I admit: I may be just a little obsessed with this year’s Superbloom. It has been an exceptional year for wildflowers, and the last couple of months have brought a celebration of them. Temporary and dynamic, they represent life. Like life, it goes by quicker than you realize, and some seasons are better than others. This Spring 2019 just so happens to be one of the best Superblooms I’ve seen in my life.
While places like Carrizo Plain and Antelope Valley get a lot of attention these days, and rightfully so, you don’t have to travel far to see wildflowers in action. The green, undulating hills of California make the perfect landscape for the Spring bloom. One of the best places on the Central Coast to see them is Toro Park near Salinas and Monterey.
Its steep, grassy hills were uplifted along the San Andreas Fault system over the last few million years, raising sandstone and small outcroppings of metamorphic gneiss to the summit at Ollason Peak, elevation 1,800′. Oak trees, shrubs, and chaparral habitat dominate the landscape. I’ve been following the Superbloom at Toro Park this year. My first trip was in late March; I then returned a few times in April. This is my third update for the season, and you can definitely see the difference in landscape over the last two months.
Enjoy the last of the Superbloom; it’s fading out and soon the hills will be golden again. Make the most of their fleeting beauty, whether a slow stroll, a ripping bikeride, or just a nice place to sit. I certainly can’t get enough of it! Here’s a video of mountain biking down Gilson Gap and Meyer’s Loop Trail.
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.
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!