At the turn of the century, Henry Miller (the Central California cattle baron, not the literary lion) built a summer home on the cool shoulders of Mt. Madonna in order to escape the searing heat of his considerable kingdom below. It was said that everywhere Miller looked from his mountain home he could see land that he owned--a million acres at the time of his death in 1916.
Some historians credit the Italian craftsmen in Miller's employ for naming the mountain after the Virgin Mary; others contend the Madonna moniker came from a local recluse poet named Hiram Wentworth.
Today, Miller's mountaintop is in public domain--the 3,219-acre Mt. Madonna County Park, offering camping, picnicking, fishing at Sprig Lake and 20 miles of trail that explores canyons and ridge tops. The park's centerpiece is its namesake Mt. Madonna, the 1,897-foot-high peak in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains.
The trail network is a complication of footpaths, retired logging roads and power-line service roads. Take along a park map, which you can get at the visitors center, because trail junctions are numerous. And while it's hard to get really lost, it's easy to miss trail connections. An hourlong walk can utilize a half-dozen trails.
The suggested loop, is just that--a suggestion. Feel free to improvise longer or shorter hikes among the redwoods with the help of the park map.
Directions to trail head: From U.S. 101 in Gilroy, exit on California 152 (Hecker Pass Highway) and follow it 10 miles west to Pole Line Road and the entrance to Mt. Madonna County Park. Leave your car at the visitors center.
The hike: Head west on the park service road, soon intersecting Blue Spring Trail, leading left and descending 0.5 mile to Redwood Trail, which soon crosses Pole Line Road and travels among redwoods.
A mile out, join Bayview Trail (on a clear day, you'll have vistas of Monterey Bay) for a descent into, and a climb out of, Banks Canyon. Rising to Pole Line Road, the hiker encounters an array of pathways from which to choose. One circuitous way down is by taking the wide Blackhawk Trail to Iron Spring Trail, angling a sharp left and walking 0.1 mile to Redwood Trail, which you follow back toward the visitors center.
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Blue Springs, Redwood, Bayview Trails
WHERE: Mt. Madonna County Park.
DISTANCE: 3.5 miles or so round trip; longer hikes possible.
TERRAIN: Redwood-shaded slopes of southern Santa Cruz Mountains.
HIGHLIGHTS: Views of Monterey Bay and Santa Clara Valley.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
PRECAUTIONS: Complicated trail system with numerous junctions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Mt. Madonna County Park, 7850 Pole Line Road, Watsonville, CA 95076; tel. (408) 842-2341 or call County of Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Department: tel; (408) 358-3741.