Banana slugs, bongo players, fat-tire unicyclists and sex in the woods

It’s hard to believe that the Forest of Nisene Marks was once a sad 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 steep ravines, splash through streams and ogle banana slugs, which look like slices of overripe mango. Second-growth redwoods grow so tall, 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 fat stump with ferns and moss growing out of it, the broken-down remains of a cabin, or a set of railroad ties fading into the woods. Sometimes you forget you’re near Santa Cruz — until you see the signs of wacky behavior: fat-tire unicyclists out on an illegal trail ride deep in the park’s interior, someone lost in the sounds of his own bongos, a crazy guy blatting out a song on the digeridu while sitting cross-legged on a folding chair, and a couple having loud, 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 out here, even on a nice day. Get here early in the morning and watch the steam rising off the redwoods.

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