Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trails north of El Granada in San Mateo County, California: Rancho Corral de Tierra

About ten miles south of San Francisco, Rancho Corral de Tierra, Rancho as it is called by locals, is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a U.S. National Recreation Area that protects ecologically sensitive habitats and historically significant landscapes surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area [1-4]. The Rancho park connects McNee Ranch State Park and San Pedro Valley County Park south of Pacifica with Quarry Park and El Granada north of Half Moon Bay; although, currently there is no assigned trail encouraging an inter-park, north-south (or south-north) hike through Rancho lands.

Rancho has a history of Mexican cowboys stomping its grounds and of booze-smuggling artichoke vendors finding refuge in the rugged tierra. Grandiose development plans for this scenic land were dreamed up; instead, it became public open space [1]:

Despite this history, the land itself hasn't changed much, which has set the stage for Rancho's newest incarnation as the site of the most recent addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The remaining 4,000 acres of Guerrero's parcel [since 1838 grazing land luring ranchers such as Mexican settler Francisco Guerrero y Palomares] will now help to complete one of the largest swaths of open space in San Mateo County.

Several freshwater creeks cut through the former ranch land from northeast to southwest to meet the coastline. Existing trails mostly follow the ridges between the creeks. The trails are flanked by low-growing coastal scrub. Hikers coming up the steep trails are rewarded by spectacular views of Pillar Point Harbor, the peninsula shoreline to Maverick's Beach and the beach sichel of Half Moon Bay.

Princeton and Pillar Point peninsula with harbor side shoreline seen from a Rancho Corral de Tierra foothill
The park vegetation includes nonnatives such as Harding grass and pampas grass, which park staff is trying to take out, while restoring and strengthening natives including purple needlegrass (California's state grass in 2004), blue wild rye and California oat grass. The beautiful, endemic and endangered Hickman's cinquefoil (Potentilla hickmanii)—for over fifty years believed to be gone—is still found today on Rancho soil [1]. 

The list of Rancho trails consists of Deer Creek Trail, Clipper Ridge Trail, French Trail and Flat Top Trail north of El Granada; Farmer's Daughter Trail, San Vicente Trail and Spine Trail east of Moss Beach; and Alta Vista Trail north of Montara. Locals have created a network of informal trails and paths, especially in the lower foothills.

Keywords: San Mateo peninsula, open space, native ecosystem, trail connections.

References and more to explore
[1] Victoria Schlesinger: A Sea-to-summit trek on the San Mateo Coast. Bay Nature January-March 2015, pp. 12-15.
[2] National Park Services: Rancho Corral de Tierra [].
[3] Peninsula Open Space Trust: Rancho Corral de Tierra [].
[4] Rancho Corral de Tierra maps [].

Rancho Corral de Tierra and Montara Mountain
Montara Mountain seen from Clipper Ridge Trail

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