Wilder Ranch State Park, in Santa Cruz, California, is full of color and activity this time of year. With the Spring wildflower bloom in full effect, this is an ideal time to get outside and enjoy nature’s kaleidoscope of flowers. With sandy to loamy soils that gently wind up ancient marine terraces, equestrians, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers alike are all out in full force these days enjoying the gorgeous landscape.
One of my favorite (legal) trails within Wilder Ranch is Enchanted Loop Trail. It’s a pretty short downhill through a redwood canyon teeming with ferns, clovers, and moss. After the exceptional Winter we had this year, everything is ultra vibrant.
Elegant Cluster Lily (Brodiaea elegans)
Elegant Cluster Lily (Brodiaea elegans)
Though known more for cross-country mountain biking, Wilder is a fun spot that makes up for its infamous ruts with its exceptional beauty. Ocean views, expansive fields of green, and pops of glowing wildflowers beckon you to take frequent breaks and enjoy the scenery. By mid-Summer, it will still be beautiful here, but not like the Spring bloom. This is a truly special, finite time of year.
Golden Star (Triteleia ixioides)
Coast Live Oak
California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) with Blue-Eyed Grass
Watch out for Snakes in the Trail!
Nice Gopher Snake!
Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta)
Golden Star (Triteleia ixioides)
Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris)
Baptisia Yellow Bush Lupine
Coast Live Oak
Here’s a video of my ride today down Enchanted Loop. Enjoy this beautiful Spring!
It’s an old saying that means an indefinitely long time, originating from the unhurried, meandering timeframe for cows to return home to the barn at night. It’s a phrase I would see in action on my mountain bike ride at Toro Park in Salinas, California, in late April 2019.
I grew up in Lafayette, California, in a bucolic suburb with expansive cow pastures. My two older sisters and I, and a gang of neighborhood friends, would roam those hills until, as it were, the cows came home. Summer evenings were spent on rope-swings slung over old-growth Oak, after long walks on cowpie-laden trails. It was beautiful out there.
But I was always a little bit scared of the cows. They would just stand there in the trail and stare at us, obstinately flicking flies from their rumps with their fickle tails. Sometimes they would moo at you with a wild look in their eye, or a bull would take a step toward you. They could trample you should they please. I developed a healthy respect for them.
When I went for a ride on Pipeline Trail at Toro Park, I would have to come face-to-face with cows again. Though I’m not afraid of them anymore, I am not totally at home with them, either. As I climbed up Ollason fireroad, I came across a small herd of them in the trail; I shooed them out of the way and continued along. The climb up was so gorgeous with all of the flowers exploding off the hillside, I kept stopping to enjoy the view!
Monterey Bay Views
When I made it up to Ollason Peak, I rested and had a good snack. Then, I set out down Pipeline Trail. Only a few minutes into the downhill, I came across several cows blocking the trail. The terrain is a steep ravine, overgrown on all sides, and the trail a narrow singletrack. I tried to scare them off; I clapped my hands, stomped my feet, and even tried riding my bike toward them. I soon realized there was nowhere for me to pass above or below them. There was barely room for the cows.
I started clapping my hands and directing them along, which most of them were receptive, albeit slow, to do. There were a couple of cows, though, who turned around in the trail, stomped their feet, and mooed that sort of howl-like “Don’t mess with me!” alarm call. I backed off a touch when they did that, spotting the nearest tree to climb up should one decide to charge me. But I stood my ground, kept telling them to Git!, and before I knew it, I was herding them slowly down the trail until an opportunity to pass presented itself. They were tearing the trail up as they sauntered along, which was a bummer to see.
Ollason Peak, 1,800′
After a good half hour or so, I was definitely getting impatient. I learned what the saying ‘Til the cows come home really meant. These behemoths were talking their sweet time making their way along, stopping to eat often. I realized they were probably a little out of their element as well, confined to a balance-beam of a trail.
