(Purisima Creek- Whittemore Gulch- North Ridge- Bay Area Ridge- Soda Gulch- Purisima Creek)
I'm not going to lie to anyone. I've lived in the Bay Area for 14 years, and I have only visited Peninsula hiking trails on 3 different occasions--two of those were for PCTR events. However, my aunt had sent up a request for computer assistance for her blog, and Peninsula trails were closer to her than, say, Marin or the East Bay. So we headed south on the 280.
Purisima Creek Redwoods, according to the cursory research I just did on the internet, are generally second-growth forests. (I swear, I'm close to buying a bunch of Bay Area history books... as well as a guide to the flora. I know lots of plants but it's becoming irritating to not be able to refer to plants by name...) From 1854 to 1920, several lumber mills operated in this area, and logging even continued until the 1970s. However, there are still two old growth areas on this hike: one sandwiched between Whittemore Gulch and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and the other off the Soda Gulch trail. Did I notice the ancients compared to the newbies while I was running? No. I am neither a botanist nor a dendrochronologist--I just think old trees are cool.
The second growth forests aren't bad, either. We started at the Redwood Trail parking area, and started down the Purisima Creek Trail, shaded by stately second-growth redwoods.
Down is a good word to use here. Steep might also be appropriate. Foreboding, thinking of the end of the run, would be another good one. Jen and I kept hoping the trail would flatten out soon, because every step down would be another to run back up.
When the trail did flatten out, it meandered along next to Purisima Creek. Ferns and other greenery (there's that lack of names again!) kept the trail cool and comfortable to run. To be honest, it was rather chilly on this run, and I was glad to be moving the whole time. This is a great run for summer, though. I kept thinking how different this environment was than the Ohlone Wilderness, or even the trail I did on Thursday morning. It makes one rather overwhelmed by the Bay's ecosystemic possibilities...
At the end of the Purisima Creek Trail, we took the Whittemore Gulch trail to the North Ridge Trail. Whittemore Gulch is a worthy trail. It climbs a bit but then mellows out and gently ascends up to the ridge. As we left the redwood forests and headed up to more exposed regions, we were treated to many different wildflowers--blue forget-me-nots filled in any space left by the different plants, and we also found thistles holding on to beads of moisture. I have never seen a thistle that looked this pretty.
Whittemore Gulch led to North Ridge and then the Bay Area Ridge trails, and then dropped down to Soda Gulch. Several sites I had read before this cautioned against missing this trail, and I am happy to report I would agree with them completely. Soda Gulch is a hikers-only trail, which Jen partially lamented. It runs through huge redwood trees--some of the old growth forests, but again, I was not aware of which trees fit this bill and which did not.
As a random side note, there was an article published in the New Yorker in 2005 about the redwoods in Humboldt County (the link is just to the abstract). Many have crazy plants (huckleberries, ferns and others) that have taken up residence in the uppermost branches of the tall trees. I was reading another site (sorry, did not note the link) that said some of the old growth trees at Purisima Creek Redwoods have some of these same kind of epiphytes growing in the tree tops. Not as many as the giants in Humboldt County, but they still exist.
Once back on Purisima Creek Trail, we slogged back up to the parking area. This was a rather painful 1.8 miles--at the end of the trail and straight up. We ran into some bikers who were on road bikes (yes, road bikes) on this trail and judging from their tracks, they rode all the way back up to Skyline. And we thought we were studly for running all this...
All in all, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve has made me a convert to the trails of the Peninsula. I have a feeling I will be coming back more this summer, as these trails are MUCH cooler than the East Bay options. Apparently you can bring your dog on some trails on a leash, but it was not clear from the websites I read which trails those are.