Another Secret Place
Pacheco State Park
Who knew? I’ve driven over Pacheco Pass too many times, but I never knew that a state park was hiding there, just off Highway 152, 24 miles east of Highway 101. It may seem a long way, but this park is in Santa Clara County, a few miles beyond the southern entrance to the better-known Henry Coe State Park.
It was a great hike. Perhaps it had something to do with one of those special California winter days with bright sunshine, temperatures in the high sixties, and a fresh breeze. The softly rounded hills were blanketed with spring grasses—one-sided bluegrass, purple needlegrass, and the ubiquitous wild rye. Although it was too early for wild flowers, there were promises of shooting stars, larkspur, and California poppy. Early rains had already encouraged an explosion of mushrooms.
The meadow-covered hills were studded with giant, windswept old oaks, some standing bravely alone; others in small groves. A few ponds and natural springs promised water for wildlife and horses, but not for humans.
The views ranged from pleasant to spectacular. The park is a giant bowl filled with smaller hills. The walks through the valleys offered serene quiet, the perfect antidote to a busy world. A climb up to the 1,912-foot Spike’s Peak didn’t rival Pike’s Peak, but I could see a 360-degree view of San Luis Reservoir, the Central Valley, and the Coast Mountain Range. Even better, however, were the smooth, sensuous curves of rounded hills in sweeping panoramas.
You get the idea. I liked it. In fact, I liked it too much, so I walked over ten miles, up and down the many hills. After a few hours, and too many ups and downs, my knees and the early winter sunset reminded me that it was time to go home.
My hike was along a popular loop through the park. I walked to the left of the parking lot, across a grass field, to the trailhead of Spike’s Road Trail. (Don’t let the word “road” confuse you. It’s a dirt trail.) After a relatively flat section, I began a mild climb up the lovely-named Pig Pond Trail. Past the Pig Pond, the hill got steeper, and I was glad to find a picnic bench.
After a short rest I walked along the Canyon Loop Trail over several ups and downs past a giant wind-turbine farm. Approximately 200 windmills generate 21-million kilowatts of power, enough to serve 3,500 homes while generating enough revenue to sustain the park. Although the breeze was light, these windmills and twisted oaks are a reminder that winds, especially along the high ridges, can be severe.
The hills were alive, not with music, but with the quicksilver flash of ground squirrels. I also saw hawks, meadow birds, a shifty coyote, and an all-together, too-fast bobcat.
When I reached the dry Salt Creek bed, I turned west and hiked along the southern boundary up to Spike’s Peak. It wasn’t too steep but it was a long slog up a tree-covered ridge. The view was worth it.
The return home on Spike’s Peak Road was generally downhill, with a few steep but short climbs up little hills. The last section along Cut Off Trail traveled down a long ridge that provided some nice views of the hills. A sign at the bottom invited me over one more hill to the parking lot.
The cost to park is $5. Seniors pay $4. You need exact change to put in the self-serve envelope.
The map at the parking lot is difficult to read, but it does show one-way and loop- trail mileages. You are better off if you get the Pacheco State Park brochure with map, available at www.parks.ca.gov. For your GPS, the address is 38787 Dinosaur Point Road, Hollister, CA 95023.
Bring water. No water is available for humans. The parking lot accommodates horse trailers. Trails are open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians, but no dogs are allowed. There are many trail gates. Be sure to close them. And here is shocking news. The electric-fence wire works.
If you want a closer look at San Luis Reservoir, stay to your left on Dinosaur Point Road at the park entrance. You can drive down to the boat ramp.
My advice to hikers, especially for this park, is when the going gets tough, walk slower. You can climb the steepest hill if you stop often to admire the view, breathe deeply, and enjoy the solitude.