Friday, May 1, 2009

If you hike to Berry Creek Falls slowly, you'll miss things

Last week, I hiked to Berry Creek Falls with my girlfriend Linda. Berry Creek Falls is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's about a five mile hike to Berry Creek Falls, and then you can hike up another trail to Silver Falls, and finally a little further to the Golden Cascades, another series of falls. Then, it's another five miles back through the redwood forest to the trail head.

Linda and I stopped many times along the way to capture it all in. We'd stop and gaze up at the massive redwood trees, or look at various hidden wildflowers along the way. When we got the the falls, we'd stop, take a seat on one of the benches provided, and take in the view. We set up a little picnic at the foot of Silver Creek and had lunch before making our way back.

I had actually run a half marathon race on these very trails once before. Then, these scenic waterfalls were a basically a blip in a sea of redwoods as I motored on by. Instead of the looking around the scenery, my eyes were fixed along the ground, searching for each spot to plant my foot for the next step. A meandering, down hill trail with a rocks and roots sticking out isn't a pleasure stroll in a trail race, but a face-plant waiting to happen.

At one point in the trail, the terrain becomes very barren, rocky, and highly exposed to sunlight on a mountain ridge. On our hike, we took off our jackets to enjoy the sunlight and get out of the cool forest air, and enjoy the diversion from the redwood forests. I remembered this spot on the half marathon. The sun beating down on me here was a dehydration concern on a trail run where there are no water stops, and I was relieved during the race when the trail dipped back down into the monotonous line of redwoods and brought back the cool air.

Some might say I missed a lot running a race on these trails. But aren't the waterfalls simply an anomaly in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and by lingering about them, we distort their significance in the forest? If we focus on the tall trees and pretty flowers, do we ignore the ground and topography which is very much a part of the forest as well? I'm not suggesting people run through the forest instead of hiking at their own pace. But our speed and purpose in the forest creates a unique lens that creates our experience. And each lens has its own focus and distortions.

When we finished our hike, we drove through the nearby town of Boulder Creek. It's a small town of about 4,000, rather isolated in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I've never stopped their before, having passed through a few times on my way to Santa Cruz. This time, Linda and I stopped at the Boulder Creek Brewing Company at the edge of town.

It's in an old, rustic looking building that indeed looks like in belongs in the middle of the mountains somewhere. Like any good brewpub, it has a great neighborhood vibe, where everyone seems to know each other and is there to relax and have a good time. The bar was full of maybe ten locals who all seemed to be on a first name basis, but Linda and I never really felt like outsiders.

If you can imagine a cross between a hunting lodge, a brewpub, and a vegan co-op, that would describe the atmosphere and the menu. It seems as if the hippie culture of Santa Cruz has splashed 15 miles northward into the mountains here. We asked about the various beers and the dread-locked bartender seemed happy to explain them to us. There was only one house beer available, their Big Basin Brown Ale, since the brewing equipment was being renovated. I generally like nut brown ales, and this was a solid one, with a decent amount of nutty malt and a little grassy hops underneath.

I couldn't tell much about Boulder Creek looking through the car window on my previous trips through, but I now have a lot better feel for the place now that I've stopped here. I hope to drop by Boulder Creek Brewing again the next time my travels take me this way. I wouldn't want to miss it.

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