APTOS, California: It’s hard to believe that the Forest of Nisene Marks was once a stumpy wasteland, with loggers doing their darnedest to hack down every redwood they could find. In the turn of the century, this place was a disaster. Now, the forest offers some of the best hiking you can find anywhere on the Central Coast. You can hike all day on the edge of ravines, splash through streams and ogle banana slugs, which look like slices of overripe mango.
Second-growth redwoods grow so tall here, you can barely see the tops without straining your neck and back (like I did!) It’s easy to forget the place’s unfortunate history until you stumble across a stump with ferns and moss growing out of it, a broken-down cabin, or a set of railroad ties fading into the woods.
Sometimes you forget you’re near Santa Cruz until you see or hear the signs: fat-tire unicyclists on an illegal trail ride deep in the park’s interior, someone lost in the sounds of his own bongos, a musician blowing out a melody on the digeridu while sitting cross-legged on a folding chair, and a couple having exhibitionist sex in a Range Rover with the windows down on the fire road, paying zero attention to the small army of moms pushing babystrollers right past them. There are few people here, even on a nice day. Get there early in the morning and watch the steam rising off the redwoods.