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

Yosemite NP: Chilnualna Falls

We rolled into Yosemite a bit late in the day with only an hour and a half of sunlight left. We were set on an overnighter and consulted with the rangers at the Wawona Visitor Center to get their recommendations. We decided on the Chilnualna Falls Trail. We figured we could cover the  4.2 miles  and set up our sleeping bags by nightfall.

The trails climbs steadily, but fairly moderately (lots of switchbacks) with mostly easy terrain. We hadn’t gone 1,000 feet when we were assaulted by hordes of face flies. They form a pesky cloud around your face. Swiping at them with both hands as I hiked, I gave up and tried blowing them out of my face. Laughable as I later learned that they love the carbon dioxide that you exhale. Arrgh! It was absolutely miserable -so bad that a couple who had started ahead of us turned back after about a quarter mile. We soldiered on, but I was thinking if it’s like tonight, it won’t make for a pleasant slumber.

Just when we’d had enough, they vanished. (Later learned, they don’t survive over 6 thousand feet elevation.) Phew! I’ve added this little, lightweight headnet to my backpack so I will never endure that misery again. To think for just $2.50 I could have spared myself that misery. (I’ll let you know if it holds up to use.) Even if it works once, it’s worth it.

In addition to the face flies, there was an acrid odor in the air and the sky was a bit hazy. (Later learned that the only fire in Yosemite was just East of the falls.) Odd that the rangers didn’t mention the face flies or the fire.  Their way of hazing late season campers or what? We woke with our sleeping bags salt and peppered with ashes. Can only imagine how great inhaling all the particles was for our lungs. Anyhoo, how was the play aside from the blight of the face flies and ashy air? Fantastic! It was late season, so nature’s infinity’s pools down from the falls were the major draw for us. Wish we’d arrived earlier, would have been splendid to luxuriate in the pools in the heat of the day. A bit chilly at sunset, but that didn’t stop me.

So we laid out our sleeping bags above the pools, had some snacks, and got ready for bed. It was a long drive from LA and enduring the face flies and smokey stench had made us both tired and a bit irritable. I asked my boyfriend, Ken, to put his Gatorade in the bear canister and put the canister at least 100 yards downwind from us. He gave me some gruff about how he didn’t think it was really necessary and how he didn’t think there were really that many bears around… We got into a little spat as I insisted on it.

It was our first night sleeping out in a while so it took us a while to get into doze mode. Finally, just as I was drifting off, I hear Ken’s panicked voice “Did you hear that?” “What?” SSSSSSSSShhhh! I think there’s something out there.” This time I heard the brush crunching and cracking near us. He shined the headlamp in the direction of the noise and light bounced off the large animal eyes – a healthy, strong buck who stared back and then sauntered off casually. “I thought it was a bear.” Yup, I don’t think I’ll get much gruff next time I insist on putting food and beverage items into the bear canister and placing it 100 yards away.

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Scenery: Great!                                                                                                                        Distance:  8.4 miles (13.5 km) round trip                                                                        Trailhead Elevation:  4,200 feet (1,280 meters)
Elevation Gain:  2,300 feet (700 meters)

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, depending on your fitness level

Notes: Be prepared for face flies! Bring your bathing suit for the falls or nature’s infinity pools.