Explore Santa Cruz Redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – Home to four different ecosystems – redwood, riparian, sandhill chaparral, and grassland – Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is an exciting experience rich in biological diversity.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: One Park, Four Ecosystems

We began our hike at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in a riparian habitat – a habitat characterized by being adjacent to a river or stream. As we passed by the San Lorenzo River, I couldn’t help but admire the clear water running over smooth, flat stones. Close to the water’s edge, a black phoebe perched on a low-hanging branch, ever-ready to snap up unsuspecting insect prey.

As we made our way uphill, more and more redwoods began to tower above us. Their shade created cool microclimates – refuge from the September sun’s heat. The coast redwood bark formed gnarled knots at the bases of the trees. The bark smoothed out as you craned your neck to follow the tree’s trunk upwards. The sounds of the river earlier on our walk were replaced with the sharp calls of Steller’s jays.

Over the course of our hike, we had the chance to witness just two of the four ecosystems present at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: riparian and redwood habitat. The state park’s unique geologic history has shaped it to be the home to redwood forest, riparian areas, sandhill chaparral, and human-created grassland ecosystems.

The park is a mixture of different types of rock formations: to the north, the park is dominated by softer sandstone and mudstone. To the south, the park is comprised of harder rock formations such as granite and schist. The variable geology in the different regions of the park laid the foundation for the diversity of ecosystems that we are able to observe today. The diversity of ecosystems also begets diversity of species – making a visit to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park a rich and exciting experience.

Park History

The park’s area is deeply-rooted in California’s industrial history. The surrounding area was logged for lumber, and the park itself was once home to a busy lime industry. The area is rich in limestone, which when heated in a kiln, becomes lime – an important material for building. Much of the surrounding forest was cut and burned as fuel for the operating kilns. The lime kilns operated from 1865 to 1919.

The park was also the site of an important moment in Bay Area conservation history. Andrew P. Hill, a local photographer, visited the redwood grove in the area to photograph the towering coast redwood trees. After a confrontation with the owner of the grove’s operating resort, Hill formed the Sempervirens Club, whose mission is to protect redwoods so that they can be enjoyed by the public (see the related park history for Big Basin State Park).

In 1930, Santa Cruz County took control of the resort, resulting in the land’s dedication as a county park. In 1954, Samuel Cowell joined his family’s land to the county park, resulting in the naming of a new state park after his father, Henry.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed at select locations in the park. For more information on where dogs are and are not allowed, visit the California State Park site’s General Information for the park.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Hike a Closed Section of Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide Trail

Pacifica, Ca – Once a troublesome segment of highway, Devil’s Slide Trail was converted into a recreational trail in 2014. Visit the area to see awesome seabirds and raptors, and to learn more about the Common Murre Restoration Project that’s active in the area.

Species to Look Out For

Common murre circle

Common Murre

About the Park

Pacifica, Ca – Segment of California Coastal Trail

Science Spotlight: Common Murre Restoration at Egg Rock

Common murres are gorgeous and vaguely penguin-looking seabirds. Common murres actively breed in colonies at Egg Rock, which is visible from Devil’s Slide Trail.

The Egg Rock colony was estimated to have 3,000 birds in the early 1980’s; however, disaster struck with the 1986 Apex Houston oil spill. The oil spill delivered a fatal blow to the common murre population, eliminating the birds at Egg Rock. Scientists, determined not to let the population of common murres vanish, formed the Common Murre Restoration Project. The project, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, set out to restore the Egg Rock population that was wiped out during the oil spill. It also sought to increase the numbers of common murres and other seabirds across Central California.

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Egg Rock, visible just offshore of the Devil’s Slide Trail.

To restore murres, the project employed social attraction techniques. Social attraction, first developed by Project Puffin to restore breeding Atlantic puffin populations, works by tricking birds into thinking that other individuals of the same species are already present at a specific location. This incentivizes breeding birds to set up their nests at that location.

