Wilder Ranch Hike: Cowboy Trail

Yesterday I felt like taking my "real" camera (Canon S3 IS - old but reliable) out for a photowalk. I wanted some photos of birds and blooms. I considered the Arboretum where both are sure to be plentiful at this time of year, but they charge $5 for admission and we have a State Park parking pass, so I decided to head to Wilder instead. I was thinking of a little-used trail that I had only been on one time, in fall, when I was only able to hike the very first few feet as the creek crossing was too high.

The Cowboy Loop is short - a bit less than 2 miles. It is not much used by hikers for this reason, but it is popular with horse riders and I imagine running it would be quite challenging. Since I had only been on part of the trail, I had no idea what to expect but figured it would be a short, quick loop with lots of woodland for bird watching. I was quite surprised.

The Cowboy Trail begins on the right of the main trail, just past the corral and bridge. The first stretch is a large open field on the left and riparian woodland on the right. This is a good spot to see sparrows, wren, quail, and blackbirds. I saw a pair of deer bounding through the high grass and wildflowers.

The trail crosses Wilder creek and I could not find a way to avoid getting my feet wet as I crossed. Last time I tried this trail, I could not cross due to much higher water.

Past the creek the elevation quickly climbs about 150 feet, up a slope with amazing trees and rock formations, made fantastical by the effects of erosion on the steep slope.

The trail continues to climb as the terrain opens up into gorgeous coastal prairie. From here on, amazing views of the ocean abound. At the top of the hill, you have a nearly 360 degree view of the bay and open ocean. I made the mistake of ascending at high noon (!) so it was quite warm. Next time I might consider hiking the trail in reverse to take advantage of the views.

My work - the Seymour Center!

 At the top of the hill, the trails turns left at a fence line and makes a quick, VERY steep descent. I was actually worried I might lose my footing. I'm sure erosion from recent rainstorms is partially to blame. I can't believe horses make this descent! There are maybe two long switchbacks and then the trail re-crosses the creek. Here there are a few rocks and stones to make your way across. I'm not very practiced at water crossing so I still got my feet wet. The trail then returns to the same field and rejoins the main trail.

I headed back into the main ranch area and got a few more shots of birds and blooms, which was my main goal. I got more than I bargained for with this hike, but I would do it again and I think it would be a good, challenging run. The backside descent is really rough, though, and I wonder how it would be to climb that side and descend facing the amazing ocean views. Nonetheless, Wilder never disappoints.

One unexpected development of the day was that I lost my sunglasses! My iconic Ray Bans! That I had for at least two years... Since our budget is no where near what it once was, I decided to get a pair more in line with my ethical beliefs and got a sustainably-sourced bamboo pair that also gives back to people with visual impairment. So, new sunglasses!


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