or, Three Trails, Four Parks
On a hot Saturday D. and I decided to go up to Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve and walk the Saratoga Gap Trail through the shady woods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Little did we know we would wind up walking through 3 other parks in the process: Upper Stevens Creek County Park, just north of Saratoga Gap; Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, across the road from Saratoga Gap; and the northernmost tip of Castle Rock State Park, just south of Long Ridge and across the road from Saratoga Gap. They all just happened to have their boundaries right next to each other right in that location. It is sort of the Four Corners kind of dealio going on there. So, our cup runneth over with parks (and trails, too). Here are some of the pics I took.
An enormous valley oak spreads its huge canopy over the trailhead.
As the trail rounds a bend into grasslands, we see some wildflowers.
The Saratoga Gap Trail.
The trail soon enters a Douglas fir forest.
Some woodsy plants along the trail.
The cool, shady trail provides a welcome refuge from the blazing sun.
More sights along the trail.
A glimpse to the north through the trees reveals the summit of Black Mountain.
A few more woodland plants.
The Saratoga Gap Trail continues into the second of four parks, Upper Stevens Creek County Park. Oddly, the vegetation suddenly becomes more varied literally within steps of the park boundary.
Yerba Buena is part of the mint family and once grew so prolifically in the region that early Spanish explorers originally named what came to be known as San Francisco after it (and an island in San Francisco Bay still retains the name).
Moss grows on bare rock, and a fern sprouts from the moss.
The trail continues through cool, shady forest.
Hedgehog Dogtail Grass, and Woodland Madia.
We cross Skyline Blvd. into the third park, Long Ridge Open Space Preserve and head back down the other side of the ridge on the Achistaca Trail. As the trail winds in and out of wooded gulches and open grasslands, we catch views toward the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
A wild turkey forages in the dappled light of the forest. The rest of the flock was not visible; unusual to see a turkey alone.
The Achistaca Trail emerges from a forested gulch into sunny grasslands.
Sunny trail is sunny.
Shady trail is shady.
More views toward the coast.
A turkey vulture soars on a thermal overhead. They can soar for hours at a time without having to flap their wings.
Make a wish!
Manzanita is regrowing along a stretch of trail scarred by fire a few years ago.
As we pass below the Saratoga Summit Fire Station, we see a stray traffic pylon by the side of the trail.
These multiple trunks are not separate trees but are the impressive canopy of a single magnificent ancient oak.
Dappled sunlight on the Achistaca Trail.
The trail crosses Highway 9 into the northernmost corner of Castle Rock State Park, and turns into the Saratoga Toll Road Trail, the third trail of the day. The Saratoga Toll Road used to be the main artery from Santa Cruz to the Santa Clara Valley in the late 19th Century, until the railroad came along. The old toll road is now a trail open to the public for pedestrian and equestrian use.
Indian Paintbrush leans out into the trail to catch some rays of sun.
The trail runs next to Highway 9 up to Skyline Blvd. Around a bend we behold a grim sight: the remains of a car wreck. Judging by some of the graffiti on it, it's been there since Halloween 1996.
Around another bend we see evidence of at least one more vehicle, on the other side of the trail, even farther from the road. Perhaps there is a Dead Man's Curve on Highway 9?
And I've since heard of even more wreckage about 3 or 4 miles farther south from where we were, which we didn't see.
So, um, don't drink and drive, and buckle up for safety. And no texting behind the wheel!