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2022 February 3

Secret Walks: Painted Barrels & Cave Gulch

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On Saturday 30 January 2022, my wife and I started doing our own walks, not from Secret Walks & Staircases in Santa Cruz, by Debbie Bulger and Richard Stover.  For this walk, we started by taking a 19 bus up to Science Hill, then walked up past the painted barrels to Marshall Field, down the Long Meadow Trail in Wilder Ranch State Park, then crossing Wilder Creek in Cave Gulch, across the UCSC-owned field, and finally down Empire Grade Road and Bay Drive to home. Despite having lived in Santa Cruz fo over 35 years, I had never been in Cave Gulch before.  The total walk was about 8.5 miles.


Here is a map of the route we took (click here to see it at reasonable resolution). I made a couple of mistakes—taking the wrong trail (not Red Hill Road) near the beginning and doing a short detour on the wrong path by the painted barrels. I’ve shown these errors on this map.

I took a lot of pictures on the walk, and I have tried to pick some of the more interesting ones for this blog post—I had to drop a lot of my favorites, though.


The entrance to upper campus leads to Red Hill Road—the entrance is hidden at the back of the parking lot, behind trailers.


We saw redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) blooming.


There are also a lot of ferns of different sorts growing under the redwoods.


These berries were at the top of a tall madrone tree—even with my zoom lens and my monopod, I could not get a very clear picture of them. I don’t know whether the problem is that the camera was not steady enough or that the autofocus was not good enough.


We saw these funny orange dots on the bark of a knobcone pine tree. After the walk, my wife identified them as orange dimple lichen (Coenogonium luteum). We identified the conifer by the shape of the cone.


A madrone tree showing both the colorful bark and the berries. The automatic exposure on camera sometimes seems to overexpose a little, washing out the colors. I’m going to have to learn how to prevent that, as I can’t seem to compensate for it afterwards very well.


Here are some of the painted barrels that the walk is named for. They get repainted often, and this version is clearly in honor of the new year—the start of the the year of the tiger and the ending of the year of the ox.


This twisted branch makes an interesting contrast to the straight vertical trees behind it.


On the wide gravel path from Painted Barrels, you eventually reach a meadow with a colorful mix of different trees bordering it.


The rather red “grass” here grows in the wet area of the meadow. I have no idea what it is—I don’t even know whether it is a grass or a moss.


These barrels are not as popular a meeting place as the ones further south, but they attract their own artwork.


I’ll skip over the pictures of seasonal wetland plants in Marshall Field (none of which came out all that well) and go directly to the remnants of this winter’s controlled burns in Wilder Ranch. There were several of these piles of charcoal beside the trail.


The Long Meadow Trail is used by horse riders, hikers, and mountain-bike riders (in decreasing order of priority if someone has to yield). The trail was dry and firm when we hiked it, but it clearly had been quite muddy not too long ago.


We rather liked the shape of this tree trunk.


The trail was eroded in several places—sometimes with small seasonal trickles of water still in the eroded parts. If we ever get more rain this year, the path will clearly get cut up even more. Maintaining the paths in Wilder Ranch probably requires at least annual work on each path.


This view shows why the trail is called Long Meadow Trail—there are several places where you can get a long view out to the ocean. (You can even see the hills above Monterey on the other side of Monterey Bay.)


We saw this butterfly, which I later identified as a common buckeye (Junonia coenia).


The branches made a nice abstract compostion.


This tree was a long way away when I took the picture—I was playing with the zoom again, to see what I could get. Taking the picture from so far away makes the tree look almost like a flat paper cutout.


The narrow left trail here, near the bottom end of Long Meadow Trail, is where we turned off to get to Cave Gulch.


This wall is apparently the remains of a dam that was once part of a gold-mining operation here.


These stone walls were also part of the gold-mining operation. They are actually fairly well separated—the zoom is flattening the image quite a bit.


A little way into Cave Gulch reveals the entrance to an old lime kiln—this entrance is big enough to walk through if you crouch down a bit.


Inside the lime kiln is a tree and a lot of graffiti.


There is another lime kiln next to the first, but this one has warning signs that it is unstable, so people don’t go in (and we certainly didn’t).


The trails in Cave Gulch have eroded rather badly—I suspect that this December’s storms washed away quite a bit.


Once you get deep into Cave Gulch, it gets rather dark—the redwoods block the light and it was about 15°F cooler than the earlier part of the walk.


This fallen tree looks like it has been in this position for a while (all the side branches are on the top side of the trunks).


The bridge over Wilder Creek is not for those with a fear of falling! We saw one mountain biker walk across log with the flat top with his mountain bike on the log with the groove. Later on we saw another mountain biker ride across the log with the flat top. I walked across (gingerly), but my wife went a little upstream to the ford (which a number of mountain bikers used also). She managed to cross the ford on rocks without getting her feet wet.


This plant was identified by my wife as Pacific hound’s tongue (Adelinia grande).


After we got out of Cave Gulch, the trail was roped off with a thin cord, with a lot of signs explaining that the bare ground was habitat for the endangered Ohlone tiger beetle. We did see one beetle squished by a mountain biker or hiker, but we had no way of identifying whether it was an Ohlone tiger beetle.


Even the field had some seasonal streams crossing it—a little surprising, because we only had ½” of rain in January, and that at the beginning of the month.


I took a photo of the entrance to the trail from Empire Grade Road, so that I could identify it if I ever wanted to do the walk in the reverse direction. There is a more direct entrance to Cave Gulch (following Wilder Creek) higher up on Empire Grade, immediately opposite Heller Drive.


On the median of Bay Drive, the city planted a bunch of young redwood trees far too close together. It would have been better for them to have taken out the eucalyptus trees (which are a major fire hazard) and replaced them with redwood saplings.


The walkway down the middle of Bay Drive has finally had the eroded spot repaired and the stream bed rebuilt—the path is once again fully open, though there is another spot that looks like it might collapse into the stream if we get another heavy rain.

Next weekend’s walk will probably be shorter, but we have not yet agreed on a destination.

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