3.1.9: Deep Shadows and New Friends – Mountain Biking In The Henry Cowell Redwoods

Deep Shadows and New Friends

Mountain Biking In The Henry Cowell Redwoods

Read About Our Ride In The Sun Drenched Santa Teresa Hills
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p (1)The Henry Cowell Redwood State Park lies just a few miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 9, near Felton, California.  The Park includes virgin Redwoods at the southern limit of the great California Redwood forest that stretches from Crescent City south to Monterey Bay.  The large Redwoods that now form the Grove have long been the object of protection.  A businessman spearheaded the first efforts to preserve the trees.  Later, Santa Cruz County took on the Grove as a Park.  IN 1952, the Cowell Family donated the surrounding land to California, on condition the Grove was also deeded over as part of the current park.
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Visitors can reach the Park from the north, east, or south.  The most picturesque route is south, from San Francisco, on the fabled Pacific Coast Highway, to Santa Cruz, and Highway 9 to Felton.  The same is true from the south.  The eastern approach is over the Santa Cruz Mountains via Highway 17, and taking Mount Herman Road in Scots Valley to Highway 9.
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Marian and I enjoy Henry Cowell.  It is pleasant, and easily accessible.  Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the Redwoods in the Grove.  Bikers can ride the paved trails in any weather.  When we have visitors, we often encourage them to visit the Park, since it provides an easy way to become acquainted with these wonderful trees.  Our most recent visitors were our nephew Paul and his family.
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Our Plan
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p (2)Riding in Henry Cowell is straight forward.  While there are many paths, only a few are open to bikes.  We started at  the Visitor Center, near the Highway 9 entrance at Felton (N 37°02.391′; W 122°03.817′).  We rode the three miles of paved Pipeline Trail south-east to the Graham Hill entrance.  Then we retraced our steps and rode 0.8 miles of the unpaved Powder House Trail to the outlook, the highest place in the Park.  We coasted back down to the Pipeline Trail.  From there, we returned to the Visitor Center.  Our total distance was about 7.6 miles.
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Op (3)ur route in Henry Cowell required 1200 feet of climbing  After a gentle opening ride, the first climb was about 350 feet.  We descended to the San Lorenzo River, then up to Graham Hill Road, another very steep 120 feet.  On the return trip, we climbed 450 feet to the Park Overlook.
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Our Ride
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blank Turn-By-Turn Directions
blank 0.0 Miles – STRAIGHT on paved Pipeline Trail from Visitor Center
blank 1.6 Miles – Scenic Overlook to Santa Cruz Boardwalk
blank 2.3 Miles – Picnic Table
blank 3.0 Miles – TURN AROUND at Graham Hill Gate
blank 3.7 Miles – RIGHT on dirt Powder Mill Fire Road
blank 4.5 Miles – TURN AROUND at Overlook
blank 5.3 Miles – RIGHT onto paved Pipeline Trail
blank 7.6 Miles – END at Visitor Center
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Our Ride
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p (4)We parked at the Visitor Center, after paying our $10 to support the Park.  Preparing for our ride,  we heard the nearby Roaring Camp RailroadI took a turn around the parking lot, and stopped to admire the narrow gauge train.  The Rail Road was built to haul tourists from Santa Cruz up to a resort at Roaring Camp.  As I completed my circuit, a mother, father and three-year old son emerged from the Grove.  The whistle excited the boy.  I opined that the train would be at the station for a time, before returning to Santa Cruz.  The father hoisted the boy on his shoulders, and quickly walked off.  Trains are made for boys of all ages.
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p (5)We left the sunny pasture near the Visitor Center, and descended into the lush green tunnel of the Pipeline Trail.  New spending was in evidence.  New pavement replaced heavily damaged black top, and new timber railings bordered the walkways.  We passed the Grove on our left and followed the creek.  Hikers moved in both directions, on the trail, although the crowd was far smaller than a mid-summer weekend.  Many were students, as well as a sprinkling of Asian tourists.  People smiled, reverent of their surroundings.  They were calm, polite, and friendly.
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The forest deadened traffic noises and all but the closest voices.  The further we cycled from the Visitor Center, the more it seemed we left the 21st Century.  Soon, we might have been miles from civilization, instead of a few miles from Surf City Santa Cruz and the blaring music of the Board Walk.
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p (6)Instead of the mandatory strenuous climb out of the parking lot, we enjoyed pedaling 0.8 miles down the gentle slope, moving politely and carefully around the hikers.  We soon reached the lowest point in our ride.  Above us, the Roaring Camp Railroad soared high over our heads on a wonderful old trestle spanning our valley.
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p (8)Our first climb greeted us, 280 feet in 0.8 miles.  The hikers disappeared, turning around at the Trestle.  The first 0.3 miles was fairly steep (13% according to the Garmin), but manageable.  As we ascended, an enthusiastic hiker, going in the other direction, encouraged us with spirited exhortations.  After a small respite, we did our best on the rest of the grade (22% at the steepest point).  I gamely rode as much of it as I could, but my heart rate maxed out, still some distance from the top.  Without a shred of guilt, I pushed my bike the remaining 600 yards to the top.  If if I had the energy to finish the climb, it was fa too steep to restart.
