“This city is my jungle gym … “
-Jack Johnson, “Jungle Gym”
Considering the countless times I’ve run through and written about Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley, I feel somewhat irresponsible for not posting photos to substantiate my descriptions. It’s like if I were to tell you over and over again how beautiful Minka Kelly from Friday Night Lights is, but never provided a picture, you might think I was exaggerating.
The problem is that I almost never run with a camera. But when my wife and I took our kids on a “treasure hike” (more on that later) in the park last month, I capitalized on the opportunity to capture some of the images that I enjoy at least twice per week.
So at long last, here’s a guided tour through a portion of my hometown playground:
The main entrance sign. Notice that bikes aren’t allowed where horses go, and horses aren’t allowed where bikes go. Which is probably as it should be, really.
The bikers get the short end of this bargain, though, as only a small fraction of the park is designated for bikes. For the time being, it’s plenty of terrain for my 9-year-old son, but pretty soon he’ll outgrow it, and we’ll have to drive about 10 miles away to another park to give him a more challenging ride. I guess that will be a good news/bad news milestone for us.
These are posted just beside the main entrance sign. I call it the “If anything terrible happens to you here, you can’t sue us” sign.
During the summer, this footbridge is placed as an accessory entrance to the park, leading directly to the visitor’s center.
The footbridge crosses the Carmel River, which occasionally turns up on lists of the most endangered rivers in America. Local development has drained its watershed, and whenever there is a significant winter drought (as this past year was), it’s possible to cross the river in several locations without getting your feet wet. It’s kind of depressing, especially when you consider the next two photos …
After crossing the bridge, the lower acres of Garland Park comprise a flood plain for the river. This view looks east from the visitor center; people who have lived here for 30 years or more will tell you they’ve seen this entire area underwater in the past. I’ve lived here for about 12 years, and I’ve never seen the river rise that high.
This is the flood plain looking west. One cool story about this photo: Click on the picture to enlarge it, and look at the ridge of the hill framed by the two trees. You can faintly see an American flag flying proudly.
That hilltop was undeveloped prior to September 11th, 2001. After those attacks, the guy who owns that land decided to develop it just enough to establish an access road and place a flagpole for the Stars and Stripes to wave above the valley. I always feel a bit more patriotic seeing this flag than just about any other.
See this bench? This spot serves as the start/finish area of the Carmel Valley 50K trail race each year. The first 50K I ever ran was here - and after the race, I probably spent a full hour sitting on that bench, resting in the shade of the oak tree, slowly replenishing my fluids while wondering how on Earth I was going to manage walking back to my car. On that day, this was the most comfortable spot in the world for me. I really loved that bench.
Nowadays, whenever I pass by it, I feel like a hospital patient going back to visit the intensive care nurses who saved his life. And if it seems strange that a guy would feel forever indebted to an inanimate object like that ... well, I guess I wouldn't argue the point. But that's part of the charm of this place.
Much of Garland Park was formerly the ranch and dairy property of early pioneers. This dairy barn was built in the 1870s, and is one of the last remaining connections with the old farming days of Carmel Valley.
I could tell you the name of this trail, but it really doesn’t matter; probably 90% of Garland looks like this. Dense oak canopies above, and meandering trails below, combining to form a cocoon of tranquility. It’s been more than ten years, and I’ve never grown tired of this scenery.
Part of our hike reaches this “Siesta Point”, a small rocky outcropping overlooking the valley. This is the view from the Siesta Point looking west.
The view looking east. If you had a super-duper-duper magnified view, you could see my house near the convergence of the two ridgelines – it sits about 4 miles from this point.
Our kids love hiking to this spot: an old homestead site from early Valley settlers. They’re not so much interested in history; as the next photos will explain.
Another view of the homestead. See the small brick fireplace in the background? That’s where our kids inadvertently found a box of toys that were stashed by a geocacher. It’s funny, because …
We were actually looking for a hidden letterbox, which was located at the base of the large tree at right. Apparently both the geocachers and letterboxers thought this would be a good hiding place. So in a park of over 4000 acres, these two “secret” locations somehow ended up less than 50 feet from each other.
This is the geocache. Looks like they mean business, doesn’t it? I’m afraid if someone from the Department of Homeland Security stumbled across this, we’d have a forced evacuation on our hands.
On the other hand … the letterbox folks apparently take themselves far less seriously. Here’s what their stash looks like. I mean … there’s nothing remotely threatening about Tupperware, right?
Returning from the homestead, we hit my favorite section in the park for running: the Buckeye trail. It’s less than one mile long, but it’s one of the most enjoyable places I know of.
One reason I like this trail so much: it’s all single track, but with smooth footing and a gentle grade. When I open up my stride and gently accelerate on the downhills, it really feels like I’m playing around in an oak-strewn jungle gym.
Here’s my best story about this tree: I’m 6’2”, and have to duck my head slightly to dip under the branch across the trail. One of my training partners is 5’4”, and doesn’t have to worry about it. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from yelling “Watch your head!” every time we approach the branch, just as a friendly reminder of who’s taller.
We must have run this trail 50 times together, and I’ve yelled out “watch your head!” all 50 times. Sometimes I’m surprised that I still have training partners.
Emerging from the Buckeye trail, we approach what my kids call the “woodpecker tree”. At just about any time of day, you’ll find the birds pecking away in search of bugs to eat – and if you enlarge this picture, you’ll see the hundreds of holes they’ve created up and down the trunks. Predictably, when I stopped to take this picture, the birds all scattered. I hate it when wildlife doesn’t cooperate with me.
Speaking of which …
Over the years, I’ve encountered just about every kind of native animal imaginable here, with the exception (thankfully) of a mountain lion. Deer, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, skunks, foxes, and raccoons all call Garland Park home – but on this day, the most menacing animal I could come up with was this cottontail rabbit.
Some days are just like that. Other days are different – either due to wildlife sightings or the weather or the seasonal changes of scenery - which ensures that every run through Garland is a unique experience.
The only constant feature is this: I know that I love this place every time I run here.
October 4, 2007
“This city is my jungle gym … “