I love the name of this park: The Forest of Nisene Marks. Most California state parks have mundane descriptive names: Wilder Ranch, Big Basin, Angel Island, and so on. And while in reality Nisene Marks is simply the name of the mother of the family who donated the land to the state of California, to me it has a sound of mystery. I imagine dark primeval woods, populated by druids and ur-monsters, perilous to those who venture in too deep. The park is criss-crossed by faultlines, haunted by the remains of loggers’ activities, its deep ravines darkened by tall redwoods. Enter it if you dare!
Luckily, my recent hike there held no dangers, and I’m here to write about it — but the mood of mystery did seep into my photos.
The area of the Santa Cruz mountains now occupied by the park was heavily logged during the early 20th century, but few human remnants of that activity remain. This decaying trestle reminds me of a torii gate at a Japanese temple.
The greatest reminder of the loggers’ clear-cutting is the large number of old stumps.
Nature itself does a good job of creating a sense of mystery. Tree branches merge and entwine in unusual ways.
Redwood roots, reaching down, bear an unnatural resemblance to monsters in old 1950s science-fiction movies.
Uprooted stumps writhe against the sky.
Deep canyons recall the swamps and forests of the Cretaceous.
Ancient trees, burned by lightining strikes, give way to fairy rings of younger trees.
I found myself wondering if the Ohlone tribes who lived in this area had any such myths or legends. While on this train of thought, I stopped to admire an interesting and unusual root protruding from a rock face.
Turning slightly, I was amazed to see a spiral carved into the rock, just visible under the moss. Is this a Native American petroglyph? Or the doodling of a logger?
My questions only serve to add to the mysterious quality of the day. I urge you to visit the park, and find some mystery of your own!
This hike was a 6.9-mile loop up to Maple Falls and back. I started at the Porter Family picnic grounds and took the Loma Prieta Grade up, returning via the Bridge Creek trail. And while there was a 600-800 foot elevation gain, the trails are for the most part old railroad beds from the days when these woods were being heavily logged, making the rise so gradual that it’s barely noticeable. And really, it’s not scary or creepy at all. I would highly recommend it.