Hiking the Merry-Go-Round
Return to Mount Madonna County Park
Neil Wiley

Although I enjoyed last monthís Mount Madonna hike, I had only skimmed the surface. By the time I got my bearings, saw the deer and walked along a few heavily forested trails, it was time to leave. This month, I wanted to see more of the park, so I set out to make a big loop from the western to the eastern border, and from the top to the bottom.

My hike began on Tan Oak Trail. It was a pleasant stroll through tall oaks, but perhaps November isnít the best time for this route. It rained acorns throughout my walk. Fortunately, acorns are a bit smaller than coconuts, but it is disconcerting to hear them pitter-pat, especially when they hit you on the head. I could swear that I heard squirrels laughing.

I passed Upper and Lower Miller Trails, turned left on Loop, then right on Merry-Go-Round. This trail takes you to the eastern edge of the park, then down to the bottom. It is wide, unpaved and downhill all the way. Many hoofprints and mounds of horse manure suggest this is a popular riding trail. At first you are in forest, but the trail opens up to chaparral-covered hills. As you near the intersection with Tie Camp Trail, the sky gets bigger and the views wider across the ridges of the southern Diablo Range. Then to make it even better, you see what I call the "Rock Garden." Large rocks, half-buried in a huge meadow, create some interesting photo opportunities.

I would have stayed here longer, but I was eager to see Sprig Lake. Merry-Go-Round Trail dropped steeply, and my toes were banging inside my boots. I looked forward to eating lunch while dunking my tired feet in this little lake.

I finally reached the bottom, following the signs to Sprig Lake. This was a place where kids could fish. And although Iím no kid, I could at least pretend to fish. But when I reached the lake, it wasnít even a mirage. The lake was gone. No fish. No water. Just one small black and white cat, looking for a handout. I felt sorry for him, until he sniffed my peanut butter sandwich, then slowly walked away. I guess he wasnít a vegetarian.

After a lunch by the lake that wasnít there, I was faced with a hike uphill from 600 feet to about 1800 feet. Blackhawk Trail was closed so I had to take Ridge Trail, a rather uninteresting, unpaved road. With hindsight as a guide, a better route might have been up Sprig Lake Trail.

Near the top, the trail was more appealing. Lining the trail were rows of non-native but beautiful eucalyptus trees, perhaps planted by the wealthy land baron, Henry Miller.

I also discovered an archery range, set up like a par course, that had many interesting little trails from target to target. Putting an arrow into a paper picture of a bear looked like more fun and less dangerous than targeting the real animal. Itís a lot easier on the animal, too.

When I reached the visitor center area, I again visited the ruins of the old Miller estate, a great place to explore, take pictures and consider the frailty of man-made structures, even those made of stone.

I did try another way home. I drove out the west entrance of the park on Pole Line Road, turning left on scenic Mount Madonna Road, then right on Casserly, then left on Pioneers Road, then right on Corralitos. Just before the road becomes Eureka Canyon Road, I stopped at the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company to pick up some Kobasica, perhaps the best sausage youíll find outside of Poland. Even that fussy cat would have loved it. I followed Eureka Canyon until it became Highland Way, then morphed into Summit.

Considering this was a hike to a nonexistent lake, it was a fine way to spend a day. Lots of trees, rocks and views. And all leading to a finale of spicy, juicy, crunchy sausage. Perhaps we can share a bite some time on Merry-Go-Round Trail!


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