Thursday, March 24, 2011

El Corte de Madera, Tafoni Trail

El Corte de Madera is a hub for mountain bikers, it’s wet, thickly wooded, and has plenty of steep terrain. For hikers this can be a nuisance because El Corte Madera happens to be a gorgeous little park with old growth redwoods, and even a rare Tafoni rock formation. The trick for hikers if you’re not interested in being buzzed by mountain bikers is to visit on a rainy day.


Difficulty - Easy/Moderate
Length - 5.2 Miles
Crowds - Busy
Fees - Free
Best Season(s) - Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall
Getting There:
- From 280 take Sand Hill Road West to Woodside
- Turn Right on to Portola Road
- Make a crazy Left turn on to Hwy 84/La Honda Rd (it’s almost a complete u-turn).
- Turn right on to Skyline Blvd.
- Pull off into the first small dirty parking lot for the park.

Beylah and I actually did this hike twice within the last three months. Our first trip was pleasant because we had the park to ourselves, this may have had something to do with the fact that it was pouring buckets of rain on us. The rain was coming in sideways through the trees at times and was falling so hard that visibility was an issue (note: my REI Taku jacket held up very well against the rain, thanks REI! light hiking pants, not so much) We might not have had to repeat the hike though had I at least remembered to bring a memory card along with my camera. As I stopped to take the first photo of the trip I first noticed the blinking “NO CF CARD” message inside my viewfinder and let out a “Arrrraghhh!!” loud enough to frighten Beylah. I got over that quickly enough though.

I made not sure to repeat my mistake on the second visit and we were fortunate enough to get some nice weather on our reprise of the hike. The finer weather unfortunately brought out the crowds of Mountain Bikers though who zipped by us all day. We had a late start so I made sure to hurry us along on this trip a bit. From the parking lot we kept right taking the Methuselah trail down into a small ravine with a cute little babbling brook surrounded by redwood groves.

El Corte de Madera
Young Redwoods near the trailhead.

Thin thunked, straight redwoods indicate second growth after the virgin forest was cut down.

The trail rises back up from that point climbing back up 200 feet through a mixed forest until it reaches the Manzanita trail. We turned right on the Manzanita trail heading over a short stretch of wide open trail, perhaps only a few hundred feet before reaching the Fir trail. The hike leveled off for the next mile or so as we proceeded along the fir trail towards the Vista Point.

The Vista Point really anything special, you can see out to the ocean and catch some small glimpses of the rolling green coastal hills. The hill is heavily wooded though so the views are only through small windows in the trees, not sweeping panoramas. It is worth the short detour though and is a good spot to have some water and a snack.

El Corte de Madera Vista Point
View of the Pacific Ocean from the Vista Point.

After leaving the Vista Point we rejoined the Fir trail continuing along in the same direction we were going until reaching the junction with the Resolution Trail. The trail descends quickly dropping 400 feet in about a mile. Mountain Bikers raced past us on the single track trail. We took our time though crossing this more rugged, rocky, and open part of the park.

Moss growing on an Oak Tree.

After another trail junction we kept right and joined the El Corte de Madera Creek Trail the trail more or less evens out hugging the contours of a large ravine studded with old redwoods. This is my favorite spot on the trail surpassing any of the highlights marked on the map. The ground is constantly littered with scraps of redwood bark, cones, and needles turning it an orange-red to match the giant trees which grow in solitude here as a pure redwood grove. The height of these old trees makes this part of the forest dark and lush. A creek runs right through the grove on it’s way down hill.

A quiet redwood grove tucked in a creek bed.

Once through the grove we began climbing again up after making a right on to the Tafoni Trail. Several Mountain Bikers past us, calling back to a second group trailing behind them “Hikers!” with such disdain, almost as if it was a slur. A few more tomato colored cyclists past us as they huffed and puffed uphill with us.

A short side trail leads to the sandstone formation which is the highlight of this hike. The very distinctive honeycomb texture the Tafoni formation has is found in few other places in the world. Most typically though near oceans where salt weathering can break down the rock (Salt Point State Park up in northern California is another example of it). It’s fun to imagine what the first person who encountered this rock might have thought of it. It’s not hard to imagine such a thing being divinely inspired.

Tafoni formations only exist in a few places in the world.

The Honeycomb shape is most likley from salt erosion when the Santa Cruz mountains were once under the ocean.

While absorbing the rock we wolfed down a bag of trail mix despite intending to leave some, apparently our hike had worked up our appetite. At this point though the forest was getting noticeably darker as sunset approached. With nearly two miles to go we hurried away from the Sandstone and rejoined the main trail for a very short stretch before rejoining the Fir trail.

The Tafoni Trail.

This time we headed straight through the junction away from the Vista Point on the Fir Trail then turned right joined the Manzanita trail again for only a few hundred feet before hooking Left down the Methusalah trail. We descended up the same slope we climbed before before reaching the redwood ravine near the start of the trail around sunset. As darkness crept into the forest we climbed up the last leg, on the final uphill push uphill we caught the noise of Skyline Blvd again and soon enough we could see the cars in the parking lot. We kicked off our boots, cozied up in some fleece and hustled back home after a rewarding dayhike.

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