The redwood adventure continues! A couple of weeks ago, I rounded up another pair of POSTies, Lindsay Dillon and Brooke Mead, to continue my quest to hike all of the redwood parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We decided to check out Sam McDonald County Park, adjacent to Pescadero Creek County Park in San Mateo County.
The park is located about 45 minutes from Palo Alto. The main parking lot is off Pescadero Creek Road, just south of La Honda. Parking was ample, especially for a Saturday, and the day use fee is $5, payable via an envelope system—make sure to bring exact change.
From the parking lot, we took the Heritage Grove Trail, the start of our loop hike around the entire southern portion of the park (under 5 miles, with an extra mile-long side trip). After about 1.5 miles of somewhat flat terrain along the top of a ridge, we reached the Heritage Grove, which contains spectacular old-growth redwoods.
From that point, the trail becomes a bit more steep as you climb up to the Hikers Hut, which is a Sierra Club-owned facility that can be rented overnight (holds up to 14 people). As soon as we saw the Hut, I knew we’d be coming back at some point to stay there. It has a huge deck overlooking rolling grassy ridgetops down to the ocean—and I love the idea of having to work to get there.
With this incredible view, we couldn’t resist stopping to relax and have something to eat. I’m convinced this is the most ideal picnic spot I’ve ever enjoyed (see photo). Forcing ourselves to get up and keep moving, we continued downhill on the fire road, which leads to the Towne Trail. Continuing on the Towne Trail for a couple of miles, we reached the junction with the 1-mile Big Tree Trail loop. With a name like that, we figured it must be good. And we were right! Down in the gulch, there are some massive old-growth stands that I’m glad we didn’t miss.
Just like at Portola Redwoods State Park, we barely saw any other hikers all day—maybe 10 people for the entire length of the hike. Again, I’m amazed by the ease with which you can completely escape the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley and be alone with nature—just a few miles from the heart of our country’s technological epicenter.
To me, the highlight of Sam McDonald is the varied mix of terrain. The constantly changing scenery keeps it interesting, and you feel like you’ve accomplished and seen so much after only a couple hours of hiking. Next time, I’ll extend my hike into Pescadero Creek County Park—so many possibilities!
I hope that everyone has been able to enjoy this beautiful spring weather in our region’s many parks and open space preserves!
Until my next hike,
POST Grants Officer
POST Stewardship Program Manager Meghan Scanlon and Office Manager Lindsay Dillon recently took a Go Pro camera out to Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda. Right next door is the Peters Creek Old-growth Forest which, like Portola, contains impressive ancient redwood trees. POST has partnered with Save the Redwoods League to protect the Peters Creek property, with the hope that it will eventually be transferred to California State Parks and become part of Portola Redwoods. This would give folks who are not ready to hike the current 11-mile loop a quicker route to see the old-growth giant trees. Meghan and Lindsay’s video gives us a quick look at what the Peters Creek and Portola protected forests have to offer.
Check out our YouTube Channel for more POST videos!
When I announced my “Journey Into the Redwoods” adventure last month, I have to admit that I’d already visited Portola Redwoods State Park (please try to contain your shock and disappointment!). Actually, that trip played a major role in inspiring me to see more of our region’s redwoods, so I thought it would be the perfect inaugural post for my series.
Back in November, I gathered up a couple of fellow POSTies—Abigail Adams, Conservation Project Manager, and Catherine Waterston, Stewardship Associate —for a full weekend of camping and hiking at Portola Redwoods. As many of you probably know, last summer Portola was one of 70 state parks to be closed due to the state budget crisis. When POST heard this news, we immediately sprung into action. Thanks in part to our work in partnership with Save the Redwoods League, the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation, and the local state parks staff, Portola will now remain open for at least the next full year, and we are working on longer-term solutions to ensure its future viability.
Since it had become such a hot topic around the office, we decided we’d better get to Portola to see firsthand why POST was eager to keep the park open to the public. The road leading into Portola is stunning (albeit steep and winding), and as soon as we entered, I knew I was wrong to have made any assumptions about why it was on the closure list.
Following a quick stop at the Visitor Center to pay for a campsite and inquire about the hiking trails, we set up shop in an amazing campsite, surrounded by magnificent redwoods—all topped off by the soothing sounds of Pescadero Creek right behind the site. It was the last weekend for camping at the park before closing for winter, and it was a bit chilly, so the park was pretty quiet. Only an hour or so after leaving home, we already felt worlds away from everyone and everything.
After setting up my amazing “instant tent”—which pops up in just about 60 seconds (pretty much the best invention ever), we decided to do a short hike before dark. We first checked out the ¾-mile Sequoia Nature Trail, which starts at the Visitor Center, winds through some beautiful old-growth patches and ends at Pescadero Creek—a nice introduction to the natural history of the area. Next, we took the Old Tree Trail, which is a ½-mile easy trail from the entrance of the campground and ends at—you guessed it—the Old Tree, a massive (nearly 300 feet tall, 12 feet across), thought-to-be 1,200-year-old giant. Both hikes are easy and worth the quick jaunt.
