Berry Creek Falls MTB

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Berry Creek Falls is located within beautiful Big Basin State Park, about thirty minutes North of Santa Cruz, California. Waddell Creek runs through the western portion of the park, meandering down to Waddell Beach. This is an easy, out-and-back loop, best done with a goal of beauty and peace in mind. This is not a place to come for downhill, but a place to appreciate the serenity of this majestic redwood forest.

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Map

Big Basin was formed as a result of plate movements along the San Andreas strike-slip fault system; specifically, the Ben Lomond and Zayante Faults shape the east-west flow of Waddell Creek. Uplift from the Ben Lomond fault has swelled the southern portion of the park, where East Waddell Creek flows. Sometimes plate movements would create dams along the creek, leading to eventual flooding downstream, hence creating the “basins” that give Big Basin its name.

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Equestrian Bridge

Sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, mostly from the Tertiary time period about 65-2 million years ago (mya), overlie a granitic basement of older rocks from about 80 mya. The continued uplift along the Ben Lomond Fault, balanced with the incessant process of erosion, create a dynamic landscape showcasing Nature’s awesome sculpting power. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Waddell Creek’s water flow increased, and new springs appeared from the hillsides. This is a super interesting place to visit in terms of its geology! One of the coolest highlights of this ride was seeing evidence of the Ben Lomond Fault along Waddell Creek; check out the angle of those rock layers! This section of the creek also has a few bonafide swimming holes, deep enough for jumping.

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Great Swimming Hole

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Faulting

The flora and fauna go unmatched to its impressive geologic activity, with old-growth Redwoods, banana slugs, and trillium flowers galore in the Spring. Deer, mountain lion, and bobcats are among many mammals who are at home in the steep slopes of these mountains. The further you go from the parking lot, the more remote it feels. Backpacking the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, a trip I enjoyed years ago, is a fantastic three-day adventure that has made Big Basin famous, and for good reason. This part of the Santa Cruz Mountains definitely feels the wildest.

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I’ve hiked, run, and biked along the Berry Creek Falls Trail many times over the 20+ years I’ve lived in Santa Cruz. It is especially breathtaking to visit in Spring, when wildflowers dance merrily in gentle zephyrs across the valley. Going up to Berry Creek Falls is about six miles from the parking lot on Highway 1, and climbs uneventful fireroad made intriguing by the beautiful scenery. Again, this is not a place to go downhill mountain biking, but a peaceful tour through the redwoods. There are a couple of fun sections along the trail that get your wheels turning, though. I recommend coming in the off-hours if you’re going for a bike ride, though. Weekends can be busy with hikers, backpackers, bicyclists, and equestrians. I did this ride in the early evening on a Summer weekday, and only saw a few people, which allowed me to harness some speed from the trails. A weekend midday in the summertime would likely be busier, and it’s always our responsibility as mountain bikers to be ready to stop and yield to others.

For the approximately last mile, no bikes are allowed. Bring a lock if you want to lock it up at the falls trailhead, or hike-a-bike with you. Berry Creek Falls has a nice overlook with benches to sit and take in the flow. While Spring certainly roars more forcefully than late Summer, it’s always nice to see a waterfall any time of year; it flows year-round, as well.

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Berry Creek Falls

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The ride back down from the falls to the beach is a nice, relaxing cross-country ride. Finishing at Waddell Beach is a wonderful reward, with views of kitesurfers taking advantage of this famously windy beach. Waddell Creek drains into the Pacific Ocean here, finishing its descent from the Santa Cruz Mountains above. If you’re up for it, take a cooling dip in the ocean after your ride!

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Kitesurfers at Waddell Beach
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Waddell Creek

This is such a simple yet gratifying ride, especially for the unique beauty it provides. We are lucky to live in a region where we have such places to recreate, whether on two wheels or two feet. Here is a video of the ride, but there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself!

Spring Magic at Toro Park, Waddell, & Henry Cowell

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!

Waddell Creek/Rancho del Oso: 3/23/19

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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.

After my run, I drove a short bit more up coast to Año Nuevo beach, one of my favorite beaches.

Toro Park: 3/24/19

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Oak Woodland

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.

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.

Ollason Peak, 1,800′

Here is a pretty mellow video of my ride:

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: 3/27/19

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!

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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!