Exploring the California Coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz

Stand of eucalyptus trees, tall grasses, and mowed are in foreground
Eucalyptus grove

We were eager to try the renovations Jon completed on the fifth wheel these past months, yet hesitant to go too far from home. The coast looked like our best bet, so I booked five nights at the Santa Cruz North/Costanoa KOA for the week after Labor Day.

Fifth wheel trailer and white pickup campsite
The Todd’s Basecamp

Three days after reserving our site, approximately 7,000 lightning strikes in the San Francisco Bay Area ignited 350 fires. Many of the individual fires merged into huge infernos, including the SCU Lightning Complex south of us, which has burned 397,000 acres and finally reached full containment after 44 days on October 1, 2020.

Great blue heron strutting across green grass
Great blue heron

Cal Fire issued evacuations soon after the blazes expanded. Not only did I worry about the fire near us, I also worried about how close the KOA was to the CZU Complex Lightning fire since its perimeter stretched from Santa Cruz north to halfway to Half Moon Bay. Where was the campground in relation to the fire?

Path meanders between a wooden building and trees and grass
Path between restaurant and general store

The evacuation map showed them just north of the perimeter, and a message on their website confirmed their evacuation. Two weeks later the posting said they planned to open the day before our scheduled arrival. I was so glad to hear they were safe.

Wooden building with vegetation in the foreground
Cascade Restaurant and Bar

The CZU fire was about 85% contained when we drove to the coast. We didn’t see any signs of active fire other than the smoke that tinted the sky a pale orange and mixed with the low clouds and fog.

Giant chess game on platform with grass and a building in the background
Game of chess?

It wasn’t until the next day when we drove south to Santa Cruz that we saw the blackened hills, burned trees, and scorched earth next to what looked like the campground’s property line. The firefighters had saved the property from destruction. Many other buildings, farms, and ranches were not so lucky.

Landscape of green grasses in foreground, burned trees, and fire scared hills
Fire scarred hill across the highway from Año Nuevo State Park

Nearly 1,500 structures were destroyed, including the visitor center and headquarters of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I could not find statistics on the number of redwoods lost. Due to their hardiness and fire-resistant bark, most should survive. Although I heard some were cut down because they posed a danger to nearby trees. By spring, new trees should sprout and in three to four years, the sprouts will have grown 6-8 feet tall, assuming they receive plenty of sun and water. Drought could stunt their growth. It’s possible the park could open for hiking early in 2021. There’s no estimate on the opening of the campground or other facilities.

Vegetable garden
Entrance to the Costanoa garden, where a crew worked the soil and tended the plants

When we arrived at Costanoa, a crew from Servpro Disaster Recovery was onsite finishing up their work to get the resort back online. We did without cell service and reliable Wi-Fi access during our visit, which was fine with me. I enjoyed taking a break from the news and my email for a few days. Jon still watched cable television while I went outside to read or go for a walk.

Vegetable and flower garden
Corn, onions, tomatoes, and more growing in the garden

This park has a lot to offer its guests. The calming green grass, relaxing scent of eucalyptus, and a flower and vegetable garden were my favorites. Accommodations include the RV sites, various makes and sizes of cabins and tents, and a lodge. Add in a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a small general store; and a parklike setting to complete the eco-adventure resort.

Humming bird sitting on a wire fence
Bees and hummingbirds swarmed around the garden

Equestrians can even bring their horses. Although there were none in residence during our stay, I could imagine the swishing of tails, snorting, and nickering of horses in the corrals.

Purple thistle of a globe artichoke
Globe Artichoke, cynara cardunculus

Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve is a short walk across Highway 1 from the campground. Trails lead through or next to eucalyptus groves, across Highway 1, and end at the beach. One trail is north of the property and the other is south.

Vegetable garden of swiss and red chard
Swiss and Red Chard

To avoid the news programs, I took off by myself on the north route one afternoon. There was a soft breeze blowing while I walked beside the eucalyptus grove. The sound of someone chopping wood in the grove made me question my adventure. I didn’t bother taking my wallet and cell phone since I wasn’t going shopping, and there was no cell service. I felt naked, carrying only my camera.

Yellow common hollyhock flower
Common Hollyhock, alcea rosea

I stopped and determined what I heard was only twigs and leaves rustling as they floated or crashed to the ground. No one chopping. So I continued, reciting an I’ll-be-okay mantra as I continued on the path.

Beach, ocean, and rock formations muted by fog and smoke
Secluded beach across Highway 1 from Costanoa
Boardwalk trail through a marsh
A boardwalk keeps feet dry over the marsh
Landscape of sandy trail, clumps of trees muted by fog and smoke
Campground is to the right of the clump of trees in the background

On another day, Jon and I took the south route to find the tide pools I’d seen on the map. We didn’t check the tide charts before setting out. That was okay. The exercise was our main goal, and now we know how to get there when we go to Costanoa again.

Beach scene with blue skies, rock formation and sand
High tide reveals no pools
Man with backpack walking near an ocean cliff
Around the rock to another cove
Dried bull whip kelp on sand
Bull whip kelp
Rock art on sand
Rock art

On our third morning, the fog cleared, and with it the smoke. Seeing blue skies for the first time in three weeks had me rushing outside and filling my lungs with the moist sea air to clear out the soot.

Some places we park our RV seem like ideal locations for a writing retreat. Costanoa is top on my list of such places. One of these days I’ll go on a retreat. In the meantime, I’ll fit in my writing whenever I can, wherever I am.

Next up we visit Año Nuevo Point and Island, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, and the Town of Pescadero.

Stay safe.