After a few too many s’mores, we passed out around 8:00 pm. It’s amazing how time moves so slowly when you’re in nature and don’t have the distractions of technology and modern life.
Awaking with the sunrise the next morning, more refreshed than I can remember feeling in years, we packed up and set out toward the Peters Creek Trail, a steep 13-mile hike—the longest that Catherine and I had ever attempted. Our nervousness about the length of the hike was not quelled when at about 3 miles in, we reached a sign reading “CAUTION: Strenuous 7-mile round trip hike from this point…”, to which we both had a similar reaction…what have we gotten ourselves into?!
But we marched on, and I’m so glad that we did. After about 5 miles of somewhat hilly second-growth redwood uplands (called the Bear Creek Trail), we reached the Peters Creek Trail, which has to be one of the most amazing redwood hiking trails in the Bay Area. As you descend into the ancient redwood grove with Peters Creek rippling alongside the trail, you feel as if you’re in an enchanted forest, surrounded by stunningly tall trees and lush ferns and redwood sorrel completely covering the ground.
About a mile and a half later, we reached the old-growth redwood grove, the third largest in the Santa Cruz Mountains (after Big Basin and Henry Cowell). Sitting on the bed of the creek, eating our lunch right in the middle of this amazing redwood forest—life just doesn’t get much better than that. Possibly the most incredible part of it all was that we saw only two or three other people on the trail all day. The isolated feel of the area definitely adds to its splendor. Everyone deserves to experience this hidden gem.
POST recently provided funding to one of our partners, Save the Redwoods League, to purchase a property adjacent to Portola Redwoods State Park that will provide much easier access to the old-growth grove. We hope this will increase park visitations so it never faces the threat of closure again.
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Thomas
More info on the State Parks website:
Urban agriculture expert Will Allen is an imposing figure. First there’s the list of awards and achievements he’s earned during the last 10 years for bringing healthful food and positive community spirit to disadvantaged neighborhoods. Then there’s his physical presence – well over six feet tall, broad shouldered like the professional basketball player he started out to be. Finally there is the illustrated lecture he delivered on February 11 as the opening presentation of POST’s 20th anniversary Wallace Stegner Lectures. Allen gave a rapid-fire description of his non-profit organization, Growing Power, as he speed-dialed through more than 1,000 images of greenhouses, composting operations and fish farms. Many of them were built on vacant lots or in abandoned buildings in downtown Milwaukee.
Like the lecture series, Growing Power, which Allen founded in 1993, is celebrating 20 successful years and shows no signs of stopping. Each time I hear another story about how people are working together to grow nutritious, affordable, sustainable food in unlikely places, I vow to do more to take advantage of the rich soil and year-round growing season we have on the San Francisco Peninsula. We are in an enviable position when it comes to a return to eating what we can grow close to home. Draw a circle 100 miles in diameter around your home and examine all the meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and specialty items within that range. Close the circle to 50 miles. If you can, choose only what’s sustainable and grown with a just return to those who produced it. You’ll still be among the best fed people on the planet.
Will Allen lecture clips are now available on YouTube.
POST Lecture Series and Public Relations Manager
The hardy and widespread Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a common sight to many Californians who spend time outdoors, appearing in a diverse array of habitats throughout the state. You may have been intrigued by one of these lizards performing “push-ups,” purportedly a communication of physical prowess to other lizards. But that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what makes the Western Fence Lizard so fascinating. Research has shown this remarkable reptile, commonly referred to as a blue-belly, to be a public health asset, inadvertently protecting people from the threat of Lyme disease.
Western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) carry a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. Large mammals, such as humans, are a suitable food source for adult ticks. When the tick bites and feeds on the blood of a human for 24 to 48 hours, it can transfer this bacterium. The resulting infection is known as Lyme disease. When the ticks are at a younger phase in their life cycle, namely the nymphal stage, they prefer small creatures as their food source. In the Bay Area, these ticks seem to have an affinity for Western Fence Lizards. When a nymphal tick feeds on blue-belly blood, something interesting happens – a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Studies have confirmed the ability of the protein in the lizard’s blood to kill the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, and some reports suggest that as few as 5 percent of ticks in areas with Western Fence Lizards carry the disease, as opposed to 50 percent in areas without. However, further study is needed to determine whether the blue-belly is the main driver in this shift or whether there are additional environmental factors at play.
There are a number of subspecies of this resilient creature. In San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, the subspecies is the Coast Range Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii). Western Santa Clara Countyis also home to the Coast Range Fence Lizard, with another subspecies, the Northwestern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis) in the northeastern part of the county, and the San Joaquin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus) in the southeastern portion.
Our attempts to learn more about the biological and ecological relationships that take place in our greater “backyard” are aided by POST’s protection of open space. Not only are we saving habitat for the Western Fence Lizard and many other species, we’re conserving natural resources that help us learn more about what makes our local lands remarkable. The conservation of such amazing biodiversity allows us to work toward a deeper understanding of how all types of living creatures fit into the puzzle.
