Weekend Hike, Pescadero Creek Butano Ridge Loop

Posted July 7, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday I decided I wanted to do a long hike somewhere quiet. I headed for the south coast of San Mateo county, down to Pescadero Creek County Park. I wound up doing a 17 mile hike and seeing exactly  1 person (a ranger!) for the first 12 miles and only a few other hikers for the last 5 miles. 

About the park: Pescadero Creek is a large park that gets ridiculously little use except for a few trails. Given its location adjacent to Memorial County Park, Sam MacDonald County Park, Portola State Park and near to Butano State Park you might think there’d be lots of folks stringing together long hikes in this area but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.  

Pescadero Creek County Park is located, not surprisingly, over by Pescadero. You can get to the park from Skyline Blvd by descending on Alpine Road (the west part) or by taking Woodside Road over to La Honda and turning on Pescadero Road. Follow Pescadero Road up and over the hill at Sam MacDonald Park and turn left onto Wurr Road just a half mile before the entrance to Memorial Park. Alternatively you can go to HighWay 1 and travel east on Pescadero Road to the intersection with Wurr Road right after the main entrance to Memorial Park. After turning onto Wurr Road you’ll cross a bridge and go up a small hill. Turn right into a parking area next to the gate to Old Haul Road, that’s where the hike starts.

Get a map: Before parking at Old Haul Road, stop at the main entrance to Memorial County Park and buy a map to Pescadero Creek Park. They’ll tell you that they have a $2 map that is pretty cartoonish and a $5 map that has topo lines and is more inclusive. Buy the $5 map, the park needs the money and you’ll appreciate the better map later in the hike. The $5 map can also be purchased online through this site, though I don’t know how much they’ll charge you.

About the hike: If you bought the $5 map the hike you’ll be doing is described as the Butano Ridge Loop. The hike starts out on Old Haul Road, a dirt and gravel road that goes all the way out to Portola State Park. This is a wide and gentle trail that can get busy every once in a while but is usually very quiet. It’s a great path to take someone on a first mountain bike ride, the hills are gentle but interesting enough that they’ll probably love the ride. After about 2 miles turn right onto the Butano Ridge Trail Loop and begin a long climb up through the redwoods.

The singletrack climb through the woods will pop out on the top of the ridge onto a fireroad. Bear to the left and continue in a more or less easterly direction. This portion of the trail is a dirt fireroad that wanders along the top of the ridge in a long series of pointless ups and downs. After a couple of miles you’ll come to a gate and off to your left will be a singletrack trail heading off to the left. The singletrack is the trail you want, it continues the Butano Ridge Loop and also leads to the Basin Trail that connects out to Big Basin State Park. Turn onto this trail and continue on the Butano Ridge Loop trail. In a  little under a mile you’ll come to an intersection where the Basin Trail veers off to the right, you’ll turn left onto the unmarked trail and continue downhill toward the Portola Trail. That sounds a little sketchy but trust me, it’s obvious and you’ll be fine.

If you want to extend the hike a bit you can follow the Basin Trail out to where it recrosses the road on its way out to China Grade and Big Basin State park. Here’s a hint, check your $5 map.  China Grade will also take you out to Butano State Park if you’re looking to get to the ocean in less time. It’d be a great connector for an overnight at the trail camp in Butano. Bear in mind, though, that for today this is an out and back unless you brought your camping gear. It adds distance (a couple miles) and elevation  and it’s worth it if you’re tying to figure out trail connections like I was but it’s skippable if you’re just out for exercise. 

Continuing downhill on the Butano Ridge Loop trail will take you to an intersection with the Portola Trail. Your $5 map will tell you to turn left at the unmarked intersection and head back to Old Haul Road. I turned right and descended the Portola Trail because I wanted some extra miles. This option adds an extra 1.7 miles according to the spiffy pedometer watch my wife gave me for Christmas last year. 

Whichever route you take, once you get to the bottom of the singletrack you’ll find yourself back on Old Haul Road. Turn left and follow the road back to your car. If you took the longer route down the hill you’ve got a little more than 5 miles  to go. Still, it’s a pleasant walk and you should be able to average 2.5 miles per hour over this gentle grade.

