Celebrating Big Basin’s 100th Birthday
Hiking through History
on the Sequoia Trai
Neil Wiley

The grand dowager of the California State Park system, Big Basin, shows her age, beautifully. Her old growth coast redwoods are among the world’s tallest trees. Her trails are well trod, well marked and well maintained. And although the park covers an awe-inspiring 18,000 acres, many of the most interesting and historical sites are easily accessible.

Sequoia Trail is an easy walk through history that begins at the lower end of the short term parking area. You step from asphalt onto a trail that was made as early as 1875. A few steps more, and you are walking among the redwood giants. Yet you are never far away from a paved road (Sky Meadow Road) that parallels the trail. For many, it’s a nice compromise--the beauty of the trail with the accessibility of the road. Reluctant hikers may also appreciate that the elevation varies only about 200 feet.

After passing the Wastahi Campground, watch for the chimney tree. It has an inverted V-shaped opening at the bottom. Duck your head in, and look up.

Continue on for 1/10 of a mile further to Sempervirens Falls, just across the road from the trail. While not as impressive as the park’s Berry Creek Falls, the shimmering cascade, dark grotto and surrounding five-fingered ferns display a delicate beauty all their own. Sempervirens Falls is also far more accessible. The walk from the parking area is only 1.7 miles, about a one and one-half hour stroll.

You could walk back down the trail, but I recommend continuing on the Sequoia Trail another few minutes to Slippery Rock. As rocks go, it’s interesting in its own right. Slippery Rock is a one-hundred-yard wide exposed slab of Miocene sandstone running up a two-hundred yard incline, tilted at a thirty degree angle. Although it wasn’t slippery when I walked over it, underwater springs seep up during the winter and flow down the smooth surface.

Slippery Rock has history, too. In 1875, Natt Day built a road up it to haul tanbark. In the 1880’s, the Sinnott family lived in a cabin near the base of the rock. And it was here in May 1900, that a group of conservationists led by Andrew Hill passed the hat and collected $32 to fund the Sempervirens Club, an organization pledged to save the redwoods of Big Basin. A monument commemorates the event at the bottom of Slippery Rock.

Why quit now? Climb up Slippery Rock to the top. You’ll find the trail continuing at the middle left. After crossing Highway 236 and North Escape Road, the trail becomes the Skyline to the Sea Trail. This section of the trail is a nice change from the more “civilized” Sequoia Trail. It feels wilder and more isolated. It follows a steep escarpment to about three hundred feet that lets you look down on trees, then descends to Opal Creek. Fallen trees, moss and lichens offer an atmosphere of the forest primeval.
In a few minutes, you reach the site of Tom Maddock’s cabin. Maddock and his family survived many disasters as pioneering squatters until the owner was forced to forfeit the land in 1882. (He had promised to build a railroad but didn’t.) Maddock obtained 160 acres of virgin forest for the filing fee--$7.50. (Talk about real estate appreciation!) Then he built a cabin, by hand, from one single redwood. Nothing remains of the cabin, but some say you can still smell his sweat.

The last part of the trail runs next to Opal Creek. When you reach Gazos Creek Road, watch for the bridge on the left. On the far side of the bridge is a large Douglas fir. Near the top is a woodpecker penthouse.

You’ve walked about four and one half miles when the trail ends near the entrance to the Redwood Loop. If you can, take this short, six-tenths of a mile trail through some of the biggest, most significant coast redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You’ll see the 329-foot mother-of-the-forest tree, the tallest in Big Basin, the father-of-the-forest, a tree estimated to be 2,000 years old, and other unique sights of this ancient forest. (The headquarters office sells a little flyer for 25 cents that tells you more. If the parking booth isn’t open, you can pay your $3 parking fee here, too.)

Big Basin isn’t that far away from us. It’s less than twenty miles from Bear Creek and Summit to Big Basin headquarters. You can be there in less than thirty minutes. (Take Bear Creek to Highway 9, turn left on 9, then right on 236 to the park.) The alternate route over Highway 9 through Saratoga Gap to the north end of the 236 loop is only five miles or so longer but takes twice as long. Making the loop is worthwhile, though, just for the scenery.

This alternate Saratoga Gap route required nine years to complete. Again, it was Hill who launched the effort. The California State Legislature passed three bills to build the road, but they were vetoed by three different governors.

Although the state finally appropriated $70,000 for construction in 1913, Hill had to beg $7,602 from businessmen to purchase the right-of-way. If you drive the road, I believe you’ll agree that it was a good investment.

Great projects have many champions. Four stand out in Big Basin history. Our own Josephine Clifford McCrackin, who while living on Loma Prieta Avenue wrote articles to “save the redwoods,” Robert Kenna, who served on the Redwood Park Commission, Stanford professor William Dudley, and most of all, Andrew Hill, who was named “the foremost figure, night and day, in the movement.”

Of course, great projects often have enemies. In 1909, Governor Pardee abolished the Redwood Park Commission, and replaced it with a State Board of Forestry. The State Forester and the Park Warden made a secret agreement to log Big Basin. Although the people involved in the scandal were dismissed and the Park Commission was reinstated by the next governor, the State Board of Forestry is still promoting logging and still working against the public interest.

With less than 2% of the old growth redwood forest left, Big Basin and a few other remaining public lands are little more than zoos housing the remaining few of an endangered species. But they are all that we have. If we are watchful and proactive, perhaps Big Basin’s trees will survive another hundred years.

Happy birthday, Big Basin.

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