Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Corralitos and Eureka Canyon Road

I mentioned in my last post that I don't appear to have the stamina to cross over the Santa Cruz Mountains and then cross back. So before I tell you about my trip over Eureka Canyon Road, I need to go back to a truncated ride in May that led up to it. This is bound to be a long post.

In early April I thought about riding up Eureka Canyon Road, and did a little research. As it turns out, there had just recently been a mudslide that closed Highland, which is the natural road between Eureka Canyon and my house. Apparently this happens quite a lot.  This was initially bad news, but within a week or two the mud had hardened to the point that one could walk across it.

Seeing this little example of nature's fury seemed interesting, so I set off. I wanted to come up Eureka Canyon Road, and there's no easy way to do that without going down to the Capitola area first. So the plan was to ride to Summit, then down Soquel/San Jose Road to Capitola, then around to Corralitos and the return trip. Instead of turning on Soquel/San Jose I could have just continued on Highland, but I wanted to see Eureka Canyon and I hadn't yet come to grips with the shallow depths of my endurance.

As I look at the Garmin data now, I see that I started off on Saturday, May 7 around noon (and therein lies part of the problem, but more on that later). As usual, I headed over to Los Gatos, down the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and around the Lexington Reservoir on Alma Bridge Road.

El Sereno from Lexington Reservoir
From there I climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway up to the ridge, and turned left on Summit. Just past the store I turned right on the Soquel/San Jose Road, and dropped into Capitola. So far so good.

At this point I would gladly have taken the easiest, shortest possible route to Corralitos, but the only decent route I could see on the map took me right down to the bay, which I'll remind you is located at approximately zilch elevation. I went up Park Avenue and took a right on Soquel Drive.

Park Avenue, next to New Brighton Beach
Soquel Drive roughly parallels Route 1, and transforms from generic suburbia to wooded rural.

Train Bridge on Soquel Drive
Crypto tractor on Soquel Drive
Soquel Drive meets up with Freedom Boulevard, which sounds like a monstrous suburban road but actually turns into a rural two-lane road as it heads northeast. Eventually Hames Road peels off (and up) to the left.

Hames Road rising to the left; Freedom Boulevard to the right.

On the map Hames Road didn't seem like much, but it starts off with a steep ramp, and then there's another shortly afterward. The reward for this little climb is the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company. By now it was midafternoon, and I had a late lunch.

The Corralitos Market. Great sausage.
The Corralitos store marks the base of the Eureka Canyon climb. I started up the climb, but I was drained. I was making very slow progress, resting after any measly effort, and if I kept slowing down it would be quite dark before I finished. So I rolled back down to the store and called my lovely wife for a rescue.

That brings us to last Sunday, when my wife participated in the Wharf to Wharf run. I drove her down to the start in Santa Cruz, then parked near the finish in Capitola. But I brought my bike so I could finish off this ride as she drove home.

By the time the race ended and we returned to the car it was about 10:30. The morning's clouds had disappeared, but it remained cool. I retraced my path up Park to Soquel Drive, then Freedom, Hames and the store. I even retraced my steps in the store by having a sausage sandwich (Turkey Andouille, for the record) as an early lunch.

The Corralitos Creek valley, from the lower part of Eureka Canyon Road
An orchard (peaches?) on Eureka Canyon Road
Initially Eureka Canyon Road winds through some orchards and other light agriculture, but within a mile becomes a mostly shaded path through thick Redwood-heavy woods. It follows Corralitos Creek very gently upwards into a narrow canyon (that plays havoc with the GPS altimeter, I can report). The road serves a few houses and a couple of camps, but as far as I can tell has very little traffic.

Massive trees along Eureka Canyon Road
Once upon a time I was part of that traffic.  When I first moved to this area a few years ago, I drove up this road. I took a little sightseeing drive down 152 toward Watsonville, and then looking for an obscure route back I saw this road on the map. I didn't know then that it was so tiny or prone to closure. But while I remember driving through the woods and seeing the grand view across the valley, I missed everything important. I didn't hear the water flowing or feel the shade. I didn't realize that the four corners area was at the top of the hill, because of course elevation changes meant nothing to me in a car. I got no sense of isolation, of being practically (if not actually) alone in these hills.  Cycling gives you a real sense of site and situation.

The intersection of Eureka Canyon and Grizzly Flat
Within a few miles you get to an intersection with a dirt trail called Grizzly Flat Road, and the road turns toward the west. Around this point it starts climbing a little more steeply, clinging to the southern flank of the ridge. It climbs out of the trees and begins offering views of the valley. Eventually the road climbs up to the junction with Buzzard Lagoon Road and Ormsby Trail (aren't the road names great up here?), and Eureka Canyon becomes Highland Road.

The repaired section of Highland Road.
The same view on May 1, 2011
The four-way junction is a local high point at about 1950 feet. From there, Highland descends perhaps 200 feet and crosses an entrance to the Soquel Demonstration Forest, popular with mountain bikers. In fact, I'd bet that pickup trucks carrying mountain bikes account for half the traffic up here. Before you know it you climb back up to 1900 feet or so, and finally reach the area of the Great Mudslide of 2011 (not to be confused with those of 2009, 2007, or the 1990s inclusive).

When I first saw the photographs of the damaged area in April I was sure that Highland would be closed for years, if not forever. I must say that I'm impressed that the impoverished county government was able to do so much work so quickly. The road is clear and looks to be in pretty good shape, although it appears that they haven't started to address the hill yet.
The uphill section of the mudslide
The view downhill from
the Highland Road mudslide
Last winter's mud, piled up on Highland Road
Highland continues on, mostly flat, passing by Mount Bache Road before quickly dropping 300 feet to meet Summit Road very near the Summit Store. I stopped for drinks.

Downright insulting.
It was a climb!
From Summit Road it's the old familiar way home, down Old Santa Cruz Highway. This time I passed by Aldercroft Heights and the ride around the east side of Lexington Reservoir. Instead I stayed on Old Santa Cruz, passed briefly onto New Santa Cruz Highway (sometimes called Highway 17) and then up the Los Gatos Creek Trail and finally back to Almaden.

The Garmin reported the first ride in May as 50 miles with over 4000 feet of climbing. It reported the second ride as 45 miles, and again over 4000 feet of climbing. In both cases, that's far too much climbing -- I don't see how it could be more than 3000 on either day. It also reported insane calorie consumption. Even with the revised numbers, it's clear that I need some better shape before I'll be able to put both of these rides together on the same day.

1 comment:

  1. good descriptions. Tough long climb! Requires mental and physical strength