Tafoni. Deep forest. And lots of trails.
El Corte de Madera Creek

Neil Wiley

Itís 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 circumference.

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 on weekdays.

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. Our hike stories are posted on our website: www.mnn.net.

Happy trails.


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