Western Fence Lizard image(s) courtesy of Natural History on the Web
For further reading, please see:
California Academy of Sciences. (2001). Lizards that Fight Lyme Disease.
California Herps. (n.d.). Distribution of Western Fence Lizard – Sceloporus occidentalis in California showing current subspecies.
Russell, Sabin (1998). Lizards Slow Lyme Disease in West / Ticks bite them — and leave with purified blood. San Francisco Chronicle.
Scalise, Kathleen. (1998). Lizard May Act As Lyme Disease Panacea – Feeding on Its Blood Strips Ticks of Dangerous Lyme Bacterium. Berkleyan: A Newspaper for Faculty and Staff at the University of California, Berkeley.
A study on the impact of feral and free roaming domestic cats on native lizard (and bird and mammal) populations.
POST Land Assistant
The Bay Area never ceases to amaze me. You can sit at a café in San Francisco, surrounded by people from all over the world, with endless culinary options and activities—all the spoils of urban life. Or, you can drive 30 miles away and in less than an hour be completely alone with nature. The options are endless there, too—bay, ocean, mountain and the most unique part of it all, our local redwood forests.
Originally from the Midwest, I recently moved from San Francisco to the Peninsula. Without the distractions of urban life, I find myself increasingly drawn to the open spaces and protected lands in Silicon Valley’s backyard. Nature has become my respite—the only thing that clears my head and makes me feel whole. I’m so thankful that I landed a job at POST, or else I might never have known how important nature and the outdoors is to me.
Since POST launched its Heart of the Redwoods Campaign a few months ago, I’m continually learning new things about these giant trees, which in turn fuels my curiosity and amazement. I never realized that only 5 percent of California’s old-growth redwoods remain standing, and that the Santa Cruz Mountains—which are now visible from my Peninsula apartment—harbor some of the last unprotected redwoods in the world. When my friends and family come to visit me, I always take them to see the redwoods. To see the look of awe that crosses each of their faces makes me proud of my new home and the decision I made to live in this unique part of our country.
For all of these reasons, I’ve made a challenge to myself: I want to hike every park in the Santa Cruz Mountains over the next six months that contains redwood forests! And, I’m going to write all about it here on POST’s blog. I plan to start with the following (in no particular order):
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Little Basin (POST-protected, now part of Big Basin)
- Portola Redwoods State Park (POST provided funding to help keep this park open)
- Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
- Butano State Park (POST has added land to this park)
- Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
- Fall Creek Unit, Henry Cowell
- Huddart County Park
- Sam McDonald County Park
- Pescadero Creek County Park
- Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
- Wilder Ranch State Park
- Castle Rock State Park
- Bear Creek Redwoods (POST-protected, currently owned by MROSD; open to the public by permit only)
When I made this decision, I had no idea there were so many parks with redwoods in our region. This is definitely going to be a challenge, but I’m excited to start exploring and sharing my experience via POST’s blog.
I’ll be posting regularly over the next six months. I hope you will follow my posts, share your own redwood experiences and photos, and enjoy this journey with me!
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Thomas
POST Grants Officer
We focus a lot in our Heart of the Redwoods Campaign on looking up to appreciate the magnificent towering trees of our local redwood forests. But in honor of World Soil Day on December 5 we thought we’d take a look down and get a little “grounded” in the science of redwood forest soil.
Of all the forest floor residents, the bright yellow banana slugs are perhaps the hardest to miss. There are actually three species of banana slug. The largest can reach nearly 10 inches in length and, despite their name, they range in color from white to spotted to nearly black.
In our redwood forests, the trees and the banana slugs seem to have reached an agreement. The trees help maintain the consistent temperature and moisture levels that the slugs need to survive, and in return, the slugs avoid eating redwood seedlings and feed on other plants that compete with redwoods.
After they’ve targeted their intended meal with their small sensory antennae, banana slugs move across the food and use a ribbon-like organ called a radula to eat. Small teeth (denticles) on the radula scrape or cut food particles for digestion. The slugs are detritivores—animals that devour the debris, or, detritus, of the forest floor. (Although, as mentioned above, the banana slugs will also feed on small live plants, and seem to have a particular fondness for mushrooms!)
As they move throughout the forest processing what they’ve eaten, banana slugs leave behind waste. This waste adds plant nutrients like nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen helps build plant cells and is an ingredient in photosynthesis, helping plants produce food so they can continue the cycle of growth, decay and new growth.
Let’s face it: slugs probably won’t win any awards for being cute and cuddly. In fact, when you search online you’ll find page after page of articles on getting rid of these “garden pests.” But like all living things, they have their part to play (and it’s not just as the mascot for the University of California, Santa Cruz). The banana slug’s role in enriching soil makes it an essential member of the amazing ecological system of our local redwood forests.