I finally came across a bend in the trail that crossed over a small creek. The cows were in the corner of the trail, masticating on tall grasses and considering the turn in the trail. If I could just get across the creek, I could get in front of them, but it was steep and overgrown. I neared them slowly until I could make my way down a shallower slope, and made my way in front of them at last! All in all, we’d only slithered about a quarter of a mile down the trail. It’d just gone at a snail’s pace – or a cow’s pace, rather. It was comical, but also somewhat frustrating while it was happening. I was so relieved to clear those cows!
Moreover, the Superbloom is in full effect at Toro Park in late April; it was like biking through a painting! I cannot get enough of all the wildflowers. I love the vast openness of Toro. Only an hour’s drive South of Santa Cruz, it’s a great place to ride.
Here’s a video of the ride and my stand-off with the cows; I filmed them as I tried to scurry them along. Toro Park sure earned its name! I’d heard stories of cows on the trail before, but now I have my own tale to tell.
When I ask people if they’ve been to Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, I sometimes get a quizzical, Where exactly is that? Or, they light up with an enthusiastic Yes! If you haven’t yet been, go see for yourself just how awesome this place is during a Superbloom!
One of the largest remaining grasslands on the West Coast, antelope and elk used to roam the landscape in troves. It’s not the size it once was before California was settled, making it all that more important to preserve and protect.
If you go in the Springtime, ideally after an incredibly wet Winter like the one we had this year, your eyes, soul, and heart will thank you deeply. I hadn’t been to Carrizo Plain until two years ago in 2017, also a Superbloom year (read that post here). I was so moved the first time I went, I knew I had to back again. I relished a gorgeous bike ride up Caliente Ridge with sweeping views of the valley; I’ll always remember it vividly. After the epic rains we received this year, I knew this Spring would be on fire!
I set out on Monday, April 1, 2019, for this trip, about a three and a half hour drive South of Santa Cruz. Driving in on Highway 58 from the Paso Robles area, the hillsides began to explode with fluorescent, vibrant colors. I kept pulling over to look at the scenery, and joined a few others at Shell Creek Road. I’d heard about this spot online; that it was a beautiful street near the Plain that was known for its own impressive blooms. It was surely a gorgeous sight, with a cool creek meandering through it, and the warm 80ºF weather inviting me to relax. It was totally worth the stop!
About thirty minutes further down the road is Carrizo Plain. Along the way, I noticed several large solar arrays. It’s strange to see them dominating the landscape.
I started out at the Wallace Creek site first, a geological wonder where the San Andreas Fault has offset the creekbed over the years. It’s a short hike, and a welcome stretch after sitting in the car so long. I love Plate Tectonics, and it is always a treat to visit Ground Zero for our state’s greatest landbuilding feature, the 800-mile long San Andreas Fault.
After Wallace Creek, I drove down Simmler Road , which leads you down a dirt road into the Soda Lake lakebed that centers the valley. By late Summer, this will be a dry, dusty, alkaline lakebed; the water will evaporate quickly under the baking Summer sun. There were few visitors here today, and plenty of room to pull over and park along the road to take pictures and take in the sights.
After driving through Soda Lake, I went to the Visitor’s Center. I hiked up toward Painted Rock, enjoying relics of farming equipment on display.
Visitor’s Center Displays
I continued West along the southern edge of the plain, pulling off a few more times to savor the intensely vivid landscape. The pictures here do not show the magic! It’s almost a religious experience being here; the silence, the vast plains, and the psychedelic kaleidoscopes of colors make you feel like you’re in paradise. It’s something I highly recommend you experience at least once in your life! Now that I’ve been only twice, I plan many more visits in the coming years. There are numerous unique wildflowers and animals that call this place their home. Go enjoy it firsthand – and soon!
I saw some Bison on the way home along Highway 58!
