Step by Step

::: By Hand and On Foot :::

Category: Walks and hikes (page 3 of 7)

So Much for Plans

Now that it’s official that I’ll be walking the Via de la Plata this spring, I’m in a sudden panic about getting in shape in time. So it’s hike, hike, baby!

Yesterday I visited Big Basin Redwoods State Park, with the intention of hiking from the beach up to Berry Creek Falls. Here’s the park entrance on Highway 1.
Entrance to Big Basin State Park

And right across the highway, the ocean.
The Pacific

As you can see, it was a gorgeous day, with comfortable temperatures, and I was looking forward to a nice 12-mile jaunt to the falls. I stopped at the entrance kiosk to double-check my route. I was pleased to see that the falls trail was relatively flat, and laughed at the fools who would hike the snake-like hairpin-turn steep connector route to the West Ridge Trail. (Note foreshadowing.)

So I set off. The trail splits at the ranger cabin, one path for hikers and the park road for campers and horse trailers. Being a hiker, I took the former, and immediately entered mixed forest. The abundant rain and warm weather brings forth wildflowers. I think this is a Checker Lily. (Those who know these things, feel free to confirm or correct.)
Lilies of some sort, perhaps Checkered

And a somewhat out-of-focus group of Chinese Houses. (I could have sworn I had the camera set to close-up mode.)
Chinese Houses

The trail dipped in and out of shade as it skirted the shoulder of the mountain.
Rocks and trees along the trail

I love the various textures where weathered roots push out through the rocks.
Textures of rock and wood

Thinking that I would be keeping low along the creek to the falls, and this would be my highest elevation, I took this panoramic set of photos looking out over farmland towards the ocean. (More foreshadowing.)
Panorama of farm and ocean

Another thing I love: the charred splits that one often finds in redwood trees. They seem so mysterious.
Redwood tree with charred gash

Banana slug!
Banana slug

And then these beautiful orange and black feathers. When I found the first one, I thought perhaps it had fallen from some jaunty hippie hiker’s hat. But then I found two more. Tanager? Oriole?
I was not a good forest steward. I took them home.
Orange and black feathers

And finally, I reached the creek.
Waddell Creek

Oh, oops. It had been a good five years since I last took this trail, and had spaced out on the fact that the hiking trail crosses the creek via a bridge… and the bridge is removed over the winter. I could see the fire road on the far side of the creek; it crosses the creek via a permanent bridge shortly after the turnoff for hikers. The creek was running fast, and I could see it got deeper on the far side. Now if I was with somebody else, I would have rolled up my pants and waded across. If I fell in and was carried away, they could alert the ranger or the Coast Guard or the medivac helicopter; whatever. But when I hike solo, I’m a bit more cautious. Sarah-Hope would be very sad if I was swept out to sea and never seen again. Besides which, I really really hate getting my feet wet. I suspect, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, that I was a cat in a former life, which would also explain my being a total Cat Magnet. (Nobody has ever accused me of having an inactive imagination.)

So what to do? I had only hiked a little more than a mile at this point, and a quick round-trip was certainly too short a hike. But I had just passed a fork in the trail… that went up. You know, that serpentine trail I had laughed at when I began my hike. The one where I had said, “I pity the fool who hikes that!” Yeah, that one. The two-mile-long nothing-but-uphill-to-the-summit trail. So up I went.
Trail sign

It was steep. Nothing but switchbacks for 2 miles, going up, up, up. I took a bit of a breather and had a bite to eat. And figured out how to use the auto-timer on my camera.
Taking a break

It looks like I’m so hot there’s smoke coming out of my head. Or maybe it’s a thought balloon. No, just some moss hanging from the trees.

Just before I reached the top I met my first hiker, an elderly gentleman with a long white beard and carved wooden walking stick. He commented that it was a veritable traffic jam: he’d climbed this peak around 100 times, and only met other hikers 5 or 6 times — and there were 2 more hikers on the top. When I reached the top and chatted with the two young hikers there, they said the man had told them he was 81 years old. It was a bit embarrassing to be huffing and puffing like a steam engine, and this old fellow was strolling along like it was the Boardwalk. Good for him!

The view to the west. The point of land is Ano Nuevo.
Looking out to Ano Nuevo

It’s amazing how a good view makes a tough climb worthwhile. And this view was very good.
Looking southwest towards Waddell Creek Beach, across the highway from where I had started.
The view from the summit

I found a grade calculator online, and found that a 2 mile climb to a point with 1000 feet elevation –which I think is about what the summit was– is about a 9.469 grade.

