Traveling north on the Pacific Coast Highway from Big Sur, Hannah and I arrive in Santa Cruz (Holy Cross), California, some 80 miles south of San Francisco, in search of our next bluff trail. It might seem that we are on a quest similar to the one the surfers followed in the 1966 cult classic documentary, the Endless Summer. In that film they looked the world over for the perfect wave. We are not looking for the perfect bluff trail; no, we just want another one. And then one more.
A beach resort town of 60, 000 on the north edge of Monterrey bay, Santa Cruz was one of the first communities to approve the use of medical marijuana (1992). Later in the day we will walk the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which is an oceanside amusement park that would make Seaside Heights, NJ or Wildwood, NJ proud. The Santa Cruz vibe warms my traveling soul and it all says Escape with a capital E.
Not more than a ten minute drive north from the downtown out the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), we turn left toward the ocean and the entrance of Wilder Ranch State Park. It’s another picture perfect California Sunday in January. With the State Parks in California typically charging $10 admission, what better way is there for us to spend a sawbuck or a Hamilton (pictured on the $10 bill) for a morning of uncrowded, outdoor activity? By the way, the Wilder Family ran a creamery here for five generations. A creamery is often the source of butter and, as you might imagine, cream. Their land became a state park in the 1970s.
Though the bulk of the 700o acres of the park lies east of the coast highway, the Ohlone Bluff Trail is a stone’s throw from the parking lot. By the way, the Ohlone Indians lived in the area for centuries until European diseases and the loss of their lands led to their inevitable demise. A sadly familiar tale of Manifest Destiny.
At 9A the parking lot is empty and we have nothing but blue skies above us. Four miles of bluff hiking 70’ above the Pacific shoreline lies ahead for us on this Sunday. With no hills or elevation gain at all, we hike at a crisp three mph pace loving the freedom of being away, so “Carol King” far away.
Being passed by a team of female cross country runners from one of the four local high schools this early morning, we first hike above Sand Plant Beach, then later on the bluffs above Strawberry Beach. Sandy trails snake down to the ocean’s edge, but on this 50 degree mid-morning there are no beach-goers.
There are certainly more bikers on the trail than hiker/walkers this Sunday morning. While the bluff trail is nine miles round trip, bikers and hikers have access to 35 miles of trails among the Douglas firs and coastal redwoods in the mountains of Wilder Ranch State Park. Passing two surfers scouting out the morning waves on our way to Three Mile Beach, we are getting all the vitamin D (from the sun) that we could want.
It’s an easy bike or car ride from town so this trail can be a daily bit of exercise for the locals. The terrain is so level that we catch an easy hiking rhythm while we talk. Weaving in and out the peninsulas along the coast, we find the sandy soil pleasingly easy to our soles.
Harbor seals and otters swim these coastal waters. As with much of the Pacific California coast, one can see migrating whales and dolphins. You can spot whales by the “blows” you see (i.e., the stream of warm air being forced out of their lungs through their spouts).
California provides 50% of our nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. (The nuts part of that is such an easy shot for haters of all things California!) A private farm juts into the park where we see artichokes and Brussels sprouts growing (There is an S on the end of Brussels despite it rarely being pronounced.). For the life of me, I can’t imagine paying good money for Brussels sprouts. Or eating them!
Migrant farmer housing lies on the private land near the state park. With the artichokes and Brussels sprouts nearly ready for picking, families will return here in hopes of making a better life than what they had south of the border. A dream they share with us all.
Currently California farmers and growers find themselves without enough laborers to harvest the crops. The lack of immigration reform and the tightened border security are leaving California farmers high and dry. American citizens are not lining up for these backbreaking jobs. Even the tacit use of illegal immigrants in much of the state still does not provide enough labor for America’s hunger for fruits and vegetables.
After sadly watching the Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, we walk the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Later this car winks at us. We are both in on the secret that California is the land of dreams.
We think it, dream it, believe it, do it as the Unity song encourages.