Spikes Peak P500 CC

Fri, May 25, 2007

With: Steve Sywyk

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later climbed Mon, Nov 23, 2015

I don't know how many times I've drive SR152 over Pacheco Pass, and each time I've made a mental note to should visit Pacheco State Park that occupies the rolling hills just south of the pass. My friend Steve and I drove out there on a morning after dropping the kids off at school, taking about an hour to reach from San Jose. We had very little information about the park, particularly about how big it is, and could find no maps online (I've taken the liberty of providing a good approximation of the park size on the associated map - the part open to the public is outlined in purple).

The outing was a bit of a disappointment. The park itself, at least that part open to the public, is not very big, about 4mi on a side. I've seen nicer county parks and am a bit surprised that this one made it to the state park level. Perhaps because it lies across the boundary of Santa Clara and Merced Counties? The terrain is rolling hills across the crest of the Diablo Range, for the most part grasslands studded with oak trees. Our visit would have been better done a few months earlier when the hills were a vibrant green. With little rain this year, the grass had already died off and turned golden brown which might also have been enjoyable if not for the many nasty thorns that found there way into our socks.

The main trail leads south from the parking lot, called alternately the Spikes Peak Trail or the Up and Over Trail. It climbs to the crest of the range which it follows for a few miles to Spikes Peak, the only named summit in the park. The trail is an old ranch road as are most of the trails in the park. The spur trails leading off of the main trail are less traveled (and more prone to thorns). We tried to follow the South Boundary Trail to make a loop to the east before heading back, but we somehow lost this as our cattle trail (no old jeep road here) petered out in a small ravine. We struck off cross-country a short ways before finding another road that took us back up to Spikes Peak. So much for our loop.

A kiosk at the parking lot explained the rational behind the cattle allowed to graze inside the park. They are conducting a study to see if grazing can help the native flora compete with the non-native varieties. Why cattle would prefer non-native over native was beyond us, but the experiment goes on without our permission. Half of the park is designated for rotational grazing, the other half is left untrammelled. The untrammelled half is also closed to the public. Occupying the eastern half of the park bordering the San Luis Reservoir, there are some 180 wind turbines on the land rather than cattle, each turbine said to provide enough energy to power 20 homes.

There were a few wildflowers in bloom, most notably poppies, but they were few and small due to the low rainfall. Off in the distance rose more interesting peaks, including Pacheco Peak to the west, and Cathedral Peak and Mariposa Peak about 8 miles to the south. All of these are on private lands it appears, and significant trespassing would be needed to reach them. I had hoped there might be a bike route available through the park that might lead closer to these last two peaks, but that doesn't seem to be practical.

Oh well, at least I will no longer have to make those mental notes as I drive over Pacheco Pass. And as we commented to ourselves upon leaving after about three hours, the mediocre hikes make the other ones look that much better. :-)

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