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Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Historic Park and Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Charong and Paradise walking along the cliffs at Wilder State Park.
We have fallen in love with Santa Cruz, and in particular with Wilder Ranch State Historic Park, located on the coast of Monterey Bay, just north of the town of Santa Cruz.

Originally known as Rancho del Matadero, and founded by Mission Santa Cruz in 1791, the Wilder family later acquired the land and operated a very successful dairy on the property - which includes an extraordinary stretch of coastland, with spectacular cliffs and coves.

Hudson sitting on the rocks, while I climb out to him.
Many of the coves of what is now a state historic park are preserved for the benefit of marine wildlife - snowy plovers, pelicans, seagulls, seals and dolphins. 

You can walk along the cliffs and enjoy the spectacular vistas, but only a couple of the beaches are accessible for swimming - but they are well worth the hike to get there.

Hudson jumping in to join me in the water.
Our entire family, including Hudson, who's eight, and Paradise, who's three, enjoyed climbing out along the rocks to view an outcrop of rocks where seals and pelicans were basking in the sun.

Hudson and I swimming into shore.
Hudson and I also greatly enjoyed jumping into an area of ocean that was free of rocks and swimming into shore. The water was cold, but it was an incredible experience and one that we repeated several times.

Paradise running on Santa Cruz Beach.
We also love the town of Santa Cruz itself - especially Beach Street and the downtown Pacific Avenue area - and our children enjoy the main beach with its boardwalk as much as the more natural wonders of Wilder State Park.

The elevator track at Shadowbrook.
Another local attraction Hudson and Paradise particularly enjoyed was the exterior elevator that runs up and down the lushly vegetated grounds of Shadowbrook Restaurant in neighboring Capitola.

Shadowbrook has been open since 1947, and is well worth a visit, both for the food and bar and for the elevator and grounds. I thought the elevator was a funicular - but that requires two cars which counterbalance one another. In any case, it's great fun to ride up and down to the restaurant.

Giant redwood, Big Basin State Park.
If you're visiting Santa Cruz, it is essential that you make a trip out along Highway 9 to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which is California's oldest state park, established in 1902 and home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco.

Walking among the giant redwoods.
The trees here are awesome, in the true sense of the word - as old as 2,000-3,000 years in some cases, and reaching heights well in excess of 300 feet.

Unfortunately, 96% of the original coastal redwoods (a species of sequoia) were logged, but great efforts have been made since to protect vast areas of forest and to preserve the huge old-growth redwoods.

The world's tallest trees.
If you can stand or stroll among these historical natural wonders (alive when the Romans occupied Europe) without a sense of humility at our own lifespan and achievements - and our less-than-positive impact on the ecology of the world - then you are lacking a sense of our place on this planet, itself but a tiny speck in space.

If you'd like to learn more about the redwoods, read Richard Preston's wonderful non-fiction book, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, which recounts the adventures of young "canopy voyagers" - scientists and enthusiasts who risked their lives to live high above the rain forests of Northern California and explore the largely unknown world and eco-systems in the soaring heights of the giant redwoods.
All photographs copyright 2012 Alexander Chow-Stuart.


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