Nisene Marks (Marcel's Forest)
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.
the easiest and most interesting walks is through a new section of the
park called Marcels 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.
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, youll find the
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 wasnt 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
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 arent 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
redwoods 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.
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 Marcels Forest. Its 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.