those who don’t know, UC Santa Cruz’s mascot is the banana slug.)

A quick stop at the lovely University to see if Sarah-Hope was in her office yet, and to use the facilities. (Note to Kimlin: yes, I do sometimes need to.)
UC Santa Cruz

More redwoods, more dappled trails, and some graffitied water tanks. I actually rather like the paint job; I suspect a glaring silver or white tank would be more jarring in this setting than the varied colors that have been used. And I am thankful that any destructive tendencies have been used on man-made objects, and not the woods themselves.
Graffitti in the woods

I found a lot of flowers on this hike, thanks in part to the recent rain. Soon enough these trails will be brown and dry. Here is a lovely wild iris, nestled in the midst of a fine crop of poison oak.
Iris and poison oak

At this point the trail changed dramatically, going from dense redwood forest to open meadow in the space of just a few hundred yards. Another chance to enjoy the wildflowers:

I crossed Empire Grade Road, out of the University property and into Wilder Ranch State Park (which is one of my all-time favorite parks to hike in.) First, there is the obligatory mountain lion warning.
Watch out for mountain lions
I am always a little tittillated by these signs. I would love to see a mountain lion –just not at close range. I know that if I see one, I should not run, but instead make myself as large and unappetizing looking as possible. (Unlike most Americans, mountain lions do not think a larger helping of food is always better.) And as a last resort, I imagine using my hiking sticks like a picador, driving off any attacking lion with a well-aimed jab. In reality, I’d probably scream like a girl and faint, knowing that I was lending a hand in the great cycle of life. Anyway…

After the warning signs, and more flowers, lupins this time:

I came across an area that had been burned in the recent past. New growth was shooting up around the charred remains of trees and shrubs. The most fascinating to me were the burned manzanita trees. Fabulous shapes, color, and texture!
Burned manzanita tree

I saw more evidence of old fires all the way along my hike, a reminder of the constant threat posed by California’s high winds and dry weather. But mostly, I fell into an easy rhythm of walking and settled in to enjoy the long downhill walk to the sea. I took the Long Meadow Trail, aptly named!

The trail flowed over the gently rolling terrain. Massive oaks offered spots of shade, and the sea glimmered in the distance.
The trail through the meadow

The view out to the sea

There are the remains of lime kilns at one point, where several trails meet. This area was once dotted with lime kilns. The vast redwood forests made handy fuel for the cooking of limestone, and helped create one of the major industries of Santa Cruz’s past. After the 1906 earthquake, the proximity of Santa Cruz was crucial to rebuilding San Francisco; the cement made from Santa Cruz lime was what enabled San Francisco to rise again.
Remains of a lime kiln

And apparently somebody is doing some archeaological digging:
Diggings at the lime kiln
Or disposing of a body very, very neatly.

As you may have inferred by now, this was a long hike.

More flowers, this time lupins mixed with poppies:
Lupins and poppies

And a butterfly –I think a Buckeye– obligingly posed for a portrait.

Eventually the trail reached the visitor’s center and farm buildings at the Wilder Ranch.
Weathervane at Wilder Ranch

Ah! you say. And the end of the hike, right? No, my friends. If I was sane, or thoughtful, or even a person who planned ahead, I would have first driven to the Wilder Ranch parking lot, left my van there, and then had Sarah-Hope drop me off at the beginning of the hike. But no. Sometimes I have an exaggerated idea of my own abilities, and think things like “Oh, it’s already in city limits, or practically. It’ll be easy to walk home!”

Have I mentioned that is had gotten really hot and sunny by this point? And that I was hungry, and my trail mix and carrots and radishes were just not cutting it? And that, being a weekday, most people I know would be at work and unable to drop everything to pick me up? And that the bus that runs past the park does so only a few times a day, and this was not one of them?

Oh well. More walking! More photos!

One thing I like about Santa Cruz is that it is not surrounded by a ring of industrial parks or suburban McMansions. Farms and ranches reach right to the city borders, and even into the city.
Cows at the edge of town
(The black spots are cows, marching single-file over the top of the hill.)

I had a moment of hope when I saw this sign. Would it really be cooler around the corner?
This is a cooler sign than most

I finally reached home, took a shower, and plopped down to take a well-deserved nap. And I will try to remember the lesson learned on this outing: plan ahead!

A tip of the hat to Kimlin, who has passed Burgos and is out on the meseta on the Camino de Santiago. Ultreya!

3 thoughts on “From the Mountains, to the Oceans

  1. So how many miles total (approx?) did you hike? When you next have the time, I know a nice intersection in New Orleans you can hike to & meet me at… 🙂

  2. And how are you getting there Jo?
    Does insanity run in your family and you will also be hiking to NO?

    Awesome post Melissa. I always think I’d love to do a hike with you, but then I remember I’m a wimp. And you would tie me to a tree within 5 minutes because of my whining!!

  3. So glad to know you at least planned ahead on the servicios part Melissa. Yes, I know about those longer than you really want walks. SOMEONE said the meseta was the best part and neglected to mention that it DOES go on a bit long!

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