A Romp Around in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton CA

One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”

I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.

The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.

When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.

The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.

It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

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After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.

 

Henry Cowell State Park 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton CA 831.335.4598

Campground 2951 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, CA  831.438.2396

Cruise on by Santa Cruz – one solo woman traveler’s candid perspective

I’ve never been to Santa Cruz, but it’s always held a certain allure for me. I was expecting a fun, charming surf town and had planned on spending some time getting to know the area. I took the scenic route (9) in from San Jose. It was a lovely ride through the mountains with redwood forests on either side. It was lovely, that is, until I got within a couple miles of Santa Cruz city limits. Here, the pullouts were crowded with disheveled people hanging out, drinking, smoking, erratically crossing the street, their stuffed cars overflowing, litter and debris everywhere. Are these the official town greeters of Santa Cruz? Yikes. I had intended to camp in the state park here, but made a quick decision that camping by myself anywhere near Santa Cruz would be ill advised.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of Santa Cruz is like that, but there’s enough of this element to make many areas downright unpleasant and uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t go in for the amusement park scene either and Santa Cruz has a big seaside amusement park and boardwalk. The entire area gets inundated with people, especially on a summer weekend. So inundated, in fact, that my map program told me it would take 30 minutes to drive 1 mile. Yikes again. Since I’d been in transit all day, I wanted to take a nice walk. Not knowing where to go, I headed for the beach and ended up by the squalor of the boardwalk. My stroll took me through neighborhoods with boarded up and ramshackle homes and through other undesirable areas where street people were lurking under bridges along the river trail. Second impression was as bad as the first. Wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night around here at all. To top it all off, my Airbnb had a port-a-potty and an abandoned couch out in front of it. I paid $115 for the dubious privilege of spending the night in a dingy, dirty, dimly lit dump. Everything was sold out so I was out of luck and I was too exhausted to drive any further. Luckily, the sheets and towels were clean.

The next morning, I discovered one of the most beautiful areas of Santa Cruz, scenic West Cliff Drive, with its gorgeous homes, famous surf spot, “Steamer’s Lane” and Natural Bridge State Beach. If you’re looking for a coastal stroll in Santa Cruz, this is the area to take one. Third impression of Santa Cruz, much better.

 

 

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I took a yoga class on the beach at Natural Bridges State Beach – spectacular setting, lame instructor. I’m all smiles before the class.

 

Despite posting extensive credentials, the instructor didn’t seem to know yoga flow, was too chatty and stunk of body odor. (Was he sleeping in his car too? Had I been scammed?) He had 29 reviews and they were all good???  What? When I’m on vacation time, my time is precious and I don’t want to waste it. If someone is advertising yoga and hyping their credentials, I have certain expectations. Definitely wouldn’t sign up for his class again and I am officially responsible for the 1 negative review currently posted. (Guess the class would be fine for beginners – maybe?) Santa Cruz disappointments kept racking up so I decided to leave town for a scenic drive up the coast to Half Moon Bay.

 

The scenery did not disappoint. The central coast is ravishingly beautiful and gives a sense of a pristine California before people invaded.

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Five miles south of Pescadero, you’ll find Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1871, at 115 feet high, this is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. It is still an active navigation aid for the Coast Guard. The light house has a cool hostel with a jacuzzi you can rent out at night. Looks like you’d have your pick of secluded beach coves too.

 

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Warning: Soap Box

But I spoke too soon, much to my dismay, every spot I stopped in a pullout, there was litter strewn about. In one spot, I filled a paper bag within a 2-feet radius of my car. Humans really disgust me sometimes, especially Americans and others who trash their environments. We are a 1st world country that acts like a 3rd world country in many respects. It really disturbs me. Any of you old enough to remember that American Indian PSA commercial about littering? The one with teh Indian Brave who has a tear rolling down his noble cheek when he observes a littered area? Cliché, I know, but that’s how I felt – it’s heart breaking to see nature ruined. I stopped to find a spot to have a picnic and saw filthy underwear, antifreeze containers, all kinds of grotesque detritus of car transients etc -all within 25 feet of the ocean.

I spoke to a Park ranger and she said, “We just can’t keep up with it.” I hate to think of what this coast will look like in another 5 years if things don’t turn around. Where is the respect for nature? Where is the personal responsibility to clean up after yourself? Animals behave better.

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Watching the “uplifting” wind surfing and kite surfing on the way back helped lift my mood a little as I contemplated my next move. Stay tuned for my Carmel / Monterey experience – it did NOT disappoint. Highlights include Point Lobos, two epic bike rides and more to come.

 

Exploring California Parks’ Crown Jewel: Magnificent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A crown jewel indeed. Point Lobos is absolutely breathtaking. The pristine natural beauty here is brimming with life. A small park from a hiking trail mileage perspective  – about 6 miles total – this park delivers big with stunning, spectacular vistas. Here, you’ll encounter plant communities, archeological sites, geological formations, and the incredibly rich flora and fauna of the rugged turf and rolling surf. There’s also a whaling museum on site.

 

Blue Heron Mediataion
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Charming, Secluded Coves
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The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

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Sea Blues by Monastery Beach
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Wildflowers and Wild Views
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Point Lobos is home to 3 species of trees: the Monterey Pine, the Coast Live Oak, and the Monterey Cypress.  The Allan Memorial Grove in Point Lobos is a native stand for the Monterey Cypress, which is listed  as a Category 1 rare and endangered species,

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This is an absolute must do if you’re in the area. The trails are all quite accessible and you don’t have to go far to feel like you in the midst of the coastal wild. If you’re like me, you won’t want to leave. It’s a mesmerizing, magical place. (It’s like California before man.) We are so fortunate to have this area preserved. So grateful to the Point Lobos Foundation for protecting this natural wonder and national treasure. A great destination for nature lovers, painters, photographers, poets and all artists and pantheists alike. (The foundation actually puts on a poetry walk / Haiku hike- how cool is that???!)

This is my bliss. Soaking in the natural beauty as I channel Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddling

Given that Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of California’s richest marine habitats, it is a scuba diver’s, snorkeler’s, kayaker’s, stand-up paddler’s paradise with 70 foot kelp forests  brimming with lingcod, rockfish, harbor seals and sea otters.

Diving is allowed only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required.  Reservations are recommended for the weekdays and are a must for weekends and holidays.

Stand-up-paddle and kayaking are also allowed in the Reserve. (There’s a $10 fee to launch from Whaler’s Cove. You can also launch from Monastery Beach, 1/4 mile north of the park.) This would be an exceptional way to explore the captivating coves and coastal. Surprised I didn’t see anyone kayaking or stand-up paddling here; it was a perfect day with glassy calm water. Next time, I’m going for a SUP tour of my own. And yes, there will be a next time, because once you visited, all you can think about is going back.

Notes:

Poison oak flourishes here and is everywhere. While the park does its best to keep the trails clear and rope off areas, they can’t keep up with the robust growth. Pants and long sleeves are recommended. Keep an eye on young children with wandering hands…

No pets allowed in the reserve or left in parked cars.

Keep a minimum 50 feet away from marine mammals.

Dangerous conditions, including rip currents occur – be ocean-wise and safe.

Hours: 8AM-7PM

Address: 62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Fees: You can park and enter for free via Coast Highway (their small parking lot is often full), otherwise it’s $10 to park, $5 for Seniors & Disabled.