The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail might have been named after Henry Dobbel if the San Francisco waffle tycoon had found similar good fortune as a land developer south of Half Moon Bay along Purisima Creek.
The oceanside trail stretches 3.6 miles atop the bluffs south of Cowell Ranch State Beach. Developed jointly by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, California Parks and Recreation Department and the Coastal Conservancy, the trail opened in 2011 but for many years was open only on weekends and holidays due to funding issues. That all changed in February, when San Mateo County Parks signed a 10-year management agreement. We decided to stop by.
Dobbel moved from the East Bay to the fledgling hamlet of Purissima (yes, the “ss” is correct) near the mouth of Purisima Creek (one “s”) in the 1860s. He used proceeds from his successful San Francisco waffle restaurant to build the grandest house in town – 17 rooms, gas lighting, running water. (We’re guessing his restaurant wasn’t just another Waffle Hut.) He also purchased 1,000 acres of land in the area, where he grew wheat, barley and potatoes.
Dobbel built many of the buildings in town, which flourished for half a century and grew to include a general store, lumber mill, school, hotel, saloon, dance hall, harness shop and blacksmith. Alas, Dobbel found himself overextended as the logging industry declined and a series of crop failures hit the region. Forced into bankruptcy, he sold his estate to industrialist Henry Cowell in 1890 and died a year later. Today, a moss-draped cemetery is all that remains of Purissima. But we digress.
We first hiked the Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail in May 2019, threading weekend beach traffic from Coastside Slacking headquarters in Montara through Half Moon Bay to the beach parking lot. The glut of parked cars spilled onto the shoulder of Highway 1. But we discovered, to our delight, that most of the visitors had come to admire the two pocket beaches, one for seals only and a second for humans with a staircase to the sand. Few visitors bothered with the trail.
The birds caught The Geek’s photographic eye on that trip: Swarms of starlings rising, falling and swirling as one above fallow fields; packs of territorial crows eyeing us suspiciously and complaining loudly; and solitary finches flitting nervously among the fence posts, with occasional stops to preen and sing.
We wrote a post about that visit but got distracted and never published. (So much slacking, so little time.) So, we made as second trip last week to celebrate the trail’s new weekday availability, freshen our memory and compare the sights and sounds of March vs. May.
The highlight of the most recent hike was the fields of goldenrods and brilliant yellow oxalis, that beautiful but pesky invasive weed that MontaraManDan tries to dislodge from his garden each spring with mixed success.
From the trail, the gold and yellow contrasted nicely with the blue sky and freshly turned earth in neighboring fields.
A herd of cows muched contentedly among the oxalis in one pasture.
During our May 2019 visit, one field was already green with adolescent Brussels sprouts – or were they artichokes? Coastside menus have changed a bit since Dobbel grew wheat, barley and potatoes.
You won’t find any evidence of the town of Purissima as you hike the trail. And Henry Cowell obviously got the glory, with a trail, state beach and even a state park that bear his name.
But don’t feel too bad for Henry Dobbel. He and his family hold claim to a sweet piece of hillside real estate with an ocean view at Purissima Cemetery.