Hiking Hearst 1: Southern quarter

The TribuneJanuary 19, 2007 

Length: About 1 mile though Junge Ranch; picks up again after Pico Cove and runs two and a half miles north to Hearst Memorial State Beach.

Access: Access Junge Ranch at the end of Lone Palm Drive off Highway 1 at San Simeon Creek Road. Climb over the gate. Also at the corner of Balboa Avenue and Vista del Mar in San Simeon Acres. Step over or walk through holes in the barbed wire fence.

To get to the coastal strip, climb down to the beach from any of three highway vista points. For easier access, go to Hearst State Beach and walk south underneath the pier.

A sense of escape to a place where harbor seals relax on offshore rocks and where miles of some of the best beachcombing in the county are found.

That’s what awaits county residents and visitors who go to the southern quarter of the newest addition to San Simeon State Park. Thirteen miles of coastline -- 959 acres in all -- were added to the state park system in 2004 as part of the historic $95 million Hearst Ranch conservation deal.

"The big appeal is the sense of isolation, yet you are right next to the highway," said supervising ranger Leander Tamoria.

The end of Lone Palm Drive just north of San Simeon Creek Road marks the southern boundary of the Hearst Ranch acquisition. This part of the park is known as the Junge Ranch, named after a family ranch that was eventually taken over by Hearst. Hiking the Junge Ranch begins with what is now a common Hearst Ranch experience -- climbing over a gate. Turnstiles are being added at both ends of the Junge Ranch.

A primitive trail skirts a private residence and takes hikers to the coast. The tang of salt air and seaweed fill your nostrils as you take in views of the rocky shoreline.

The trail turns north and meanders atop coastal bluffs perched above pocket beaches for about three-quarters of a mile to the community of San Simeon Acres. Low hills covered with grass and purplish-white wild radish separate the trail from the highway, and soon you get a sense of being surrounded by nature and far from civilization.

Wildlife

This bluff trail is an excellent place to observe wildlife. Seabirds – Brandt’s cormorants, mostly -- roost on the many offshore rocks that dot the coastline. They are also a favorite resting place for harbor seals that eye you warily as you approach.

Toward the northern end of the Junge Ranch, you’ll have to hop over a small seasonal creek. Its small pools are habitat for the California red-legged frog, a federally listed threatened species, environmental scientist Brian Barandon said.

This part of the park is visited mostly by fishermen and locals who already know of its existence. Veteran surfers also use it seasonally and have named the surf break here "Cardiacs" because the waves break dangerously close to the rocks.

Because it is close to a state park campground, the park managers are considering establishing a primitive campground on the Junge Ranch for visitors who are interested in a rustic camping experience.

Photo opportunities

After skipping over the community of San Simeon Acres and a parcel of land retained by the Hearst Corp. at Pico Cove, the park begins again. This part is a narrow strip of beach sandwiched between the ocean and Highway 1 that runs two and a half miles north to Hearst Memorial State Beach.

It features three vista points that beckon motorists to pull over and enjoy the sight of waves crashing on rocks. The ritual of tourists posing to have their pictures taken with the southern approaches to Big Sur in the background is constant.

Sure-footed motorists can scramble down to the beach and enjoy some tide-pooling. Surf-drenched rocks intermingle with sandy beaches here, giving the beach explorer the best of both worlds.

By keeping to the sandy areas, explorers can examine the profusion of mollusks, crustaceans and algae clinging to the rocks without damaging them by walking on them. The best areas are those that are protected by a row of seaward rocks and reefs, screening the tide pools from the surf and leaving calm wading pools that range from ankle- to hip-deep.

These pools are often a soup of colorful bits of seaweed. Kelp looks drab when lying exposed on the beach but takes on its true colors when submerged. Iridescent seaweed lives up to its name, giving off flashes of turquoise and blue as it sways in the water.

Fishing

As you explore, you’ll see purple and striped shore crabs scuttling for shelter in crevices of the rocks. Also keep an eye out for a truly bizarre tide pool denizen, the gumboot chiton (pronounced kite-on), a type of mollusk.

Most chitons are small -- the size of your thumb -- but the gumboot is huge, reaching a foot in length. You rarely find them clinging to rocks; rather they look like chunks of weathered brick nestled in the sand next to the rocks.

This stretch of coastline is also popular with fishermen. Most seek surfperch, but the area occasionally attracts practitioners of a niche form of angling called pole poking, Tamoria said.

Pole pokers use a broomstick or bamboo pole with a short length of fishing line or wire and a hook baited with squid attached. The hook is thrust into wave-washed channels between the rocks in hopes that a small rockfish, monkeyface eel or other shallow water fish will take the bait.

Most fishermen want to bring home dinner, but the most important reason to visit the coastline here is to enjoy nature, Timoria said.

"The main thing is that people just want to get away," he said.

Originally published June 25, 2006

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