The Vernal Equinox recently passed, and this Spring is shaping up to be a Superbloom year after California was blessed with a colossally wet Winter. While Southern California is already experiencing the beautiful bounty of a full Superbloom, Central and Northern California are just warming up. It’s a wonderfully inspiring time of year to get outside and explore the multitude of wonders at our doorstep. Over the last week, I’ve enjoyed the dawn of the bloom at a few parks on the Central Coast: Waddell Creek, Toro Park, and Henry Cowell. Here’s a recent snapshot of them!
About twenty minutes North of Santa Cruz up Highway 1 lies Waddell Creek. It drains into the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach, and is the westernmost edge of Big Basin State Park. This is one of my favorite places to trailrun; it’s so nice to finish at the beach! You also feel like you’re far away from town, even though it’s not too far of a drive.
The Berry Creek Falls Trail is a beautiful, welcoming hike, run, bikeride, or even ride a horse up to a beautiful waterfall. Another option is to backpack overnight on the Skyline to the Sea Trail into Big Basin, something I did years ago and now find myself asking why haven’t I yet again? There are so many different microclimes and habitats within the park, it always feels like something new is around every corner.
One of my favorite things about Waddell is the newts – I’ve seen more here than anywhere else! Rancho del Oso is also known for its abundance of Spring wildflowers, with an annual celebration planned for early May this year.
I love this flower!
Heavenly, candy-like Trillium
After my run, I drove a short bit more up coast to Año Nuevo beach, one of my favorite beaches.
Toro Park is a huge park with miles of hiking and mountain biking trails; it also has barbeque pits, playgrounds, and sporting facilities at the main park. The wildlife and wildflowers are exceptional here in the Spring and Summer. The landscape is sandy to loamy, with coastal chapparal mixed with oak grassland amid steep, rolling hills. I’ve ridden here many times, and raced here twice (winning once!). I hadn’t ridden Pipeline Trail, though, so I decided to check it out last weekend.
On the long fireroad climb up to Ollason Peak, I was lucky to see a bobcat, two coyotes, and a Wild Turkey, all close to the trail! It makes my day to see wildlife. But even more exciting? The bursting carpet of wildflowers filling in the hillsides; it is the start of the Spring bloom, indeed. I must’ve stopped twenty times on the climb up to marvel at the myriad blooms beckoning me from the trail. It was breathtaking, and I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks to see the Superbloom’s evolution.
The scenery and flowers were a welcome distraction to the austere climb up Ollason Trail. I didn’t hesitate to get off and walk my bike up the steepest, ruttiest sections. The view from the top was an incredible bonus, spanning across the Monterey Bay and to my not too distant home, the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Too many wildflowers to count!
I set out on Pipeline Trail. The trails are in excellent shape right now, with recent rains tamping down the sandstone into a tacky, more trustworthy bite. It was my first time on the trail, so I rode with some prudence, but I can see how you could rip this trail up! It was definitely more technical than all of the other trails at Toro, although it had plenty of pedaly traversing sections. I am excited to ride this trail a lot more in the future! I look forward to finding the flow and grace of it.
Henry Cowell is my bread and butter in Santa Cruz; it’s where I first explored as a University freshman back in the day. This magical oasis in the Santa Cruz Mountains holds relics of old-growth giants from millennia past, and many remnants of their aggressive logging in the 1800’s. All but a few of the original stand today, their sanctity all that more profound compared to their spindly second-growth counterparts. There is an absolutely ethereal feeling of walking through a redwood forest – golden light penetrating the needles; fluorescent, animated moss reaching out from the tree limbs to pet you; always an animal or flower to stop and appreciate. Henry Cowell spans from redwood forest along the San Lorenzo River to drier, chaparral in the Sandhills habitat. There are many biking and hiking trails, and never a shortage of wonder!
