Doug's Backpacking and Hiking Pages
Wow, look at the grass stains on my skin. I say, if your knees aren't green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life. -- Calvin


About Quail Hollow Park

Date: Tue Nov 17, 1998 11:18 am
Subject: Quail Hollow Park, Santa Cruz County, Calif.

This list has been even quieter than the "Fresh Air" list. It ain't going to be much of a success if I'm the only one who ever sends out any trip reports... here's an in-depth description of one of my local haunts.

— Doug "no-gear-owner" L.

Quail Hollow (County) Park
San Lorenzo Valley (SLV)
Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz is on California's central coast, on the outskirts of the San Francisco bay area, which mistakenly tends to think of itself as being in "northern" California. South-facing, on the north side of the wide Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz tends to get a bit less fog than San Francisco or Monterey do, and the SLV is even better sheltered, since the 3000-foot Ben Lomond Mountain lies between the SLV and the coast out by Davenport.

The town of Ben Lomond is at about 400 feet elevation. It straddles the San Lorenzo River, and is home to an interesting collection of contrasting ecosystems. The shaded east side of Ben Lomond Mountain, west of the town itself, is covered with thick, second-growth Redwood forests. In town, the redwoods thin out somewhat, though there are several small groves (including one nice fairy ring that surrounds a deck on one of the nicer restaurants in town).

On the more eastern side of town, the soil is much sandier, benches of uplifted former seashore. The sandy soil supports three or four working sand quarries in the area. The plant life over here is dryer, more like southern California's chapparal ecosystems — beautiful, twisted red-trunked manzanita bushes, needle-stemmed chamise, poison oak, some pines, live oaks, bay laurels, and the fascinating variety of orange- and green-bark madrones.

Quail Hollow is a wide draw east of the town of Ben Lomond, formed in part by Newell Creek, whose Loch Lomond reservoir supplies much of the drinking water for the city of Santa Cruz. Quail Hollow lies between the SLV and the Zayante Valley, a smaller, narrower, redwood forested valley. Just after you cross over the ridge from the SLV into the Zayante Valley, there's a large meadow to your left — this is Quail Hollow Ranch. When I moved to Ben Lomond in 1983, Quail Hollow Ranch was still privately owned. It was put up for sale in the mid-eighties, a steal at barely over one million dollars for (I think) 640 acres. Eventually, the county bought it and made it into a public county park.

There are multi-use trails around the lower meadow/pasture area, up along the edge of the steeper parts (Italian Trail and Chapparal Trail), and the Sunset Trail, which leads up the ridge, to the highest point in the park. The sides of the ridge are surprisingly steep, considering that the ground appears to consist primarily of very soft sandstone. I guess there's some shale in there too, that has prevented the entire ridge from just vanishing in the heavy winter rains we get. The end of the Sunset Trail is at a nice ridgetop knob, with wide views — about 270 degrees — that reveal the ranch, two of the local sand quarries, the ridge of Ben Lomond mountain nearby to the west, and distant Mount Umunhum and Loma Prieta Peak (3800 feet), the highest spot in the southwest quadrant of the mountains surrounding the Bay Area.

The heavy and incessant El Nino rains that we got last winter (and spring, and much of early summer ...) have added to the vegetation, the moss, the redwood duff and autumn leaves that cover different parts of the trail, and just the general dampness and jungle-feeling of the more densely wooded parts of the trail. At the high point, there is only a thin layer of soil covering the shale-like rock, but the area is covered with a thick stand of redwood trees. However, the unique conditions there have made this a grove of dwarf redwoods. Most of the redwoods in this general area are 150 to 250 feet tall, with a few (mostly over in Big Basin State Park, 15 miles away) that exceed 300 feet. This makes it somewhat of an eerie feeling to be among a stand of redwoods mostly under 15 feet tall — redwoods and manzanitas of quite comparable sizes.

The last few weeks, I've been riding my bike over to the park, entering at the start of the Sunset trail, climbing to the peak, enjoying the view, taking the side trip out through the dwarf redwood forest, and then returning all the way down to the ranch house, to finish by making the smaller climb back up the Italian Trail to the unofficial park entrance/exit on Quail Hollow Road. The trail mileage in the park totals maybe 5 or 6 miles, a nice little workout and natural break from the "civilized" world.

Yesterday (Monday), I got my wife to get out there and take the hike up the Sunset Trail. We saw one other person in the two or three hours we were out there. Took a picnic with us, and sipped champagne at the bench at the top of the trail, to celebrate my 46th birthday. It was interesting to see the place from another perspective — to see what sorts of stuff she noticed that I didn't, and vice versa. The bay laurels all have clusters of bayberries now; the red leaves of the poison oak are even kinda pretty this time of year; and the shining green moss on some of the old dead redwoods is almost incandescent. There are several spots along next to the trail where a thick layer of green moss is growing right on the ground, appearing almost like the cryptogamic soil layers in the deserts of the southwest.

On this trip, we didn't see many of the frequent large avian visitors — the turkey vultures, red-tail hawks, and golden eagles — but there were quite a few of the smaller birds whose names I'm less familiar with.

So. Tell me about *your* latest trip ...

Doug Landauer | "Wow, look at the grass stains on my skin. I say, if | your knees aren't green by the end of the day, you | ought to seriously re-examine your life." — Calvin

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