The schedule at Tassajara can make it hard to get a run in at the right time. Last summer when I lived there, I managed to get out at 6am a few times, to get some miles in and be back and bathed in time for student breakfast at 7:30; otherwise, I usually waited until after I could get my bag lunch at 9:30, when it would already be warming up. If heat was not a factor, I would not normally choose to be out that early, and would aim for something after lunch.
This past week was not so hot, so leaving at 9:45 was manageable. There are a few routes you can take, and they all involve a lot of climbing. For me, the Horse Pasture is the default option, and that is what I did this week. Most often it involves, as does the run to the Wind Caves, heading up the road for more than a mile before the start of the trail, and my experience is that my body is usually protesting even before I have left the guest parking area. It is always just a case of keeping going, plugging away until I have found a good rhythm and my legs remember that they can do this. When I have been there for a while, and am in better shape, I tend to prefer starting along the creek and going up the cut-off trail, which is intensely steep, then running the main portion of the trail as far as the road, before turning around and doing the same in reverse.
In any case, once you get to the trail head on the road, most of the climbing is done, and then you can ease back and enjoy the rest. Like any run at Tassajara, you need to be constantly vigilant to see where your feet are landing – I have turned an ankle a couple of times over the years. Luckily my mental map of the trails includes the places where I most need to pay attention to poison oak. Over the years I have done the Horse Pasture so many times that I know almost every turn, though it was fascinating how that memory was undone by the change in landscape after the 2008 fire – particularly a section leading up to the cut-off, where the tree cover had burned and ground plants shot up as a consequence, which left me very confused in a couple of places.
There are other memories I have as well. The first time I ran the trail, in 2002, I went with Zenshin, a very keen and elegantly fast monk, who showed me the route; the next time, out for the first time by myself, I saw a bobcat in the beautiful oak meadow past the east side of the horse pasture, mostly just its tail sticking up as it bounded through the high grasses (I have referred to this spot as bobcat meadow ever since).
I was forcibly reminded of another notable encounter this time: coming down the switchbacks on the east side of the Flag Rock ridge, I pulled up very quickly hearing a rattle just ahead. Some years ago I had actually jumped over a rattlesnake which was lying across the trail at about the same location, with its head and tail both hidden, before it started shaking its rattle at me. As I happened to have my camera with me that time for some reason, I stopped at a safe distance to take pictures of it, and a short video of it slithering reluctantly away. The snake this time was mostly at the side of the trail, so I couldn’t see its full size, though it was definitely fully grown, and it was not in a hurry to go anywhere, continuing to rattle more than I am used to hearing; I guessed there might be a nest somewhere in the thick undergrowth. After a few minutes waiting for it to move along, I found a long stick and used that as to encourage the snake more out of the way, since there was not enough space to safely get around it. Eventually I figured it was far enough in the chaparral for me to skirt by, though it was also not so far from where the trail passed after the next switchback, as I could still hear it very clearly…
Even without that memorable adventure, there was so much to enjoy along the way – a huge profusion of wild flowers of many different varieties, the wonderful views of Junipero Serra and Piñon Peak off to the east, the last of the winter water courses still trickling down different gullies, the freshest of morning airs, and of course, the chance to jump into the tinglingly cold water at the narrows afterwards.
This is the rattlesnake I met a few years ago on the Horse Pasture
Junipero Serra and Piñon Peak from Flag Rock Ridge
The surviving oaks in bobcat meadow
The same view a few weeks after the fire in 2008
It was nice to see so much water in the creek – this is the narrows.