One of my favorite things to do on Old Haul is to look at all the evidence of recent logging, from the old skid roads coming down from the ridge (think bootlegs!) to the springboard cuts in the enormous old stumps. You can tell how long ago a tree was cut from looking at the top of the stump. If the top of the stump looks like a stair step with two flat areas one lower than the other, it was cut with hand saws, probably in the late 1800s or very early 1900s, before chainsaws were available. If one half of the stump slopes down away from the other, a chainsaw was used. Back to the trail, there’s even some rusty cables and such left over from logging days. Keep half an ear out for bikes approaching from the rear and give them space if they’re rolling downhill. 

When you reach the parking area when you began you’ll have done anywhere from 13.5 – 17.5 miles, depending on which options you took. You’ve earned a hearty dinner tonight. Personally I recommend Duarte’s in Pescadero. There’s not a bad pie on the menu and it’s a very relaxed sort of place that you can go into still wearing your hiking clothes.

Weekend Hike, Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP

Posted July 6, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes, mountain biking

Tags: ,

I went for a long walk in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve on Friday. Purisima is a very popular preserve featuring a few long trails that descend through some very old second-growth redwoods. The preserve has a rich history of logging and milling, which is sort of cool if you’re into local history. It also can get really busy and solitude can be hard to find unless you use great care in picking your route. Here’s a 13.8 mile hike that will take you around 5 hours and get you away from the the most crowded trails as much as possible.


About the park. Purisima is the first of the Open Space Preserves that you come to when you come south on Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There are several parking areas for the park, the largest has pit toilet and decent offroad parking. A bit farther south is a smaller roadside parking area at the entrance to a trail that is actually wheelchair accessible. That parking area also has a potty. These two major parking areas are the source of a LOT of traffic. Mountain bikers are particularly attracted to Whittemore Gulch Trail during the spring and summer. The trail offers a very long semi-challenging singletrack from the skyline down to the bottom of the park. Whittemore Gulch is closed to cyclists in the winter. The Midpeninsula Open Space District has been acquiring a LOT of land in this area, particularly off the end of the North Ridge Trail so hopefully we’ll see increased opportunities for loops and long rides/hikes in the future, maybe that’ll spread the users a bit more. There is a third parking area for the park that is accessed from the Half Moon Bay area, off of  Higgins Purisima Road/Purisima Creek Road and that’s where this hike will begin.


About the hike: Park at the lower parking area marked PC05 on Purisima Creek Road on the Half Moon Bay side of the preserve. To get there take Highway 1 south from Half Moon Bay and turn on the intersection marked Verde Road/Purisima Creek Road. The intersection will also have a sign pointing to Elkus Ranch. You can get there another way but this is way faster and you’ll encounter fewer bikes on the road. The parking area is located at the apex of a switchback in the road and it only holds 5 or 6 cars, which is just stupid but that’s the way it is. Unless you get there very early in the AM you’ll end up parking just off the road like everyone else. Try to pull off the road as much as possible and be aware that there’s at least a small chance that you might get a ticket, though I’ve never known or heard of anyone who actually got ticketed here.

From the parking area, walk in the main trail and pick up a map from the sign board that’s about 50 yards into the park. At the sign board turn left, cross the bridge and take an immediate right turn onto Harkins Ridge Trail. Harkins is a fairly steep climbing trail that will take you up nearly to the top of the preserve. It’s a workout and can get hot in late summer if the fog has burned off. The first quarter of the trail winds through the redwoods and then it emerges onto the ridge top where it gets steep and a little loose. I once led some friends up Harkins on our bikes in late July  when we were low on water. That was 15 years ago, I think they might forgive me in another 10-20 years. Drink frequently and rest when you need to. The top quarter of the trail winds through oak trees and has great views of the Purisima canyon and the Coastside behind you.