To trick the common murres at Egg Rock, scientists placed common murre decoys on the island, played common murre sounds from speakers, and placed mirrors at the site to create the illusion of movement to birds flying overhead. And the result? The murre breeding colony on Egg Rock has been restored, and has increased every year since the project’s implementation in 1996.

To read more about common murres and their restoration around Egg Rock at Devil’s Slide, check out the Bay Area Naturalist article “Social Attraction: The Story of California’s Common Murres“.

Park History

Devil’s Slide Trail is a segment that was formerly part of scenic Highway 1. Frequent landslides and closures made this a particularly troublesome segment of highway, prompting talk of opening an alternative route over Montara Mountain. Local public outcry strongly opposed the conversion of the mountain into a highway, and grassroots efforts worked to advocate for the opening of a tunnel instead. In a sweeping success, Tom Lantos Tunnels opened in 2013, protecting the mountain and allowing the scenic views of our coast to be preserved.

In 2014, the Devil’s Slide segment of Highway 1 was converted into a recreational trail for joggers, bikers, and hikers. The trail is also a part of the California Coastal Trail, which will extend 1,200 miles along the coast from Mexico to Oregon once completed.

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Sedimentary rock formation along the Devil’s Slide Trail.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Enjoy a Hike with Your Pooch at Ed R. Levin County Park

Milpitas, Ca – If you’ve got a furry companion, this is the place to be! Ed R. Levin County Park allows dogs on-leash and has an off-leash dog park right near the trail entrance. Perfect for a weekend out with Clifford.

About the Park

Milpitas, Ca – Santa Clara County Park

Visit the Park

If you’ve been hiking around the Bay Area, you know that it’s usually a toss-up as to whether or not dogs are allowed at the park. Ed R. Levin County Park is special, as it allows dogs and has an off-leash dog park.

Please note that there is a $6 vehicle fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

Dogs & Parks – Why Restrict Dog Access?

Dogs, especially when off-leash at parks, are in an area with many other wild animals. In some cases, this can lead to unexpected altercations between dogs and wildlife. Thus, keeping dogs off trails is a way to protect them from harmful interactions such as these.

Beyond that, dogs can also pose a threat to wildlife at the park you’re exploring. Many dogs are curious, and will excitedly greet any new acquaintances made on the trail. However, some species, such as the Western snowy plover, are extremely stressed by events such as these. Snowy plovers are already facing steep population declines from habitat loss and disturbance, so protecting their populations from any sort of stress is critical.

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Birdwatching Bonanza at Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Palo Alto, Ca – Some of the best birdwatching in the entire South Bay is right in your backyard. Learn more about bird diversity and plan your visit to the Palo Alto Baylands.

About the Park

Palo Alto, Ca – Nature Preserve

Science Spotlight: Bird Diversity at Baylands

The Palo Alto Baylands Park is a favorite of mine and Dan’s in the area. Considered one of the best places to go birding in the South Bay, the Baylands Nature Preserve offers tremendous bird diversity no matter the month. When visiting, we’ve found that the entrance near San Antonio Road is a great starting point.

As you enter the park, scan the tall vegetation around the creek to your left for a belted kingfisher in flight. As you continue, cliff and barn swallows can be found darting across the skies around the forebay just beyond the bathrooms to the right. In the spring and summer, be sure to look out for their mud nests on the linings of the small building near the San Antonio Road entrance. In the later stages of nesting, small fledglings can be seen waiting outside the nest for parents to swoop in with food.

Just beyond the swallow-dense area, you approach the Charleston Slough to your right. Here, we’ve seen tons of awesome shorebirds: long-billed curlews, American avocets, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, willets, and many more in large numbers. To your left, scan the browning reeds for unusually-shaped clumps. These “clumps” are most likely black-crowned night herons.

Along your walk, check out the edges of the water for great egrets and snowy egrets. Various species of waterfowl can also be found here, depending on the season. In the distance, you may be lucky to see northern harriers – recognizable by the white patch on their rumps (just above their tail on the top side of the bird).