San Lorenzo River
Summer Swimming Hole
Every year, around the Equinoxes, the light is especially brilliant at Henry Cowell. It’s hitting at just the right angle to let the redwoods show their true, deep red color, with strokes of vibrant green moss, clover, and fern filling in the landscape for balance. For me, it feels like the closest thing to church. Whether it’s a calm stroll, a ripping mountain bike ride, or a graceful run through the forest, I always feel inspired, happy, and relaxed when I am here.
Happy Springtime everyone! Enjoy being outside in your special places, soaking up all the blooming flowers that abound. I plan on exploring a lot more this SuperBloom 2019 season!
California’s gotten lucky this Winter. It’s been an exceptionally wet one, with even more on the way. With less than three weeks until the Spring Equinox, and only one week until the start of Daylight Savings Time, Summer’s warm glow is appearing on the horizon. Before the transition to longer, busier days, I cherish the quiet peace of Winter, blanketed by rain and snow.
It’s been a wonderful Winter for both sandy mountain biking in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and snowboarding insanely deep powder in the mountains. With over 25 feet of snow in February alone, most resorts haven’t had many days of full operation. They can barely keep up with all of Mother Nature’s bounty.
When we get such plentiful precipitation, it brings a feeling of security and hope. Knowing that there will likely be enough water to last us through the dry Summer is assuring; knowing that animals will also have enough water in their parched rivers and streams is equally comforting.
We took a roadtrip to Mammoth over superbowl Sunday weekend, which happened to be an intense, bona fide blizzard. Almost eleven feet of snow fell over that weekend, with whiteout conditions so blinding, it just about shut down the whole town. Ron and I barely managed to snowboard on Saturday and Sunday, even though the upper mountain was closed from gale force winds and complete whiteout conditions. We had to sit down in complete blindness at least a dozen times because the snowfall was so heavy. We fared the high winds and vertigo inducing flurries and made the most of it. It was awesome to just float over the copious fresh powder. Though I’d been mountain biking here, it was my first time snowboarding. It was amazing, but I would love to come back when the upper mountain is open. We had to take the southern route home down Highway 395, as all of the Northern passes were closed, which turned out to be a breathtakingly beautiful drive.
Central Valley Rainbow
Central Valley Rainbow
Kirkwood has been delivering on its “highest and driest” claim, if not overwhelmed at times, like all of the other resorts, by all of the snow they’re getting. We’ve had some of our best days possibly ever this season, though are still hungry for more before they close on April 21. We heard a harrowing story from a skier we rode up Chair 4 with, though. He had just gotten wedged into a 20-foot deep crevasse at the top of the big cornice at the top of Chair 4. He was trying to jump it, but somehow slipped into the narrow gash and fell down into it, skies awkwardly wedged and stuck.
It took him about a half hour to get his skies off and carefully climb up to the opening, where he was barely able to wave his ski to alert bypassers. Ski Patrol came and helped him get out, and roped off the cornice. I think he was still in a bit of shock about it; all I could think of was how freaked out I’d be if I’d almost just died. All of this snow is exciting, but I never forget how powerful and scary it can be. Avalanches, tree wells, and crevasses are all menacing forces that kill people every year. He is lucky he didn’t get stuck in there. The story gave me shivers, and reminded me of the real risks of snow, even within the boundaries of a well-managed ski resort.
Beau in snowboard bag
Ron and I are both quick to acknowledge how special our snowboarding trips and mountain bike rides are together, and how much we appreciate them (and many other things, of course). We’ve got to make the most of the time we have now. As time goes on and we are getting older, it becomes clearer how numbered all of these experiences are. My grandmother and old teenage boyfriend both passed away within the last couple months, and, though expected, their passings reminded me how finite our time really is on this Earth. There are no guarantees, except mortality. When I am old and cannot flow over the land or snow anymore, I will look back on these memories with intense love and fondness, perhaps through a virtual reality interface. Which is why we’ve got to keep on making those memories a reality now.
Enjoy the final days of Winter, and Spring will be here before we know it!
His and Hers
Wonderfully Wet Winter
Here’s a video of today’s mellow cross-country ride: