Tafoni. Deep forest. And lots of trails.El Corte de Madera Creek
a long, pleasant drive up Skyline Boulevard to one of Midpenís North
Skyline preserves, but El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space is worth
the trip, especially if you are into exploration. More than thirty
miles of multi-use trails are available in its 2,817 acres.
Located four miles north of Highway 84 (La
Honda/Woodside) on Skyline, the parking area is at Skeggs Point. A
short walk north on the highway takes you to the preserveís main
entrance gate (CM01A) on the west side of the road. At this
trailhead, you can pick up a map, read the displayed trail updates
and warnings, and plan your hike or ride.
I recommend the Tafoni Loop for first-time
visitors. This moderately strenuous five-mile loop takes you through
heavy forest over many mildly sloped downs and ups on the way to
some interesting features, the most notable being a sandstone
formation of giant boulders, with an unusual array of caves,
depressions, pockmarks, and honeycomb patterns called tafoni.
These eroded formations of lacy "fretwork" and "tree trunks" were
formed as slightly acidic rain ate away the sandstone with lower
calcium content, leaving many strange shapes and forms.
A rather florid description of this formation was
written in 1878 by Moore and De Pue in
An Illustrated History of
San Mateo County, California:
"Öon the side of a caŮon known as the head of
Deer Gulch, nearly 2,300 feet above sea level, there stands two
enormous sand rocks, like lone sentinels of the forest. They are
covered with natureís hieroglyphics, consisting of several large
alcoves and arches winding through and down among boulder-like
formations, studded with columns of curious designs. Along the sides
of the rocks is a perforated mass of different sizes and depths,
from one inch to over a foot, no two alike, all varying in form;
some resembling the shape of a diamond, the square, the ellipse, the
egg, and numerous other irregular shapes. Among these perforations
may be seen several column-shaped formations, free from perforations
and resembling somewhat the masonry of man. The oak, the pine, the
redwood and madrona cling to the side and top of these rocks.
"We have gazed in wonder upon the granite walls
of the Yosemite Valley, but with all of its varied scenery and
massive combination of rock, tree, and waterfall, none will surpass
this little gem in beauty at our own doors."
A small deck below the boulders provides a safe
viewing area. You can also read interpretative signs about the
tafoni process. Tafoni and children are fragile, so itís a good idea
to avoid climbing on the rocks.
After viewing the tafoni, you can turn back left
to the intersection with Fir Trail, then turn right and follow the
trail until you see a sign for "Vista Point." Itís a short climb up
to the top. Although the view isnít that impressive, the shaded
hilltop is a good place to picnic, with no tables, but plenty of
grass and fallen branches to sit on.
Returning to Fir Trail, you can go back to the
intersection, and then turn left to go farther on Tafoni Trail. The
trail, an old logging road, is steep and rutted, but itís downhill.
In less than a mile, the trail becomes a single track.
Turn right on El Corte de Madera Creek Trail.
This trail runs high on a ridge above the creek, offering an
interesting view of mixed forest, then dropping down to a bridge
crossing the creek. You turn right after the bridge, walking up a
long, moderately steep trail to complete the loop with Tafoni Trail.
Other interesting possibilities include hiking
the single-track Resolution Trail, which takes you to the scene of a
1953 DC-6 crash, or following Timberview Trail to see a massive old
growth coast redwood with a base approximately fifty feet in
The preserve also has other gates that offer
easier access to the western and southern trails. What are they
like? I donít know, but they would be fun to explore. Just be sure
you bring a map, compass, and plenty of water.
You have options
When you finish your hike, here are other side
trips you might try. About one-quarter mile south of the parking lot
at Skeggs Point, stop at a small pullout on the left (east) side of
the highway. A very short walk will take you to one of the biggest
redwoods on Skyline. Called Methuselah, the tree is almost 19
centuries old, with a base above the burl about 14 feet in diameter.
Rather than a picnic in the preserve, you could
drive to the intersection of Skyline and Highway 84 for restaurant
food and drink at Aliceís Restaurant. Although itís crowded with
colorful bikers, cyclists, and hikers on weekends, itís much quieter
Want to explore some more? Rather than returning
home on Skyline, drive north less than two miles to the intersection
of Kings Mountain and Tunitas Creek roads, then turn left on Tunitas
Creek. The road takes you rolling down through deeply shaded forest
for ten miles or so, then levels out before it reaches Highway One,
south of Half Moon Bay. The road is relatively smooth and wide (for
a mountain road), has little traffic (more bicycles than cars), and
is more fun than backtracking home on Skyline or driving Highway 92
into Half Moon Bay.
When you reach Highway One, you can drive along
the ocean to Santa Cruz, or go back to Skyline when you reach La
Honda Road (Highway 84). Either way, youíve added something extra to
your Santa Cruz Mountains adventure.
Virtually all trails in the preserve are
multi-useóopen to hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. For more
information, call Midpeninsula Regional Open Space at 650-691-1200
or visit www.openspace.org.
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