I took a little bonus walk on the beach at the end of the hike, just to get some salt air and stretch my legs. I think this is the hill I climbed.
Where I was

Later this week: attempt #2 on Berry Creek Falls. Stay tuned!

Wilder Nights! ….or not

Well, not really. This post is about a day hike in Wilder Ranch, but in trying to come up with some clever headline Emily Dickinson‘s poem immediately popped into my head.

Wild Nights–Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile–the Winds–
To a Heart in port–
Done with the Compass–
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden

Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor–Tonight–
In Thee!

And “Done with the Compass– Done with the Chart” isn’t a bad description of my style of hiking. I start out with a plan, but am often sidetracked by side trails, and sometimes have to figure out where the heck I am. This time, however, I purposely did not follow any side trails, even though that was part of my mission for the hike. So like the hike itself, this is a totally random and contradictory blog post.

Sunday, 9:00 am, I started at the small non-permit parking area at Crown College at UCSC. (Note that it’s only non-permit parking on weekends; you need a permit during the week. And that you should arrive early — I got the last available spot.) I took the Chinquapin Trail through the university’s property, a lovely undulating walk through redwood forest.

Trees along the Chinquapin trail

The trail opened up as I approached Wilder Ranch State Park.
Approaching Wilder Ranch

My goal for this hike was to explore the only trail I hadn’t yet hiked in this park: the Woodcutter’s Trail. Most of the park’s trails lead down to the ocean, but this one stays inland and (roughly) follows Empire Grade Road before dipping southwest to meet Smith Grade Road. What I was looking for was a side trail that might lead to the parking area on Empire Grade Road.

Let me backtrack here. Way back in the summer, I wondered if one could park near the north entrance to Wilder. The main entrance, with lots of parking (official and non) is at the south end of the park, on Highway 1. The north entrance gates are strictly no parking zones, being fire entrances, but I knew there was a popular bike staging area just up the road a bit. So I parked there, and tried walking to the park gates. This was a bad idea. Empire Grade Road is very busy and winding, and there are no shoulders. A driver who had just dropped off some bikers stopped and gave me a ride, so I arrived at the park safe and sound. But my quest for a close-by parking spot for Wilder still remained unfulfilled.

So this Sunday, I walked the extra 2.25 miles from the known parking area at the university, thinking that if I followed the Woodcutter Trail I’d surely encounter a track leading in from the above-mentioned staging area. And if a lot of bikers use it, it should be fairly obvious.

Well, no. I saw several small footpaths leading off to the right, but none seemed large enough to be worth following. So I just followed the Woodcutter Trail 1.9 miles to its end at Smith Grade. Where there is parking; there is a pull-out with enough room for 3 or 4 cars. So right now the bottom line (for me) is that if I want to hike in the upper regions of Wilder, I have to hike in some 2 miles from the nearest parking. Which is fine; I’m a hiking fool anyway.

The Woodcutter’s Trail is a very nice hike. I walked right past the “Trail Closed: Storm Damage” sign at the trailhead, scofflaw that I am. And the trail wasn’t really damaged. There were still some very muddy spots along the way, despite 2 weeks of gloriously warm and sunny weather, and I could see that during rainy periods the water would run right down the middle of the trail. So I would not recommend following this route during or immediately after a storm. But in nice weather, it is a glorious downhill all the way to Smith Grade. And a not-too-bad uphill all the way back. A good hike for breaking in my new hiking boots.

Breaking in my new boots

A brief pause in a meadow for a bite to eat let me find these shooting stars (Dodecatheon alpinum).
Little flowers

But most of the trek was all redwoods, all the time.

Total distance: roughly 9 miles, round trip. Definitely recommended. And I’ll be back to find that elusive trailhead!

Santa Cruzin’

I’ve been catching up on some hiking and walking lately, mostly around Santa Cruz itself. I am still sometimes amazed that I live in California, even after 16 years here; even more amazed that I am lucky enough to live in Santa Cruz, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived.

Santa Cruz is nestled between redwood mountains and the Monterey Bay. I live about a mile from one of the local state beaches, and one of my favorite walks is what I call my beach loop. On a recent loop walk I encountered some hula-hooping young men, who offered to give me lessons. How could I pass that up?
I encounter the hula hoop.
This was the first time I ever kept the hoop going for more than a single turn. Woohoo!

