It’s always when you veer off on an alternate route that roadtrip adventures happen. This one started with another trip to Santa Cruz Hydroponics, which I’ve now decided is the BEST source for vegetable starts, seeds and organic growing materials in the Bay Area. Last month, I chronicled my last trip down and up the Cabrillo Highway. This time, I decided, at least on the way back, I’d strike out to uncharted territory. First order of business: preparing for a place we in the Bay Area affectionately call “Sanity Cruz” (as if we in San Francisco don’t also have a franchise on “thinking different”.) The iPod was loaded with a soundtrack of Sixties music, heavy on Joplin and the Dead. Since I was overdue for a leg wax, batik and sandals would be all I’d need to blend in. Actually not. Without a tattoo — especially one with some Zen, Hindu or African significance — dreadlocks and REAL hippie garb, I stuck out at my first coffee shop visit like a stockbroker at a Phish concert. My faux hippie garb — with skirt from REI and sandals from Minnetonka — didn’t really have that hippie street cred.
Luckily Santa Cruz Hydroponics didn’t mind. If you’re talking plants, these guys are the most enthusiastic and helpful folks you’ll ever experience in a retail setting. In fact, it’s hard to leave the store without more advice and product than you actually paid for. These guys may have a business, but they are really on an Eco-Evangelical Mission. Loaded with vegetable starts, seeds, and all the details of the amazing Seedsavers and the so-called “Doomsday Seed Vault” in Norway, I was ready to head back up North.
Anther quick reconnoiter at an Internet cafe and my iPhone told me another route back from Santa Cruz was up through the mountains and over to Santa Clara, where I could actually check another California Mission off my list. Since I hadn’t set out planning this foray into the mountains, I didn’t have a sight list. It was only when I looked at the GPS map, that I realized I’d be going through the tiny former logging town of Boulder Creek. Back in the 80s, I was friendly with a woman who belonged to a commune/ashram/cult/something-or-other up in Boulder Creek. Shortly after I met her, she moved to the City and just commuted to the ashram, which I vaguely remembered was called something like The University of the Trees. I’m very fuzzy on the details except I remember they had an English guru who had gone to India with the Beatles and they had some sort of business venture growing spirulina. It’s amazing how much you can NOT find out when you want to avoid topics. But bottom line, I’d never been to Boulder Creek. So what the hell? Could be interesting. I imagined a tiny town caught in a Sixties time warp with saffron robed converts dancing down the street to the sound of sitars.
About five miles out of Santa Cruz, it became clear I might be in for a different experience. As I wound up Route 9, the scenery appeared less like Sgt. Pepper and more like Deliverance. Clearly, what small centers of habitation I passed up there were old logging towns. And, judging from the number of ATVs, chain saws and log splitting stumps I saw outside cabins, cutting down wood was still a major pastime. I couldn’t imagine The University of the Trees would have made many converts up here. But I’m making it sound as if there WERE actual towns. If you’d told me Bigfoot and his family ranged between Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, I’d believe you. Well, let me just say that Big Foot would find more to like about Boulder Creek than would John, George or the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi. It’s definitely more logging town than commune. And in spite of patrolling up and down the only street a few times, I never did find the sign to The University of the Trees.
Once I reached the crest of the mountain above the Big Basin it was downhill and back into civilization with a quick look-through at the impossibly cute town of Saratoga and off to Santa Clara and another Mission. Turns out the Mission Santa Clara de Asis is on the grounds of Santa Clara University, which may be one of the most beautiful colleges in America. In fact, all five of the Mission sites are there since this Mission was rebuilt and rebuilt after fires, earthquakes and other disasters. Today, a faithful replica of the fifth iteration, rebuilt in 1929, serves as the campus church. However, there are still remnants of the original adobe Padres’ quarters and the gardens are beautiful. There is a nice symmetry to the fact that the current site hosts a Catholic college. Although the Franciscans were not as devoted to intellectual pursuits as the Jesuits who now run Santa Clara University, I think the good brothers would be pleased with what’s going on around their Mission. Even the ubiquitous iPods.