Nisene Marks (Marcel's Forest)

When most people think about hiking in Nisene Marks State Park their feet begin to hurt. A hike from the Aptos entrance to the Soquel Demonstration State Forest is 12.4 miles, mostly uphill. Then, unless you carpooled, you can hike back to where you started. Not many of us are hardy enough (or foolhardy enough) to hike 25 miles in one day. But there are many shorter, easier trails.

One of the easiest and most interesting walks is through a new section of the park called Marcel’s Forest. Jeff Thomson, author of Explore...The Forest of Nisene Marks Park took me and 74 other hikers on a short hike sponsored by the Environmental Council of Santa Cruz County.

The trailhead is easy to find. You drive east on Soquel Drive to Aptos Village, turn left on Aptos Creek Road and follow the road until you come to the official park entrance. You pay $6 for parking ($5 for seniors), then turn left to the parking lot. Next to the lot is a picnic area, complete with picnic tables and an interpretive panel that usually offers maps of the lower park trails. Just beyond and to the left of the panel, you’ll find the trail head.

Thanks to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, our hike was over-subscribed. Although the Council had prepared 43 lunches, they ended up with 75 people. (I wasn’t worried. I never hike without a sandwich and a few bottles of water.)We walked along a short path, then crossed a seasonal bridge over Aptos Creek. Two tables by the creek provide a semi-private picnic area. There is also an abandoned rock barbecue built by a previous owner but never used.

We turned right along the 1.1 mile long Old-Growth Loop Trail to a lovely moss and fern covered grotto. According to our guide, Jeff Thomson, the park boasts of at least 17 different types of ferns, including beautiful five finger ferns, sword ferns and bracken ferns.

Further up the trail, we discovered the "twisted grove" or "crazy forest." Several large redwoods were twisted in unusual curves. Jeff theorized that the trees had slid down a steep slope, then turned to re-orient themselves to the sun. Who says that trees aren’t smart?

We also saw several redwoods with burnt-out bases. These open spaces are called "goose pens," because ranchers and loggers kept geese and other birds inside these trees. The open spaces also show that the redwood’s bark can be up to a foot thick, a natural fireproofer.

Our next stop was the Tiger Lily Garden. Although the garden is an exceptionally large natural colony of tiger lilies, we saw only the stalks. Jeff says the best time to see them is May, right after they have blossomed and before deer eat them.

We didn’t have to imagine our next plant. We walked under the largest redwood in the park. "The Advocate" is 45 feet in circumference. Many visitors patted this tree as if it was an old friend. Perhaps they understood that less than two percent of old growth forest remains. We were fortunate to share a few moments with a survivor who has lived hundreds of years. After all, a millennium means little to a tree that can live more than two thousand years.

In a few minutes, we were sharing lunch back in the picnic area. Although it was a short hike, it had enough special moments to justify a drive to Aptos. When civilization gets to be too much, but you only have a few hours, take a walk in Marcel’s Forest. It’s a great way to sample The Forest of Nisene Marks.

For more information, read Explore...The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Walkabout Publications, PO Box 1299, Soquel, CA 95073, (408) 462-3370. Cost is $9.95 plus shipping.



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