Once Upon a Ride…Big Dipper Ranch

Send in the cows. We rest before the ride and walk back to Alpine Road.

July 5, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Jim Westby, Ted Mock, Ray Hosler, Parker McComas, Marc Brandt, Tom Ritchey, Gary Holmgren, Kelly, Strange John
Route: From Palo Alto, California: Up Old LaHonda Road, south on Skyline Boulevard to Page Mill Road; down Old Page Mill Road to Big Dipper Ranch; return up hill to Alpine Road; Alpine Road, Pescadero Road to Pescadero; Stage Road to San Gregorio, up Hwy 84
Weather: Humid and warm
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray — flat.

It isn’t often that Jobst and his merry band are turned back on their adventure ride. Jobst usually manages to talk his way past distraught land owners. This ride was the exception, in more ways than one.

It all started at Jobst’s house one sultry summer morning. He sat at his dining room table playing Space Invaders with a newly acquired Radio Shack TRS 80 computer. His son, Olaf, would master the intricacies of machine-level programming on that TRS 80.

In the next 10 minutes nine riders rolled up to Jobst’s house, including his mercurial nephew, Marc. The talented racer occasionally joined Jobst on a ride.

Having recently read Sawmills in the Redwoods by Frank Stanger, I was convinced that Page Mill Road went all the way through to Portola State Park; Tom Ritchey thought so too, so Jobst was willing to give it a try. We set off under partly cloudy skies and muggy air, remnants of Hurricane Beatriz in the Pacific.

Along the way, Jobst complained about his Fourth of July meal. He said it was slowing him down, but nobody complained about the pace. Parker and Jobst had an eating contest and Jobst won. That evening they celebrated the 4th by dropping an explosive “bigger than an M80” down the “No Parking” pole in front of Jobst’s house.

The ride up Old LaHonda Road went peacefully enough until Marc went off the front and everyone chased, including Strange John. We screamed mockingly, “Go John!” John was strong all right, but he lacked guile, a prerequisite for bike racing.

We were dripping like leaky faucets by the time we reached the top of one-mile hill on Skyline. Jobst stopped and rummaged around in a blackberry thicket. He found a spring and took a deep drink of the delicious cold water coming from a pipe sticking out of the hill; we joined in and filled our bottles before continuing.

At the Page Mill Road junction, we headed southwest into Skyline Ranch [now a Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District ranger station]. After a half-mile on an old paved road we made a crucial turn onto a dirt road − Old Page Mill. At last we would find out where this mysterious road went, or so we thought.

Bouncing along the rough road, we descended steeply over sand, rocks, and brush. We were headed down a ridge, with Lambert Creek and gorge on the left. At one point we passed a dirt road that went up to a house. Soon we were skirting the side of a ridge, with a grand view of the redwood-covered hills to the south. A few bulls munched grass on the hillside.

After a couple miles we came to a large wood gate plastered with “No Trespassing” signs, “Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” etc. They must have known we were coming. We climbed the fence and continued, like latter-day Lewis and Clarks. Another gate and more “no trespassing” signs.

Suddenly we came upon a scene that jolted our senses − a house deep in the redwoods, but not just any house [it was the Big Dipper Ranch]. It had a swimming pool and was lavishly landscaped. We rode past the house in the distance, below us and to our left, and a chicken coop on our right. We rode through another gate − the final gate for the Jobst Riders.

Coming up the dirt road was the Big Dipper [Cummings?] himself, putt-putting along on his tractor. We pulled our bikes over to the side as though to let him pass, like we were just out for a Sunday ride minding our own business. We wondered what would happen next. A growling dog sat behind the rancher.

The rancher stopped and asked brusquely, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We’re lost. We’re trying to get to Portola State Park,” several riders replied innocently. “Well this road doesn’t go through,” the farmer replied, his eyes bearing down on us. “You can just turn around and go back the way you came.”

The riders asked if there was a way out ahead, not wanting to back-track. “No,” he replied. “The only way out is to go back the way you came. That’s how you got here in the first place, isn’t it?”

Jobst said nothing. I think he decided it was useless.

Send in the cows!

Realizing there was no use debating, we turned around. Tom tried to find a way up the hill behind the chicken coop, but that plan laid an egg. We imagined we’d have to go all the way back to Page Mill, but Jobst and Tom had different plans.

Old Page Mill Road beind us, we walk back to Alpine Road on a steamy hot day.

After a mile or so backtracking, Tom attacked up a field, with a small pond visible below. His plan was to ride straight up the hill over to Alpine Road. We dismounted and started our hike in the heat and humidity, flies buzzing our heads. We made our way successfully by another house without being accosted and then stopped to refresh ourselves at a cattle watering hole with an old iron bath tub. Tom said that those tubs sell for hundreds of dollars. Several riders dipped their caps in the slimy trough, while Jobst drank from a nearby spring.

Passing the house, a resident came out to watch us ride by. She must have been wondering, “Where did they come from?” Back on Alpine Road we sped down the hill and took a final look at the Big Dipper Ranch far below. Tom vowed that he would return and find a new way to Portola State Park.

[There was a logging road in the late 1880s that went all the way to a sawmill in today’s Portola Park. MROSD maps show a potential route into the park, but Big Dipper Ranch is still a private enclave.

MROSD bought Big Dipper Ranch in 2002, although it looks like the ranch itself is still private and the land is used for raising cattle. It’s off limits.]

I had this story on my website, but that’s gone so I’m re-posting.

6 Responses to “Once Upon a Ride…Big Dipper Ranch”

  1. Manuel Acosta Says:

    This is inspiring! Thanks for the repost. So many legends upon legends riding for the sake of riding. Makes me want to go on an adventure!

  2. Amit Singh Says:

    Thank you for posting this ride report. It was hilarious and filled with adventure and reminded me of riding in California. Please continue to post more so we can read and be inspired to create our own adventures!

  3. Barry Chaffin Says:

    Very interesting. Stumbled across this while researching the Big Dipper Ranch. The ranch is now part of Mid Pen so I think it is time to try this ride again.

  4. Sam Pederson Says:

    Am going to give it a shot this weekend:-)

  5. Ray Hosler Says:

    FYI, the ranch is still closed to the public, but in use. There are often people working there.

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