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Hiking: Half Moon Bay

Rollin' Along the Grasslands

June 02, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

Rolling grassland, eucalyptus grove windbreaks, an old barn and a bunkhouse--this is ranch country, not the redwood country more typically associated with the Santa Cruz Mountains. For the hiker, Burleigh Murray State Park offers a change of pace from the trail systems of other nearby parks, most of which travel to, or within, stands of first- and second-generation redwoods.

Beginning in the 1860s, the valley of Mill Creek and surrounding slopes were used for hay-growing and cattle grazing. The state purchased the land in 1983 and the California park service has been considering a historical theme for the state park. In the meantime, the area has remained almost completely undeveloped.

The park's prized historic structure is an old dairy barn, known as an English bank barn--a structure built into the hillside to facilitate loading from its upper heights. Such barns are extremely rare in the United States.

Some handsome stonework, rusted farm machinery and a 1930s ranch house (now the park ranger's residence) adds to the rustic scene. The photo opportunities are many on the old ranch.

Meandering through the state park is Mills Creek, named not for the considerable number of Santa Cruz Mountains sawmills, but rather for the Mills family, first owners of the ranch.

The only park trail is the old ranch road that extends from the park entrance on Higgins-Purisima Road about two miles northeast. The path follows Mill Creek to the old barn. Beyond the barn, the road narrows to a trail then, beyond some water tanks, and fades into oblivion.

Directions to trail head: From California 1, just south of the town of Half Moon Bay, turn east on Higgins-Purisima Road and follow it 1.5 miles to the small parking lot for Burleigh Murray State Park on the north side of the road.

The hike: The flat, brush-lined road follows Mill Creek for half a mile before crossing, then recrossing the creek. A mile out, the road passes a eucalyptus-shaded picnic site, then angles left past the ranch house-turned-ranger's residence, crosses a bridge and brings you to the large dilapidated barn.

The route beyond the barn is an ever-narrowing footpath through Mill Creek Canyon. At two miles, it reaches a trio of leaky water tanks, then soon peters out in the thick coastal scrub.


Burleigh Murray Ranch Trail

WHERE: Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park

DISTANCE: to old barn is 2 miles round trip; to trail's end is 5 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Riparian woodland in valley south of Half Moon Bay.

HIGHLIGHTS: Old barn and bridge--glimpse of early ranch life.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: easy-moderate.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Bay Area District, California Department of Parks and Recreation, 95 Kelly Avenue, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019; tel. (415) 726-0500.

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