Santa Cruz Mountains: This range of mountains along the California coast stretches for just over 100 miles from just south of the City of San Francisco in the northwest to just north of the City of Monterey, California, in the southeast. The range separates the southern section of the San Francisco Bay area from the Pacific Ocean and rises from just above sea level to near 4,000 feet elevation in some sections.
Santa Cruz Mountains History
The area now occupied by the Santa Cruz Mountains was, in pre-historic time, the entrance to a vast inland sea that encompassed central California’s San Joaquin Valley. These mountains lie on a large section of land known as the “Salinan Block” and are atop the junction between the Continental plate and Pacific plate sections of the earth’s surface.
Over a period of from one to two million years, by a process called subduction, the Continental plate has forced itself beneath the Pacific plate. This process has progressively forced the edge of the Pacific plate upward, forming the Santa Cruz Mountains. Unlike the other, older Pacific mountain ranges, these mountains are very young and are made up mostly of sedimentary rock, known as sandstone, which is very prone to movement. Solid rock ledges and faces generally only populate sections of the upper elevations of the mountains. They were pushed up from the seafloor in the early stage of subduction.
Northwesterly movement of the Pacific plate at a rate of one to two inches a year along its junction with the Continental plate has resulted over time in a series of fractures in the Salinan Block. These fractures form what is commonly known as the “San Andreas Fault System” and include, along with the “San Andreas Fault”, other faults such as the “Zayante Fault.” It is this Zayante Fault that precipitated the “1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake” that badly damaged sections of the San Francisco Bay area and coastal cities along these mountains.
From the pre-historic time, these mountains have been populated with gigantic California Coastal Redwoods, a.k.a., “Sequoia Sempervirens.” In more recent time, these mountains were heavily logged for redwood lumber to build the City of San Francisco, surrounding cities and towns, and other infrastructure, during the “California Gold Rush.” Currently, the mountains are populated with old-growth, 2nd growth and 3rd growth Redwood, Douglas Fir, Madrone, Sycamore, Red Alder, Big-Leaf Maple, Cottonwood and various varieties of Oak. The mountains also host twelve varieties of Fern and many other species of flora.
The fauna of the mountains includes Stellar Jays, Red-Tail Hawks, Acorn Woodpeckers, Owls, Salamanders, Millipede, Newts, Banana Slugs, Frogs, Raccoons, Deer, Squirrels, Skunks, Rabbits, Opossums, wild Pigs, Coyotes, Bob Cats and Mountain Lions. Bear has not been present since the early 20th Century.
For day-hikers and backpackers, there are hundreds of miles of maintained single-track trail and fire roads, a temperate climate and eleven “for-fee” trail camps.
Trails & Routes of Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz mountains contain seven (7) major California State Parks and several State Redwood Reserves, all of which provide an assortment of recreational facilities and primarily contain redwood forest. The parks are:
1. Big Basin Redwoods State Park and its Rancho del Oso unit (19,000 acres).
2. Butano State Park (2,200 acres).
3. Castle Rock State Park (4,000 acres).
4. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and its Fall Creek unit (4,200 acres).
5. Portola Redwoods State Park (2,800 acres).
6. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and its Marcell’s Forest unit (10,000 acres).
7. Wilder Ranch State Park (7,000 acres).
8. Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Reserve (2,600 acres).
Camping Plentiful family “camping facilities” are available in State Parks number 1, 2, 4 & 5. The facilities in parks number 1, 3 & 5 are “Handicaped Accessible.”Hiking All State Parks have an ample network of “single-track trails and fire roads” for day-hikes of various lengths and difficulties. Some trails in parks number 1 and 4 are “Handicaped Accessible.”
For back-pack hiking, State Parks number 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 have a combined total of eleven (11) “trail camps” (three with drinking water). The trails and fire roads in parks number 1, 2, 3 and 5 form an interconnecting network for long-distance backpacking.
The most prominent trails of Santa Cruz Mountains
1. The 30 to 33-mile “Skyline-to-the-Sea” trail system, with variations, that extends through Castle Rock State Park and Big Basin Redwoods State Park to the Pacific Ocean. This trail features many “spectacular vistas”, large groves of ancient, large, “old-growth redwoods”, and a series of “four spectacular waterfalls.”
2. The 13-1/2 to 17-mile “Big Loop” trail system, with variations, that runs through The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. This trail features several “spectacular vistas”, physical evidence of “late 19th & early 20th-century logging operations”, and physical evidence of the damage caused by the “1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake” whose epicentre was eleven miles beneath the surface of the park.
3. The 13-mile “Slate Creek/Bear Creek” trail system that runs through Portola Redwoods State Park. This trail features the large “Peters Creek Grove” of ancient, large, “old-growth redwoods” deep in a canyon along Peters Creek. Horse Back Riding All State Parks, other than park number 2, provide a limited system of multi-use trails for “equestrian use.”Mountain Biking State Parks number 1, 4, 6 and 7 provide a limited system of fire roads and multi-use trails for “mountain biking.”Rock Climbing State Parks number 1 and 3 provide areas for “rock climbing” at their higher elevations.