The chamber of commerce brochure says our summer California hills are golden. I don’t buy it. Except for a few moments after sunrise and before sunset, the hills look brown to me. Each year, the warming weather dries the seasonal streams and bakes the life force out winter’s lush grasses. When it does, I feel a bit of my life force ebb as well.
But it is always spring somewhere in California. Before I chase it into the high mountains, I know it still lingers in shaded recesses of the coast range. On Memorial Day, I found spring’s lush life in full swing at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.
Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP is a jewel among the string of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserves along Skyline Boulevard atop the peninsula’s Santa Cruz Mountains. There are two preserve entrances along Skyline Boulevard just south of Highway 92, and one at the end of Purisima Creek Road at the bottom of the preserve outside Half Moon Bay.
I chose to access the preserve from a very small entrance on Tunitas Creek Road. As I stepped from my car, I entered a virtual downpour. It was not raining, but the redwoods and Douglas firs were shedding moisture they had plucked from the morning fog. In this way, redwoods obtain one-third of the annual moisture they need to survive. On the trail, the fog filled the treetops and wrapped the forest in muffled silence. The morning was perfectly still.
I saw massive stumps everywhere, but the vibrant second growth forest obscured most of the clear-cut scars from a century ago. Grabtown Gulch Trail, an old lumber road, descended steeply for two miles down toward Purisima Creek. When I reached the creek, I realized that the path along its course is this preserve’s marquee attraction. The creek runs year-round through a virtual rainforest of ferns, horsetails, redwoods, maples, and alders. Blossoms of wild rose, forget-me-nots, yellow violets, Douglas Irises, star flower, crimson columbine, and alumroot erased all thoughts of nearby parched brown slopes.
Logging in this watershed was intense. Seven mill sites lined these creeks, and by 1900, every suitable tree had been cut here. I turned off busy Purisima Creek Trail onto Borden Hatch Trail and began to regain the thousand feet I had dropped since leaving the car. As I climbed, I noticed some evidence of past logging activity. I saw pairs of notches cut in huge stumps where loggers inserted long skateboard-like slats to stand on while they sawed through these giants.
Up, up, up. I was heading for Bald Knob, a peak on the lonely western arm of the preserve. The name and the location hinted that I might find views over Half Moon Bay and out to sea. The 1.5-mile Bald Knob Trail may be the only gently sloped trail in the preserve, and it was a wonderful walk. While still in a thick forest, I had climbed from the deep valley nearly to the ridgetop, and the aspect was brighter. As for Bald Knob, no views, just more forest.
I generally avoid deep forest walks, but Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP charmed that prejudice right out of me. I saw none of the views I crave, but the creek and the setting combine into an undeniably alluring place to wander.
Come on a day when you feel spunky, for there are few flat trails here. But when the long dry summer begins to parch your soul, remember Purisima Creek. It is running all year, waiting to refresh your spirit.