Where to ride in the dead of August in the Santa Cruz Mountains? The air is hot, the trails dusty, and those annoying gnats…
I suggested Eagle Rock and it was my good fortune to have Brian Cox along because I hadn’t been there in 25 years. My compass was broken. In addition, you won’t find this road on most maps.
After waiting 10 minutes, Brian finally showed up, slowed by a flat. We buzzed down Hwy 9 under clear skies. Quickly enough the temperature dropped from the mid 70s to the mid 60s as we entered the redwoods, a refreshing relief. We made our way up and down Hwy 236 and then took the Escape Road into Big Basin Park, which of late has seen some welcome improvements in facilities.
We downed an ice cream bar from the local store and then continued on Hwy 236 in search of Little Basin Road. Jobst Brandt and friends frequented this road and Eagle Rock for decades. It had a special meaning for Jobst because he worked for HP and enjoyed group picnics at Little Basin.
In 2011 after lengthy negotiations with Sempervirens Fund, Peninsula Open Space Trust and the state of California, HP sold the land and facilities, which in turn became the newest addition to Big Basin State Park. Cabins and other facilities in the meadow area are now operated by a non-profit in cooperation with Big Basin State Park. Anyone interested can make reservations.
But I digress. Right turn on signed Little Basin at the top of the hill. It’s a narrow, bumpy paved road. Suddenly we’re passing a dozen or more cars leaving Little Basin! That’s right, the campgrounds are alive and well.
We passed the overhead Little Basin sign that looked like it had been there 50 million years. No trespassing signs from a long-ago era remain. A short distance farther along Brian perked up when he saw the W 73 state highway sign. I’m sure it means something, but it remains a mystery. There is a route 73 but it’s in Southern California.
After about a mile and a half the road split at two gates. Right goes to the Little Basin campgrounds and left goes on a flat unsigned dirt road, our destination. After another half-mile we arrived at the dreaded yellow gate where beyond we had a long grind of 20 percent grades ahead.
When we were young and strong, some could ride non-stop, Jobst included. Today though the road was dusty, our engines aging and lacking power. Brian made a try and managed some long pulls while I walked and kept about the same speed as Brian. We carried on this way as the inclinometer ticked off 22 percent in sections. Did I mention the flies? They kept us company.
At one point in a slide area where walking is required we came across a couple hiking. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on as the grade eased to a more manageable 6-8 percent. In about two miles we arrived at another gate. Beyond the gate we took a hard right and continued another quarter mile to Empire Grade. If you go right on Empire Grade in a short distance you’ll reach the missile test sight owned by Lockheed. I don’t think they test missiles there anymore, but it’s still private.
Going left on Empire Grade, we rolled along, passing Crest Ranch’s Christmas tree farm to our left. There’s also a state correctional facility nearby on Empire Grade where inmates learn the intricacies of firefighting.
We headed left at Alba Road for one of the longest and steepest grades around. Fortunately we were descending. I’ve ridden up this road two times and I’m thinking that’s enough. After several miles we wound up on busy Hwy 9 at Ben Lomond. We tanked up on a quart of Orangina at Johnnie’s market in Boulder Creek and headed up 9 and home.