Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rancho Del Oso – Where Redwoods Meet the Sea

Waddell Beach is a wild stretch of surf eighteen miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway One. I was driving to San Francisco from L. A. when the rust colored meadow with its muted mauve and lavender grasses lacing the winding sea-bound creek called to me. Flashes of ducks, geese, and other shorebirds stirred my birding instincts. I yearned to know the valley that stretches from the beach into the redwood basin better, so when I visited friends in nearby Felton during the holidays, I asked them to share this
treasure.
Rancho Del Oso Nature Preserve turned out to be a local favorite. An easy, wide trail winds through beach, marsh, stream, and a riparian corridor. Self-guided trail maps can be easily obtained at the nature center about a half-mile into the park. Guided walks are provided on the weekends by docents. A horse camp is available for equestrians who bring their own mounts. Along with the equestrian trails in the park are trails for hikers and bikers. Monterey pines, mixed woodland, redwoods, coastal scrub, and mountain chaparral create a collage of color and shapes fringing the broad meadow of the Theodore Hoover National Preserve bordering Waddell Beach Park.
Most hikers are content to take the lower trail from the beach up to Berry Creek Falls, felt by many to be the most beautiful falls in all of the Santa Cruz Parks. Across from the falls is a platform with benches affording fine views and a good place to picnic. The clever hiker can have a friend drop them off at the Park Headquarters at the top of Big Basin and hike about five hours down to Waddell Beach. An afternoon bus from Waddell Beach returns to Santa Cruz. Be sure to check times and schedules before making that commitment. The ambitious hiker may take the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail thirteen miles to the top of the basin and enjoy extravagant vistas. Big Basin is California’s oldest state park, established in 1902 to save the ancient redwood forests. The park has grown to more than 18,000 acres with more than 80 miles of trails passing among streams, waterfalls, and old-growth redwoods.
Redwoods were heavily logged in the basin by William Waddell from 1867 to 1875. Logging stopped when he was killed by a grizzly bear, and the valley became known as the canyon of the bear. Grizzly bears have not been seen in the area since the 1920s. In 1913 Theodore Hoover was able to buy much of Waddell Creek watershed. His Rancho Del Oso encompassed about 3,000 acres, reaching from the ocean to the boundary of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
 Since that time, five generations of his family have lived here. There are still private family homes bordering the parkland. I felt a twinge of envy as we strolled past the neatly trimmed redwood homesteads of his descendants. The sun was smiling on their meadow bright with yellow wildflowers, dotted with persimmon trees heavy with orange globe. Neat rows of purple cabbage and a variety of lettuces fanned across the foothills. A thick hedge of berry bush brambles surrounded the fields to keep the deer and wild pigs from harvesting the crops.
We crossed a wooden bridge and walked beside Waddell Creek where the remains of a cement weir are used in the biological study of fish. During spring and winter months you may see mature steelhead and salmon in deep pools. President Hoover, an enthusiastic angler, fished here when he visited his brother. As a state park, the stream is now closed to fishing.

When we entered the deep redwood forest, the temperature dropped ten degrees. The cool breath of the towering monsters felt like a deep drink of soothing water. Lacy ferns nestle at the base of the trees ensconced in brilliant green moss. A gauze of Spanish moss draped the upper limbs of the evergreens. Warblers flashed through the still forest, illuminated by beams of light streaming through the protective arms overhead. I strained to see the birds I heard chirping. A kingfisher, a red-tailed hawk fat from easy pickings, and the flash of a stellar jay were all I could see.

As we were leaving, a wedge of pelican came in for a splash landing in the estuary. Curlew poked for treats in the mud at low tide. I wanted to stay longer to explore quietly on my own, but the fog was rolling in and it was time to go. I vowed to return to see the wildflowers in the spring and feel the cool forests in the summer. The constantly changing panorama of this natural wonderland is so varied it demands that the hiker come back for more.
Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center is within the coastal section of Big Basin Redwoods State ParkYou may park at Waddell Beach Park across from the trail head to Rancho Del Oso. There is parking on the surf side of the Highway. You can explore the wetlands, rocky tide pools, or hike anytime of the year.
Guided nature walks at the Rancho Del Oso Nature Center 831-427-2288
This a list of the hike options at Rancho Del Oso http://bit.ly/2jbSraL
Big Basin Redwood State Park Headquarters, where the Skyline-to Sea-Hike begins, is hosts to numerous trails spiraling throughout the redwood forest. There is also a nature museum with stuffed animal, bird, and inspect specimens on display. 
Big Basin Headquarters http://bit.ly/2ikWjlB
21600 Big Basin Way in Boulder Creek 831-338-8860

Boulder Creek, a charming village nearby Park Headquarters is a good place to stay.

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