A few days later I took a twilight walk. It was a beautiful evening, with lots of people out.
Here’s a guy on a bike, riding/climbing over the jacks that serve as the lighthouse’s breakwater.
Tricky riding!

Surfers waiting for the next wave.
Waiting for a wave
Here’s one!
Catching a wave

I’m not the only photographer.
Twilight photographer

A child running on the sand.
Child running on the sand

Sunset over the pier.
Santa Cruz sunset

And one last surfer, looking for one last ride.
Last surfer

The farmers’ market that Sarah-Hope and I frequent is on the other side of town. After this morning’s veggie shopping, we went for a stroll on West Cliff, the road the skirts Santa Cruz’s ocean bluffs. Our goal: more surfers.
Surf's up!

We found them, on Santa Cruz’s famed surfing ground, Steamer Lane.


We also found a lot of people (and dogs) out for their morning constitutionals.
Walking on West Cliff

And these really interesting sling bikes. More like scooters, actually, since they didn’t have pedals. Instead, the riders loped along, suspended in their saddles from the overhead framework. Fascinating.
Sling bikes

My apologies to my east coast friends, who are encountering freezing temperatures and piles of snow, but I just can’t help it: I must say that I am living in paradise!

Photos of the Day

I took an early-morning hike in The Forest of Nisene Marks today. It was lovely, cool, mostly foggy, not many people.

Banks and banks of sweet peas on an early portion of the trail.
Sweet peas along the trail

Not many hikers; lots of bikers and joggers.
Bikers under the redwoods

A spiderweb catches the light and the dew.
An interesting spiderweb

A bee gathers nectar at the summit.
A bee at the summit

Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and Me

I am usually an early riser, and consider a day unfit for hiking –or much of anything, for that matter– if I’m up and about any later than 7am. The day’s already half gone! Too late!

But I think I’m still experiencing the mellowing effects of our day at the spa. This morning we slept in, I made coffee, we played with the cats and worked on our various web presences. I hauled a ‘free!’ table out to the side of the road, we played with the cats some more, and by the time I hit the hiking trail it was 11am. So like Noel Coward‘s mad dogs and Englishmen, I was out in the mid-day sun.

Yes, it’s been ages since I’ve gone hiking, thanks to too much art (if there is any such thing). So I went to my favorite go-to park, Wilder Ranch State Park.

Wilder Ranch State Park

The sun was bright, but there was a good sea breeze to keep things from getting too hot. The hills are definitely in their ‘tawny’ phase, but there were still abundant wildflowers.

Flowers at Wilder Ranch State Park

And bees.

Bee and thistle at Wilder Ranch State Park

I started out on the Wilder Ridge Loop, climbing steeply. Oak trees by the side of the trail offered welcome shade. I love their twisted branches.

Oak tree

After a couple of miles, I turned on to the Twin Oaks Trail. My plan, since it was hot and I had forgotten my sunscreen, was to head for the shadier trails. This worked as far as sunburn is concerned, but what I didn’t think about was the shade is in the canyons, meaning my hike had a whole lot of ups-and-downs to it. Oh well, it’s good exercise.

Twin Oaks Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park

After about a mile on Twin Oaks, I joined the Eucalyptus Loop Trail. There really aren’t any eucalyptus on this trail, except for a sentinel line of about 10 old trees at the trail’s head. Instead, it is a mix of oak, chaparral, and redwoods, with a couple of streams thrown in for good measure. Here some spiderwebs catch the sun.

Spiderwebs and redwood trunks

Every so often, the woods would open out into another meadow.

Transition from woods to meadow

The Eucalyptus Trail led to the Old Cabin Trail, and thence to the Wild Boar Trail. No boars were in sight, but if there had been I bet they’d have liked these berries.


And soon, my first glance of the ocean. This is looking out over the Monterey Bay, with Big Sur and Monterey in the distance. Not too shabby a view, eh?

View of the ocean at Wilder Ranch State Park

It was all downhill from there, down to the historic buildings, goats, sheep, chickens, and gardens at the ranch that gives the park its name.

Heading downhill

I am a happy hiker!

Me at Wilder Ranch State Park

Incidentally, there is an annual 4th of July celebration at the historical buildings of Wilder State Ranch every year, where they celebrate the 4th of 100 hundred years ago; this year, it will be 1910. Freshly-made ice cream, strawberry shortcake, hayrides, and good old-fashioned fun. Come out, support your state parks, and celebrate!

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