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Once at the crest, we greedily drank in the sweet oxygen.  Few hikers ventured up the steep slope.  Almost alone, we rode easily along the top, taking the rollers without complaint.  We had time to become tourists.  The trees were, occasionally, thinner, allowing watery sunlight through.  In other places, the green tunnel absorbed light and sound.
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p (7)As we rode along, we notice great fire hydrants poking out of the ground along Pipeline Trail.  Some giant had planted these enormous, towering artifacts in another age.  Even painted in earth tones, they seemed out-of-place.Still, the purpose of the fire hydrant is noble.  In the event of a fire, the hydrants, linked by pipes to the River, can provide an instant, inexhaustible flood of water to firefighters.  They were installed long ago, standing ready to perform their duty.  While this might seem extravagant, they stand guard in this forest.  While Redwoods can always be replaced, the virgin timber in the Grove could never be replaced.
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p (9)We reached the bench by the trail, and paused.  A short time earlier, we passed a hiker.  She joined us.  She was friendly, saying she often rode the trail, as well as hiked.  Her name was Cindy.  Since she was familiar with the trail, we asked her what we were looking at, what we would see if the view were clear.  The Santa Cruz Boardwalk hide under the mist.  Once we understood, we could also see the Great Dipper, and the Railroad Bridge over the San Lorenzo River.  We also chatted with another woman.  She had walked her dog from the Graham Hill Road Gate.
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p (12)We bid farewell to our new friends and followed the paved trail down to the San Lorenzo River.  Along the way we met a young man who stopped us and earnestly proselytized to us.  The message was fine, and we believe.  Still, I am not sure how well it was received by others on the trail. xxxxxxxxxxxx We continued, reaching the steep descent to the San Lorenzo River.  Pine needles covered the steep path.  We negotiated the tight turns, trusting our brakes.  We rode on to the bottom, since we could not stop our bikes anyway  The south bank had the steepest grade of the ride, over 23%.  I wish I could say I rode all of it, but, again, I pushed my bike up the last half.
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We rested at the Graham Hill Road gate before turning back into the green tunnel.  We dropped down to the San Lorenzo River, amazed at the slope.  Pushing up the far side, I rode all the way to the turnoff to the Powder Mill Trail.  However tempted I was to stop, I pushed on to the turn off to the Powder Mill Trail.
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In earlier years, when we rode Henry Cowell, we often rode it in the Spring, just as the Wet Season was ending. The steep Powder Mill Trail would be filled with muddy ruts, pools of water and small streams and bogs.  On the day we rode, the Wet Season, such as it had been, was six months in the past.
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The ride to the top was about 0.8 miles, with about 300 feet of climbing.  But, to my tired legs, it seemed longer.  Happily, the ride was not very technical.  I kept the bike away from ruts, and worked my way through the sand traps, left over beach front property from some earlier geological era.  For the most part, the bike steered itself, and I just pedaled.
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p (14)Four students began their hike up the trail while Marian and I ate Luna Bars.  As I rode up the hill, I gained ground on them. I considered passing them, but knew I would have to stop shortly afterward.  We were near a confusing trail junction.  Marian had no map, and I needed to guide her to the correct trail.  After Marian joined me, we pushed to the top.  I caught the students, again. Politely, I let them take the stairs and claim the only picnic table on the observation deck.  A pair of equestrians were also there, and happily posed for us.
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p (13)Finally at the top, we claimed our reward, the view.  Sadly, the scene included no Ocean, which had been visible from the Bench.  Instead, we had a view of the mountains around us.  In every direction, trees covered the rugged slopes.  If we squinted a little we could imagine the land as it might have been, untouched by humans, for as far as the eye could see.
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Coming down, we took our time on the Powder Mill Trail.  The road was just steep enough, with just enough sharp, loose gravel, to make me cautious.  I found it difficult to let go of the brake levers and zoom recklessly down the slope, trusting the bike design and my rusty skills.  Instead, I picked my way through the ruts and sand, arriving safe and sounds.
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Once back to the pavement, we headed to the Visitor Center.  The upper reaches were relatively deserted. We met our cheerleader again, urging us on.  His enthusiasm was infectious.  I learned he cheered us on because he seldom saw bikers of our advanced ages riding such difficult trails.  Defalted, we descended to the Rail Road Trestle.  We slowed down and worked our way through the hikers to the parking lot.
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Our Thoughts
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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was our second mountain bike ride of 2013.  Unlike the dirt of the Santa Teresa Hills, the paved trail for much of the ride almost felt like cheating.  And, my heart resonated with the trees in a way the  barren slopes could never meet.  I was grateful to live in a place like Henry Cowell Park, and anyone can ride in it, not just a privileged few.  The greenest of all Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, made a lasting difference in this country in promoting Conservation.  I owe them an immeasurable debt.
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Read about our ride to blue skies of the Soquel Demonstration Forest.
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Filed under Cycle Touring, Cycle Training, Mountain Biking, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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