As if the amazing waterbirds and raptors weren’t enough, peek in the vegetation dotting the sides of the path for smaller songbirds. We’ve seen all kinds of sparrow species, house finches, and the occasional yellow-rumped warbler.

Grab your notebooks and binoculars – there’s a world of discovery at the Palo Alto Baylands!

Park History

At 1,940 acres, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is one of the largest protected marshland habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area. The area itself has a history in waste disposal, from landfill to recycling plant. In 2012, these operations were shut down.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

When visiting, we recommend starting at the entrance near San Antonio Road.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Nature in the Heart of Silicon Valley: Pearson-Arastradero Preserve

Palo Alto, Ca – The Pearson-Arastradero Preserve offers grassy hills and miles of trails for hiking and dog walking, right in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Palo Alto, Ca – Open Space

Science Spotlight: Restoring Native Californian Grasslands & Oak Habitat

With the settlement of the Spanish came the introduction of non-native grasses to the Bay Area. These non-native grasses, lacking natural predators in their introduced environments, were able to spread rapidly and out-compete native grasses and wildflowers. As a result, 90% of the native habitat has been lost to foreign invaders.

Native oak habitats have also suffered. Spanish settlers cleared large oaks to make the land available for cattle grazing, and the livestock in turn ate many of the oak saplings and acorns. This, along with depleted soil moisture from non-native plants, has contributed to the loss of much of the oak habitat.

Today, local organizations work with Pearson-Arastradero to restore the habitats that were lost. For more information on how you can get involved, check out the Grassroots Ecology volunteer page or the California Native Plant Society volunteer page.

Park History

The area that is now Pearson-Arastradero was once a working ranch. In 1976, the Palo Alto City Council purchased the land to protect it from developers. They have been acquiring more land for the preserve since, and it now has a total of 622 acres.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

When visiting, we recommend taking the Juan Bautista de Anza trail down to see Arastradero Lake. There, you can find a great assortment of waterfowl, song sparrows, and the occasional black phoebe. When walking along the grassy trails, be on the lookout for American kestrels, western bluebirds and lesser/American goldfinches.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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The Geology Rocks at Rodeo Beach South

Mill Valley, Ca – Need a secluded spot to relax? Check out Rodeo Beach South, a short hike through a beautiful landscape to a beautiful beach. Plus, it’s right near Point Bonita, making this an easy hiking double feature.

About the Park

Mill Valley, Ca – Region of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area

Science Spotlight: Rodeo Beach Geology

When I walk along California’s beaches, I tend to be so captivated by the landscapes around me that I find it easy to ignore the beauty beneath my feet. While every beach has some beautiful geological history to offer, Rodeo Beach stands unique amongst other beaches. Its beautiful, coarse, and pebble-dotted sands reflect a rich geological history.

Remember learning about the 3 major rock families when in elementary school science? As a refresher, rocks can be categorized based on the way in which they are formed. The three rock families are igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock – and it just so happens that you can find all three on Rodeo Beach, making it a gem in terms of California geology.

Looking at the beach geology more granularly, one source reports that Rodeo Beach sands are composed of the following: red and green chert (about 55%), volcanic rock fragments such as pillow basalts (about 30%), lesser amounts of graywacke sandstone (about 10%) and finer mineral grain, such as feldspar and hornblende (about 5%).

Carnelian, although representing a small percentage of the rock composition, is another notable find on Rodeo Beach. These semi-precious gemstones are bright to reddish-orange in color. These beach gems are formed when small pockets, or vesicles, of silica appear within cooling lava. Years of collecting have negatively impacted the amount of carnelian found on Rodeo Beach, so be sure to refrain from collecting.

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© David Abercrombie, 2014, Flickr Album, some rights reserved.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

We recommend visiting the southern tip of Rodeo Beach since it’s a skip, hop, and a jump away from Point Bonita. Regardless of the area that you visit, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for shorebirds dotting the beaches, mats of invasive ice plants, and the mosaic of different rocks that make up the sand.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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