Wonder fades with familiarity. So, we decided to hike into the foothills above the Brussels sprouts fields east of Highway 1 and Half Moon Bay Airport last week for a fresh look at familiar Coastside landmarks. It was wonderful!
The Farmer’s Daughter Trail via the Spine Ridge Trail is a 3-mile loop in the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills above Cabrillo Farms in Moss Beach, CA. Perhaps not coincidentally, the trail bears the same name as a nearby produce stand on Highway 1. But you can’t reach the trail from the farm stand. In fact, getting to the trail is complicated.
The trail is one of many within a nearly 4,000-acre chunk of historic Rancho Corral de Tierra managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At one time slated for development as a golf course surrounded by estate homes, the land was purchased in parcels by the Peninsula Open Space Trust beginning in 2001 and sold to the National Park Service in 2011. Yay POST!
All the approaches to this particular trail involve walking through the Ember Ridge Equestrian Center, which welcomes through hikers and mountain bikers but requests that they park at the San Vicente Trail Head at Etheldore Street and Ranch Road in Moss Beach and hike the half mile or so to the ranch. We decided to walk out of our front door in Montara and pick up the San Vicente Trail at the end of Alamo Street.
When we reached the ranch, we simply followed the signs to the Spine Ridge Trail, a popular mountain biker track that helps turn the Farmer’s Daughter Trail into a loop. We knew we had arrived when we spotted a box with bells for mountain bikers to prevent tragic entanglements on the multi-use trails. The Farmer’s Daughter Trail begins not far up the hill on the right.
According to online sources highlighted here, the portion of Rancho Corral de Tierra extending along the coast from Martini Creek south past Montara and El Granada to Medio Creek was part of a Mexican land grant deeded to Francisco Guerro y Palomares in 1839. The politician and rancher was murdered in a dispute over the land in 1851, three years after Mexico ceded California to the United States. His widow married named James Denniston. A creek on the property is named for Denniston.
We had the trail all to ourselves on a weekday afternoon in early February. The single track winds through coastal chaparral mixed with stands of invasive Pampas grass — pretty standard for The Coastside. Shortly after the initial rise from the equestrian center, the trail runs through a shallow canyon where the park service has boxed and segmented the path with protective timbers to guard against wash-outs.
Spotting new terrain and familiar Coastside landmarks while looking west from a unique vantage point was a treat. For example, who knew there are two large farm ponds and additional acres of brussels sprouts hidden from view on Highway 1 by a stand of trees?
We also enjoyed new perspectives on Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay, Pillar Point Bluff and the ocean beyond, though The Geek was frustrated by the coastal haze as she tried to capture an image of the scene. Also, the yellow oxalis flowers populating the fallow Brussels sprouts field were not nearly as brilliant from our vantage point, as their blossoms had turned away to face the sun in the southwest.
Looking east, we spotted the primary arm of the Spine Ridge Trail as it dips and weaves deep into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the ridge between Denniston and San Vicente creeks. MontaraManDan is pretty sure his Coastal Trail cycling skills would not translate well on the Spine Trail. Alas, he may never have an opportunity to borrow a bell.
A 26 percent up-hill grade – hiking poles are nice – to a blind crest leads into a eucalyptus grove, where the Farmer’s Daughter trail officially ends and reconnects with the Spine Trail to complete the loop back to the equestrian center.
We’re certain the estate homes and golf course would have been lovely, but isn’t it nice the Rancho is open for everyone to enjoy.