So, how did I end up strolling through the blazing sun at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve after I told everybody yesterday I was hitting the redwoods at Pescadero Creek County Park?

Two things, both motivated by greed: 1) Pescadero Creek was closed for “red flag danger” (it’s open again today) and I wasn’t interested in getting fined for hiking in a park that’s been closed for safety reasons; and 2) I’ve had this crazy idea brewing in my brain to write a column about a counterintuitive summer hike … one where you embrace the sun rather than avoid it. The notion would dwell in the mental boonies where it belonged so long as nice sane hikes like Pescadero Creek were available for scouting.

Pescadero Creek is not easy to get to: you take Page Mill Road for about a thousand hairpin turns up to Skyline Boulevard, then take Alpine Road to just past the turn-off to Portola Redwoods State Park, and navigate a nasty one-lane road that is allegedly paved for another mile or so — if you get to the parking lot at the Tarwater Trail head and find out you won’t be hiking there today, you’re bound to think “well, dammit, I’m hiking somewhere around here.”

Just about anyplace else on earth, you’d be screwed, but in this neck of the woods there are so damn many parks and trails that you feel a bit like Robin Williams in that scene from “Moscow on the Hudson” where the profusion of coffee choices knocks him out cold.

Well, not exactly but anyway: I talked myself into the “sun worshiper hike” mainly because I needed a) something to write about for the next column; and b) Monte Bello was the nearest columnworthy park that I hadn’t already written about. (Aren’t you glad I’m filling you in on the minutiae of my editorial decisions? What else is a blog good for?)

So, about my Monte Bello Open Space hike (a blog is also good for taking six paragraphs to get to the point, because there’s no editor to ruin all your fun): You really can hike there in the summer, even if you’re not desperate for column copy. You just have to:

  • Slather on a gallon of sun screen.
  • Take about twice as much water as you’d haul on a shady hike
  • Wear comfy clothes that cover but breathe so they don’t make you hotter.
  • Walk really slowly when climbing hills to avoid overheating.

Fine, but is Monte Bello really worth all that? Yeah. Really, I’m not just trying to talk myself into it.

I’ve hiked at Monte Bello at least a half-dozen times, but always either with somebody else or with something else in mind rather than soaking up the experience of being there (it’s a nice link in a grand loop through the nearby open space preserves). This was the first time I really paid attention to what I was seeing. Let’s let the pictures do the talking for awhile here:

Stevens Canyon

The view of Stevens Creek Canyon from near the parking lot: it’s one of the best in the Santa Cruz Mountains because it’s right on the edge of the oak woodlands/chapparal to the east and the conifer forest to the west. The green/gold contrast is most striking when the hills have the shimmering vibe of early summer, before the late-season brown-out kicks in. There is a seductive beauty here that entices you to hike right out into it regardless of the weather.

But from here you can also hike down into the pleasant shade of the Stevens Creek Nature Trail.

Elegant Brodeia

I believe this is an elegant brodeia (some think it’s an Ithuriel’s spear, but a couple others back me up on this one) Quite a few were growing on the nature trail.

Stevens Creek Nature Trail

Most of these oak woodland areas are lovely to walk in, but a nightmare to photograph, especially on sunny days, which overexpose every unshaded pixel of the picture.

Great big old tree

This must be a Douglas-fir. It has an odd split in it. (When all else fails in the forest, shoot upward).

Trail junction

Here’s the end of the Nature Trail. Some guy was dragging his family out on a hike that his kids were complaining about every step of the way (I take it he only gets away with such outings on Father’s Day).

Tree, hill

I swear, I took this picture myself and didn’t steal it from Dan Mitchell.

Bella Vista Trail

Bella Vista Trail is the must-hike route. It’s a single-track up to the backpacking camp. Somewhat steep, downright arduous in the open sun, not much shade (but enough oases to pause a few times on the way up). The view of Stevens Canyon is gorgeous the whole way, but gorgeous in away your eyes can appreciate but camera lenses really can’t capture. (Another of those “why we hike” things).

Black Mountain

Black Mountain, elevation 2800 feet, is where I almost always end up. One of my favorite places in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and not only because of these cool rocks.

Pink flower

Saw a bunch of pink flowers like these. I’m assuming it’s a kind of poppy (Farewell to Spring is what the flower watchers call it).

So, those are the highlights. As always, feel free to add your comments.


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