Just a shady walk through the hills of a county park I hadn’t been to before.

Sanborn Skyline is off Highway 9 west of Saratoga — nestled, as we love to say in the news biz — in the woods on the east-facing side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It goes all the way up to Skyline Boulevard and you can even hike into Castle Rock State Park if the mood strikes.

The woods are mostly pine and madrone, two of my favorite trees. Not much in the way of eye candy like roaring waterfalls or redwoods that sprouted in the time of King Arthur, but it is a nice place to get away for a few hours. While a wedding reception was happening at the park HQ, I saw practically nobody on the trails up the hillside.

One interesting artifact near the park is the American Youth Hostel, which looks like it hasn’t been doing much in the way of hosting lately.

American Youth Hostel

A sign on the door said they’d only take individuals on days when there were 10 reservations or more.

The youth hostel's cat

Then again, the resident feline doesn’t look to have missed many meals.

Speaking of meals, there’s a couple picnic tables under the pines nearby that’d be a nice place consuming edibles in the outdoors.

I hiked up the San Andreas Trail to Skyline Boulevard and back down again. It’s the main trail through the woods till you reach the Skyline Trail. Steep in places but switch-backed pretty well. I’d rate it as moderate, difficultywise.

Pine canopy

Pictures like this are even cooler in real life. I love the way the branches are like spokes on a wheel.

Red-orange Madrone

Madrone trees always have this delicate orange-brown color that a camera can’t seem to capture because of the lighting challenges. A flash overexposes it, full sun dimples it, and obscured sun doesn’t cast enough light to get the color right without a tripod and lots of shutter-speed experiments. Sometimes it’s just better to appreciate how much better the human eye is compared to mechanical gadgets.

Fallen trees

You can’t go wrong with pictures of fallen trees, but that’ll never stop me from trying.

Skyline Trail at Sunnyvale Mountain trailhead

One of the most fascinating things about hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains is how the ecosystem changes from one thing to another and back within minutes. This hillside at the Sunnyvale Mountain tralhead along Skyline Boulevard has grasses, scrub and tall pine all in tight proximity, depending on the available sun and moisture from the coast. An advantage to eye-candy-deficient locales is that it obliges you pay closer attention to the sounds of birds and breezes and the appearance of interesting bugs, lizards and other examples of forest flora/fauna.

Butterflies! (or, perhaps, moths)

For instance, there were dozens of these butterflies (moths?) fluttering around a little stream with about a half-inch of water in it. Normally a butterfly will never hang around long enough for you to take its picture — the motion of getting your camera out of its case is enough to scare one off.

This time I figured heck, they’re all thirsty for a sip from this stream, so I just sat down next to it and waiting for them to come back for a drink, which they did.

Rugged trail sign

Beat-up old trail signs — can’t get enough of ’em.

Sky, flowers, trees

Some flowers, some sky, some trees. This ain’t such a bad park, now that you mention it.

A little waterfall

I even found a little waterfall that gave me a chance to try reducing the shutter speed to produce a more even water flow. Image stabilization in the new camera makes shots like this possible. There wasn’t enough water in the creek to get a great picture here, but it should afford some nifty opportunities during the rainy season.

One notable fact about Sanborn Skyline: it has a walk-in campground with tons of shade, but campers have to haul gear up a pretty steep slope — it was leg burner with no gear at all, must be some fun making a half-dozen trips up to a campsite from the parking lot. (Great training for backpacking, though.) It looked like maybe half the campsites were reserved, so the place was not exactly crowded. Nice place to work off your kids’ nervous energy, for sure.

It says something about the raft of outdoor opportunities available in Northern California when a park like Sanborn Skyline is strictly middle-of-the-pack. I’m not complaining. And besides, in three years of hiking and picture taking I’d never gotten a good shot of a butterfly (critics would argue this record remains intact, but hey, who listens to the critics?).