Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pheasant Road, October 2010

If you look at a map of Hicks Road, near the dump, you'll see something called Pheasant Road.  If you look at a terrain map, you'll see it heads up into the Santa Cruz mountains, onto the shoulders of El Sombroso.  If you look at a satellite image, you'll notice that while there's a house near the bottom of the road, toward the top there's nothing.

I saw all that, and because I also looked at the highest resolution satellite image, I also saw that there was a gate across the road, maybe a third of the way up.  I can't claim I was surprised.

Still, I wanted to explore the area, so on a beautiful cloudy October day I rode my mountain bike up to the gate.  At the top is a driveway and a gate.  The gate, much to my surprise, had MROSD markings, as opposed to private property markings.  That's an important factor in both my rationalization, and my practical chances of getting caught.

As it turns out, if you're willing to deal with a little poison oak you can get around the left side of the gate.  From there it's a pleasant, well built road heading southwest, and gradually up.

Midway up this section you come across a tree stuck right in the middle of the roadway.  I'm glad the road builders had a bit of sense of humor so this tree didn't have to come down for the sake of this completely unused road.  Still, it's hard to imagine what they were thinking.  It's also a reminder that asphalt is pretty porous.

A little farther up, one comes across a patch of brand-new, deep black asphalt.  I was breaking a rule or two, and consequently nervous.  The new asphalt made me more so.  Was something being built up ahead?  There was nothing on the satellite images, but those were taken years ago.

Arnerich Road, from Pheasant Road
The new asphalt is next to a little clearing with a great view over the houses on Arnerich Road.
Cherry Springs Pond
The road takes a sharp turn and heads up steeply.  This section is very rough and broken, which may explain why the previous section was repaved.  It ends at a little T-shaped body of water, clearly visible on the maps, that turns out to be called Cherry Springs Pond.  All around this area the woods are cleared.  As it turns out, what I'm looking at is a failed housing development that got as far as clearing some land (and presumably building the artificial-looking pond), but not as far as actually building houses.  This must have happened prior to 1993, based on Google Earth images.  Later, it was sold to the open space district, and remains its own sort of ghost town.  A ghost neighborhood, perhaps.

At this point I was pretty much done with what I wanted to accomplish.  But what a glorious day.  Cloudy, a little foggy up here at 1100 feet, and I felt great.  A little jazzed about breaking the rules.  The paved road continues up past the lake a bit.  How far?  Well, let's find out.

As it turns out, not far at all.  The pavement ends just behind the next hill, but the road continues unpaved, and steep.  It reaches a second cleared area, which on the satellite image looks like a large oval with a road around it.  In reality the oval "road" is just dirt surrounding slightly looser dirt.  I rode around it just to see if there were any surprises.  There weren't.

If this area was cleared in 1993, why hasn't it been reclaimed?  Do no seeds blow onto this apparently fertile dirt?  Nearer the pond there is the appearance of cut grass, like a fire prevention measure, but here it's just dirt.  At my house, dirt equals weeds, but I guess that doesn't apply here.

The trail continues on and so did I, south up the mountain.  But as I was so slowly making my way along its sometimes steep ramps, a thought kept nagging: Someone built this trail for a reason.  It has to go somewhere.  I was hoping that, whatever that "somewhere" was, it wasn't inhabited.  That seemed pretty likely, given the overgrown trail, but one never knows.

Past the big dirt oval, the path heads uphill.  Partway up it passes by an even smaller path that heads up onto the ridge.  I think that smaller path, which was far too steep for me to ride, heads up to a rock formation.  Because I was too nervous to leave my bike for long, I'll never know.

A little further along, the trail comes to a water tank.  Maybe that's where it was heading?  The trail does indeed end there... or does it?  No, it looked like it ended, but it heads up a hill that, given the soft conditions, I had to push my bike up.

After winding around for a while, the road comes to a steep downhill.  If I go down, I'll likely have to come back up, and having just been shamed into walking my bike up the hill, I decide to take the better part of valor and turn around.  That's enough for today.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day?  That and a few hundred yards of descending can really do wonders for one's ambition.  So when I got back to the pond, I decided to take the path that goes around it the long way.  If I'm going to go to the trouble of coming here, I might as well hit all the paths.

The trail around Cherry Springs Pond
The path around the lake is ridiculously perfect.  It's well constructed, flat, with a light coating of leaves and a nice canopy overhead.  Having ridden down the path and back, I'm no longer worried that there's someone squatting out here.  I'm all alone in this beautiful wood, on a glorious fall day.  I'm exploring some place I've never been.  And it's not even uphill!  I'm sure I must have been grinning like an idiot this whole time.

The trail soon meets an open area, and it's pretty clear that it dips left, closer to the lake, and goes around.  But it also heads to the right.  Where does that go?  Only one way to find out.

I continue on, and find myself riding south along a ridge line, with a view to the left (ie east) of the Hicks Creek valley, and Reynolds Road on the next hill.  To the left is a pretty steep drop, and to the right is a steep climb.  In the middle, one happy bike rider.

This section is basically flat, and eventually reaches an intersection.  By now I've twigged; this likely meets up with the trail I was on.  I go to the right at the intersection, and indeed it meets up at the top of the hill, the one I didn't want to climb back up earlier.  Now I've climbed this damned hill (about 1500 feet) from both sides, and I'm cooked.

This could have been a housing development
Did I mention that it was a beautiful day?  That and the brief but refreshing descent give me the energy to explore the remaining cleared area.  By now the clouds had broken up a bit, so we had puffy clouds, blue skies, and still cool temperatures.

Pheasants on Pheasant
The last exploring done, I went back down the road, squirmed past the gate, and was soon confronted by a reminder of why they call this Pheasant Rd.  After waiting for them to pass, I coasted home.

It was a short ride -- only about 12 miles all told, but with all my exploring, it took a good two hours.  About 2000 feet of climbing.  Possibly the most enjoyable ride I've ever had.

Once I got home, I looked up information on the area to try to make sense of what I'd seen.  That's when I found out about the failed housing development, and also saw a map of the area in some MROSD meeting minutes.  The minutes pointed out that the house near the bottom of Pheasant Road is was purchased in the last few weeks by the MROSD, and has been occupied for some time by a ranger.  The map showed the path I had ridden, in the same distinctive shape as my Garmin had drawn.  It also showed a few more trails that I hadn't come across.  Hmmmm....

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