At a well marked intersection with the Soda Gulch trail turn right onto Soda Gulch. This is a well-traveled singletrack that begins in open grassland and mixed oak and quickly dives down into the redwoods. It’s a very long and enjoyable wander through the redwoods and can sometimes be a little busy but it’s far enough into the park that it’s usually not a problem. Bikes are not allowed on Soda Gulch but you may see some bikers anyway. Give them a break, don’t hassle them.  There’s absolutely no reason for this to be a hiker-only trail except that the preserve managers wanted to take one of the best trails and give it over to solemn and contemplative hikes. Try to live up to those expectations as you hike this trail. No smiling or conversation, you’re supposed to be solemnly contemplating nature. Try to be morose and worry about your retirement account if you can manage it.</sarcasm>

At the end of Soda Gulch you’ll join the main fireroad in the park, Purisima Creek Trail. Turn right and descend this easy relaxed trail down to the intersection with Grabtown Gulch Trail. Grabtown is a lovely singletrack trail that doesn’t waste any time getting you up the hill. That means there are a couple steep sections but mostly it’s not bad. Climb Grabtown Gulch up through the trees to the intersection with the Borden Hatch Mill Trail.  Turn right onto Borden Hatch and follow it 0.2 miles to the intersection with the Bald Knob Trail (no, I’m not kidding, that really is the name).

Bald Knob was built a few years back at a time when the staff at the district needed to show off for the governing Board. They pulled out all the stops and the result is one of the loveliest and least traveled trails in the area. No visit to this part of the park should skip this trail, even if it is an out and back. Follow Bald Knob out to a 4-way intersection in an open chaparral area. You can turn left and head down to the Irish Ridge trail but bear in mind that a) the trail to Irish Ridge drops like a stone and b) you’ve got to come back up and out to get back to your car. I’d recommend turning around, we’ll visit Irish Ridge another day.

After you backtrack on Bald Knob and rejoin Borden Hatch turn left and descend Borden Hatch. Unlike Grabtown Gulch, Borden Hatch is in no hurry to get down the hill. It meanders around and wanders all over the place on its way down the hill. Eventually, though, the trail will join Purisima Creek Trail, the main trail and the one that leads back to your car. Turn left onto Purisma Creek and follow the stream downhill to the parking area. This stretch of Purisima Creek is likely to have lots of walkers and riders on it, you’re only 1 mile from a parking area. 

When you reach the parking area you’ll have done about 13.8 miles, according to the maps. This hike took me around 5.5 hours moving relatively quickly but not hurrying. There are opportunities to shorten the hike and to do only one of the two loops that are built into this route. If you’re pressed for time either one of these two loops would make a great medium length hike but really you should do the whole thing. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and you will have seen most of the best that this preserve has to offer.

After work hike, El Corte de Madera Creek OSP

Posted June 26, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes, mountain biking

Tags: , ,

Last night’s after work walk was an old-school loop through El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. ECdM, as it’s commonly referred to, used to be the pre-eminent mountain bikers paradise in Northern California and it is still very popular with bicyclists but it’s nothing like it used to be in the old days.

About the park: ECdM used to be known for very rough trails, poor signage and  a plethora of unofficial trails that varied widely in grade, difficulty, and completeness. Going deep into ECdM was a semi-darwinian experience and it was GREAT! Things are more civilized now, the signage is much more complete and the hairball trails have all been closed or bulldozed into nice smooth trails that go around steep sections instead of dropping straight down the fall-line. But the upshot is that if you’re looking for a quiet contemplative hike with no bikes in sight, this is not your park. But if you want a walk in deep redwoods in a preserve that offers a huge variety of trail experiences, ECdM is still one of the best around. Keep in mind that there is no potable water and no restroom in ECdM.

About the hike: I parked at Gate CM02 on Skyline. This is the ECdM gate right across fro the Methusela Tree, just a bit south of the Skeggs Point overlook. There is a small amount of pullout parking beside the road but you’ll need to be careful pulling into and out of the parking area, traffic on Skyline can go fast and surprise the inattentive driver.  This is a loop of just about exactly 5 miles, give or take. It took me just a smidgeon under 2 hours to complete last night, walking fairly quickly and not taking a lot of time to dream about the good old days. The signage is pretty good and you should have no trouble finding the route. There are lots of opportunities to shorten or extend this basic loop to get further into preserve but you should remember that ECdM is a very vertical preserve. Most trails do down into the canyon with very few opportunities to go across the face of the canyon to a different trail before you reach the bottom. So if you decide to go farther you need to bear in mid that you’ll need to also come back out and a small extension on the map can add up to a big difference in vertical loss/gain. Plan to see lots of mountain bikers and to give them space on the tight singletracks, you as a hiker have more options than they do in many places.

