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Summer hikes in Santa Cruz redwood country.

In 1899, photographer Andrew P. Hill was taking pictures of a grove of ancient redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains when the owner of the property tried to confiscate his negatives. Incensed, Hill moved on, though he re fused to turn over his film. Later he wrote, "The thought flashed through my mind that these trees, because of their size and antiquity, were among the natural wonders of the world and should be saved for posterity." Hill subsequently led the effort to preserve similar groves and, in 1902, helped create what would become California's first state park. Champions have been coming forward for Big Basin ever since.

The struggle to protect the ecosystems and watersheds of Big Basin Redwoods State Park and its sister park, Castle Rock, continues today. This year, the group most involved with enlarging and preserving these two parks, the Sempervirens Fund, celebrates its 25th birthday. The anniversary is a good excuse to rediscover both parks, as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Sempervirens Fund is a tribute, both in name and work, to the turn-of-the-century Sempervirens Club, which took its name from the botanical name for the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. Formed by Hill in 1990 to protect old growth in Big Basin, the Sempervirens Club was instrumental in the creation of the 3,800-acre California Redwood Park, which was renamed Big Basin Redwoods State Park in 1927. But 25 years ago, when privately held parcels within park boundaries were threatened by a proposed housing development, the modern Sempervirens Fund was born. (The development was prevented, and the land, purchased in part by the fund, was added to the park.) To day, along with groups such as Save-the-Redwoods League, the fund continues to buy land for parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains (matching funds come from the state parks department). In 25 years, the fund has helped acquire 7,023 acres, worth an estimated $25 million, for Big Basin, Castle Rock, and Butano parks.

To help you get acquainted, or reacquainted, with Big Basin and Castle Rock, we've listed five day-hikes that reveal the geographic diversity of the Santa Cruz Mountains. When you hike, carry plenty of water and watch for poison oak. In August, you might find blooming chamise, red manzanita berries, and perhaps wild huckleberries. Two useful books to carry in your day pack are Plants of the Coast Redwood Region, by Lyons, Cooney-Lazaneo, and King (Looking Press, Boulder Creek, 1992; $13.95), and The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber (Oak Valley Press, San Mateo,1991; $9.95).


With 18,000 acres, Big Basin is the largest park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its 80 miles of trails wind through stands of old-growth redwood, Douglas fir, and tan oak, as well as madrone and chaparral. The park's handsome 1937 visitor center is a good place to pick up maps and orient yourself (it's open 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily). During the summer, the park's 147 campsites fill well in advance; for reservations, call Mistix at (800) 444-7275. From Saratoga, take State Highway 9 west to State 236 and into the park; entry costs $5 per car.

Nature walk for children. The stroller-friendly Redwood Nature Trail (0.6 mile; allow I hour to complete) passes by and under the largest trees in the park, including the 329 foot-tall Mother-of-the-Forest. An interpretive pamphlet (25cents) explains the ecology of the redwood forest, how suspended minerals and decaying plant matter give nearby Opal Creek its iridescent color, and why some redwoods are hollow (be sure to look inside the Chimney Tree).

View hike. For a challenging loop with a rewarding view to the Pacific Ocean, hike from park headquarters to Mount McAbee Overlook (9.8 miles; 4 to 6 hours). You'll climb some 700 feet from the basin to the mountain's 1,730-foot summit. Along the way, you'll see redwoods, knobcone pine and madrone forests, and a water fall that runs year-round.

From the basin, take Skyline to the Sea Trail 3.9 miles (it's steep in the first section) to Berry Creek Falls Trail. After a short detour to the falls, backtrack and continue up Skyline trail to Howard King Trail, which climbs steeply to Mount McAbee Overlook. Summit views look down the Waddell Creek watershed to the ocean. Continue on King Trail as it snakes down the mountain, and follow signs back to park headquarters.

Beachside picnic and hike. The park meets the ocean at Waddell Beach, where you can picnic and watch wind surfers skid across the water. Near the dunes, listen for the mellow three-note whistle of the snowy plover (a habitat restoration program is increasing the bird's numbers).

After lunch, cross State Highway 1, walk a short distance up Skyline trail to the Marsh Trail and then over to Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center. The small center is open noon to 4 on weekends, and free guided nature walks are offered from 1 to 4 Sundays.


Sitting atop the western crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 3,600-acre Castle Rock State Park features several 3,000-foot peaks. The park, namesake sandstone outcrop is so popular that climbers sometimes have to wait in line to scale its 65-foot face. Nearby Goat Rock, with an 80-foot face, is just as busy. Although the park has 32 miles of trails, it is relatively undeveloped. You can park at the main entrance off State Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard), about 2 1/2 miles south of State 9.

Hike to watch rock climbers. This short loop (0.6 mile; 1 hour) takes you to the reason the park was initially saved--magnificent Castle Rock. From here, take Castle Rock Trail to Saratoga Gap Trail or Ridge Trail for another mile to Goat Rock, where the most avid climbers work out.

Try a new loop. This fairly shady, gentle loop hike (7.4 miles; 4 hours) offers ridgetop views and a walk on a former stage coach road. From the parking lot at Saratoga Gap, walk across Skyline Boulevard and west on State 9 to Skyline to the Sea Trail, which leads through a housing development and to Saratoga Gap Trail. Walk 2.4 miles to the new Travertine Springs Trail, then 2.1 miles across the ridge face to the Saratoga Toll Road Trail, which climbs gradually 2.9 miles back up to Saratoga Gap.
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Title Annotation:Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Castle Rock, California
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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