Have you ever heard of Burleigh H. Murray Ranch? We hadn’t, and we live just 10 miles away. The California State Parks parcel in the foothills east of Half Moon Bay features just one trail and a unique 19th-century barn. Sparse? Perhaps. But check it out.
We stumbled across the 1,325-acre ranch while running a socially distant errand on Higgins Canyon Road, best known as a primary route to the popular Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. The ranch signage and tiny parking lot slipped briefly into MontaraManDan’s peripheral vision as we zipped past. We slowed for a closer look on the way home. And then, we hopped online.
Burleigh’s father moved from Vermont to California in 1852 to work the gold mines in Placer County, according to the California State Parks historians. Five years later, after the gold fields had petered out, he settled on the property along Mills Creek with some livestock and began a dairy farm. Burleigh was born here in 1865.
Built sometime in the late 1800s, the 200-foot-long Mills Barn could have housed up to 100 dairy cows back in the day. We’re guessing there was no shortage of milk and cheese for the workers who were busy clear-cutting the coast redwoods up the road at Purisima Creek 120 years ago. Pity the lactose-intolerant logger.
Purchased by the park service in 1983, the property extends eastward to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Skyline Drive, but most of the park is not accessible. The tiny parking lot was more than sufficient for the smattering of visitors to the park on a Thursday afternoon in January.
The country lane that serves as the solitary trail – two miles out and two miles back – meanders gently through the foothills among groves of eucalyptus trees. The pastels of early spring were visible on the hillsides and along the trail and creek during our walk.
We spotted the Mills Barn – a rare California example of an English Lake District bank barn – about a mile up the trail, leaning heavily on 4×4 timbers in a state of “arrested decay.” Rusted farm equipment and picnic tables dot the grounds.
Park visitors are not allowed inside the barn, but we made a slightly muddy 360-degree walk around it and peeked in a few windows and between missing strips of siding.
The two-story barn is built against an embankment held back with a stone retaining wall. The design, once common in the northeastern United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, allows access to both levels from ground level. The California State Parks history notes that the barn’s foundation and a nearby arched stone bridge were built using Italian know-how that dates to the Roman Empire.
The pleasant trail continues for another mile beyond the barn, fringed at times with rows of mature birch trees. Eventually, the path dwindles to a single track rife with the usual assortment of poison oak and other troublesome undergrowth common to the Coastside and loathed by The Geek and most sensible hikers. So, we turned back.
Loop trails are nice, but the winter lighting highlighted different color and detail on our out and back walkabout.
This is an easy hike. And the wide road that serves as a trail makes social distancing easy, too. Bring the family. Bring your bicycle. (Don’t bring your dogs. They are not allowed.) It’s difficult not to enjoy a walk in the country.