Doing the hike: Go in gate CM02 and pick up a map from the sign-board, if you’re not familiar with ECdM having a map can be a very good thing. Turn right onto the Methuselah/Timberview Trail and descend on the fireroad. Keep an ear out for bikes approaching from behind. At the first intersection check out the cool sandstone boulders and then bear right, going uphill on the Methuselah Trail, going toward the Fir Trail (but you won’t go that far). You’ll climb up the Methuselah Trail to a 4-way intersection and then turn left onto the Manzanita Trail.

Manzanita starts off as a little switchback singletrack through a mixed oak forest and then devolves into a rutted, rocky and hard to walk trail through the chaparral before heading back into the oaks. Mountain bikers have long loved the Manzanita Trail as a way to improve riding skills over broken trail and it can be a bit of a challenge to walk as well but it has great views on a clear day and it’s worth the effort. Manzanita will end at an intersection with the Timberview Trail fireroad. Turn right onto Timberview and descend 0.3 miles to an unmarked but very clear intersection with the Crosscut Trail on your left. If you get to the Giant Salamander intersection on your right you went way too far.

Turn left onto Crosscut and walk back the way just came. This route adds distance but Crosscut is one of the nicest rambling trails in the park and any opportunity to traverse it should be taken. Follow Crosscut back to the intersection with the new Crossover Trail. Crossover is one of the few trails that joins major fireroads in ECdM, it’s what allows one to make this a short loop instead of an epic hike. Follow Crossover downhill to the intersection with Gordon Mill Trail fireroad. Now turn left and follow Gordon Mill through the redwoods all the way up to the top  where it intersects with Skyline Blvd/Sierra Morena. You’ll know you’re getting close to the top when you see the forest transition to more oak trees than redwoods.

Note the intersection with Steam Donkey for future explorations, especially if you’re a biker. Steam Donkey used to be called Voodoo and was supposedly the trail that gave Voodoo Cycles its name. The trail is marked by a slightly hidden old stump that has been carved into a face, sort of like an old Hawaiian Tiki. Steamdonkey/Voodoo is a destination trail, one worth traveling to ride, it’s an absolute blast to ride but it adds too much mileage to be included in this particular walk so we’ll bypass it for now. The steam donkey name refers to an old boiler that used to be near the bottom of the trail, presumably the remains of an old saw mill though the identity of the mill is unclear. 

At the top of Gordon Mill turn left onto Sierra Morena. The mountain bikers call this trail “Blue Hair” because it’s a gentle trail, fit for blue-haired elderly ladies of genteel disposition. It’s maybe not the nicest name. Sierra Morena winds through redwoods and oaks often dripping with fog. There are two options, the short and the long version. The version marked “alternate” on the signs is shorter and has a small steep section. Unless you’re in a hurry, take the longer version, it’s prettier and farther from the road. Whichever route you take,  Sierra Morena will lead you quickly back to Gate CM02 where you began. 

While walking Sierra Morena you’ll see several signs indicating that old trails have been closed. The hill that Sierra Morena encircles was home to some of the most challenging trails close to Skyline Blvd, trails with names like the Witches Knoll, Devil’s Staircase, and Nosebreak. Those trails are no longer legal and have been destroyed in the interests of protecting mountain bikers from having fun and challenging themselves. Ooops, I slipped into a rant there, didn’t I?



After work hike, Montebello Open Space Preserve

Posted June 25, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes

Tags: ,

My wife and kids are out of town for a few weeks, spending time with the grandparents while I take care of some stuff at work. Sucks for me cuz I sorta like having them around so I decided to fill some of my after work hours with some hikes that I haven’t gotten to do recently. With luck I can write up reports of a number of short after-work hikes that others might find useful.

