Hike on Cascade Ranch

A quick drive north of Santa Cruz to hike across the fields of Cascade Ranch, a cattle ranch turned state park. Cattle no longer graze here, but some of spring’s more hardy wild flowers still hide today in tall grass. I stop and look at some of the flowers, but strong, cold wind and fog prompt me to not linger. I pace myself along a smooth trail of several hundreds of yards, leading out to the dirt bluffs that overlook this remote and rocky coast. I realize that I don’t come here often enough. The quiet is always here, ready for me to come listen.

As I walk toward the ocean, I turn back and look up into the mountains and tree-studded valleys. The Ohlone Indians once lived in the shelter of these valleys. The countryside here is so perfectly preserved and so beautiful. Who could believe that some thirty miles or so on the other side of them is the San Francisco Bay Area? No easy roads lead from there to here. The only good roads come from north and south, Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz.

I come a couple of times a year, different seasons, to watch the wildlife–predatory birds on land and elephant seals in water–chasing them around with a telephoto lens until I catch the magic of their action. It’s just too cold today. I knew it would be before I made the trip. I am always neglecting to take into account the weather. It’s possible to get here early in the morning during the wind season and have the wind not yet come up, but not so today. Spring on this coast is known for fog and wind. Fall is so much better, when the fog gives way to sunny days, but then the wild flowers are gone. Each season performs a different play.

When I arrive at the bluffs of the ranch, I see two fishermen below, packing up their buckets, poles, and tackle boxes for the day. They’re dressed warmer than me, and yet it looks as if this nagging cold air has gotten to them too. One hour and I’ve had enough. I make the hike back to my car and drive in the direction of home.

I stop in the dirt parking lot at Waddell Creek for a few minutes to watch the kite boarders having fun on the waves. The coast here is not friendly this time of year, unless you love strong wind. Most people don’t like the wind. They’ll stop here to watch the spectacle of these huge kites arching in the sky, step out to snap a photo, discover how cold it is, then quickly get back in the car. Some may put on a jacket and take a ten-minute walk on the beach, but most leave in a hurry.

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