NPS Trailheads and the Central California Coast
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been digging in to my main project for the summer, working on the design of a new trailhead for the GGNRA’s latest acquisition, 3,800 acre Rancho Corral De Tierra. The park is located about an hour’s drive south from downtown San Francisco, and is situated at the northern end of a roughly 15 mile stretch of Pacific coastline that has a unique character of it’s own, secluded from the cities across the ridges to the north and east. This stretch is known historically for ranching, shore whaling (hunting whales on boats near the shore as opposed to in big ships out at sea), shipwrecks, and artichokes. Today artichokes and other crops are still grown in the fields, and the quaint, small community, coastside feeling is still prevalent. The mountains, fields, and dramatic ocean cliffs combine for an eerie yet beautiful composition.
I had already visited the site a couple of times around a month ago, but just for some preliminary inventory and analysis. Before I could start designing I decided to venture back again for two days and take a closer look. On the first day, deeply overcast, I drove up and down the coast, further south than this 15 mile stretch, to get a sense for this segment of the Central California Coast. In my mind I compared this area to some unknown place in New England on a chilly September evening, when you first get that sinking feeling that summer’s really gone, and fall is about to invade. This feeling of mine was kind of affirmed when I discovered that a lighthouse in this area, the Point Montara lighthouse, was disassembled and brought over from Cape Cod.
The next day I returned for another visit, sunny this time, to bike/hike up Montara Mountain, an 1,800 ft ascent in less than a mile. This challenging hike is one of the bigger attractions for the northern part of Rancho, where the new trailhead I’m working on is going to be. I underestimated this mountain. It started out nice and breezy, but as soon as I got above the fog (I know I just said it was sunny…its complicated), the temperature went from 60 to near 90 in a matter of a few minutes. I ran out of water, and didn’t make it all the way to the top, but I came close enough to get some amazing views of the Bay Area. Despite my near-heat exhaustion, the ride up was spectacular- the vegetation on the slopes looked like a Claude Monet impressionist painting, and the view over the top of the fog felt like flying above the clouds.
I’ve been working on three alternatives for the trailhead, and over the next few weeks this design will be refined some and presented to the park. In the next post I’ll get more into detail about the site itself and the designs. If you want to explore the area in Google Earth/Maps, just zoom to the town of Montara, locate Montara Mountain to the north and east, and follow the coast south past Half Moon Bay. Enjoy!