About the parkMontebello Open Space Preserve is located on Page Mill Road above Palo Alto, CA. It’s a big preserve holding a mixture of open grassland and mixed oak forests and allows hikers, mountain bikes and horses on most trails. It’s good for relatively short hikes because there are a number of loop options and if you’re into looking at Silicon Valey it’s got some pretty good views. A really nice map is available from the link above, as are driving directions to the park.


About the hike: The hike I did was just about exactly 5 miles in length and involved a good deal of climbing and descending in open grassland and in deep forest. The end of the hike was a bit buggy because it was near Stevens Creek. There is no potable water available on the hike. There is water available at the top of Black Mountain but it’s listed as non-potable. It used to be okay to drink but now it’s de-certified. In a pinch I’d still drink it over having to go without water but that’s me and I don’t recommend others follow my advice in matters of personal safety. You can expect to see lots of lizards, some deer, and if you’re really lucky you might see a rattlesnake, a bobcat or a mountain lion. I have never seen any of the latter in Montebello despite spending a lot of time in the preserve but I’m told they’re there.


Doing the hike: I parked in the main parking lot off of Page Mill Road, just across the road from Los Trancos OSP, another old favorite of mine from when it used to be open to bikes (it’s not any more, boo). Walked down the accessibility trail that I helped build down to the Canyon Trail. Followed the Canyon Trail a short distance to Bella Vista and then climbed Bella Vista up to the top of Black Mountain. This is an easy climb but can be a little long and there will usually be mountain bikers descending the trail rapidly so keep your ears open and give them room if you can.

At the top of Bella Vista I turned right and followed Old Ranch Trail that parallels the gravel road over to the backpacker camp. Took a short break for a few drinks of water from my water bottle and then continued over to Indian Creek Trail. Indian Creek is a steep fireroad that leads back down to the Canyon Trail. I once dated a woman who liked to ride her bike up Indian Creek, she was a sick, sick woman. 

I followed Indian Creek Trail down to the canyon and turned right walking through a lovely section of trail shaded by tan oak trees, back towards the parking area (but not that far). A short while later I turned left onto the Stevens Creek Nature trail. This trail leads down to the creek and is closed to bikes in the winter because it gets sloppy muddy. The nature trail has all sorts of little placards pointing out features of the preserve and the animal and plant life to be found there. I followed the Nature trail all the way across the bridges and back to the parking area that I started from. Make sure that you don’t turn onto the Skid Trail (we used to call this Skid Row in my hair band days)by accident, the trails are marked clearly but if you were day dreaming you could make a wrong turn and end up going in the wrong direction. The Nature trail intersects with the accessibility trail that you started on in a badly marked intersection. When the Nature Trail hits an intersection turn left to go back to the parking lot, it’s only 0.1 miles away.

Distance and Time: The route described above is 5.1 miles long (according to the map and signs in the preserve) and took me a smidgeon under 2 hours. That’s a pretty quick hike and you might take longer if you were stopping to smell the flowers (there aren’t many). If you needed to cut it short because it was getting dark you could skip the Nature trail and just head back to the parking area after descending Indian Creek.





Walks and Hikes in Half Moon Bay

Posted March 7, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes

Tags: , ,
Wanna go for a sunset hike on the Half Moon Bay coastside?
From time to time various people have asked me for suggestions for where to go for an easy hike in Half Moon Bay, usually tied with a request to see the sunset on the ocean.
The short answer is that there are tons of great walks on the Coastside but some can be tricky to find and the tricky ones aren’t always that much better than the easy ones and which walk you want depends on what you’re after.  If you’re after solitude, though, you need to work a bit harder and have some local knowledge which I will not impart. I’m one of the locals and we really like that there are still places we can go to get away from visitors.
If you want an easy walk on a paved trail there are tons of great options built around the paved Coastside trail, which runs all along the Coast in Half Moon Bay, beginning near the Miramar Beach Restaurant at the north end and ending up at Poplar Street  in the south. The trail continues past Poplar as a dirt trail and can be followed all the way out to the Ritz Carlton. The best places to pick up the Coastside trail in my opinion are at the Miramar or at State Beach at the end of Kelly Avenue in HMB. Parking is free at the Miramar end but you might need to hunt for street parking a bit. State Beach is a state park so there’s a parking fee but it’s worth it.
If you want an easy rural hike instead of a paved stroll you have different options. One of my personal favorites is to hike the Moss Beach highlands above the airport and Mavericks, just north of Princeton harbor. There’s no trail map of the Mavericks highlands but you don’t really need one. You’ve got the ocean/cliffs on one side and the airport on the other so you’ll always know where you are. Just go wander, it’s lovely, very safe and there are other folks walking dogs out there if you need a pointer. Bring a flashlight or headlamp if you’re going to stay out past sunset, it gets dark quick.
The north end of the highlands is near the Moss Beach Distillery,  where you can have a nice meal or just sit around with a beach blanket and hot drink if you like. The easiest way to access the trail system and avoid other people is to go here:
There’s a small parking pullout at the corner of Ocean Blvd and Bernal Ave that you can put your car in and then just start walking southwards on the trails. Some of the roads getting to that area are closed because of slide damage but you can get there quite easily, just don’t be afraid when you see that one road is coned off, there are others that will let you through.
The Mavericks parking lot at the south end of the highlands is shown in the center of this map.
As you can see, if you want to access the trails you would walk up the paved driveway across the road from the parking area and then just pick any trail and start walking. That parking lot can get full at times but if you park there you also have the option of following the harbor trail out to the bottom of the Mavericks cliffs instead of walking the highlands. If the tide is low that can be a fun place to go.
One other option, which is a real favorite of mine, is to head to Montara Mountain/McNee Ranch State Park and walk the Grey Whale trail, which is well marked, to these two benches and enjoy the sunset at the spot that is routinely voted the “Best Place to Kiss on the Coast“. This is an easy hike and can be done either as a singletrack walk or you can follow the old semi-paved road for the majority of the hike. If you follow the road, turn left at the ranger residence, then left again on the first piece of singletrack after you pass the picnic benches. That’ll put you on the grey Whale trail, now turn right and follow the trail out to the two benches. Do not be deceived by the single rickety bench you pass on the way, that is not your destination. Also do not go up the horrendously steep and rutted hill, that is not your destination. Stay on the level trail and don’t touch those nice leafy bushes on the side of the trail, that’s poison oak.

Three cents an hour

Posted February 5, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: fatherhood, humor

A few months ago the Big Boy sold popcorn for his Cub Scout troop. He ended up selling more than $250 worth of popcorn and got a spiffy $10 bill as a prize. Basically they paid him his piece of the take. For a 7-year old that’s a pretty nice return and he’s very proud of himself for having earned it. The bill is still in his bank, we haven’t really let the kids spend money from their banks yet, it all gets deposted in their savings account.

Last night I was  emptying my pockets on the kitchen counter after work the Boy picked up the pocket change I’d gotten somewhere yesterday. He asked “Daddy, is this the money you got for going to work today?” and I answered “No, that’s just some change I got from a store”.

“Good”, he replied, “because that’s only 21 cents and that’s not very much for a whole day of work.”

I think he was going to suggest I give up my day job and go into popcorn sales.

Square bowl

Posted February 5, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: home improvement

Last Friday night I needed some shop time to unwind after a crap-tacular week. So I spent a little time working on the lathe making a large version of the Christmas trees I gave as gifts last Christmas. Around 11:30 I was at the point where I should have cleaned up and went to bed but I really wasn’t ready to sleep yet. So I decided to take a stab at making a square bowl. I ended up finishing around 1:30ish and woke the wife up to show her what I’d been messing around with.

Square bowl

This is only the second bowl I’ve made but I’m pretty happy with it. it’s made from some hand-me down laminated maple that I got back when I bought a used cabinet saw from a guy in San Jose. I think that’s a biscuit used to strengthen the glue joint form the lamination in the corner of the picture. It was a fun learning project, I’ll try another soon, maybe made from some scrap cherry and bubinga.