MOSS LANDING — At 2.2 miles and almost flat, this beach walk should be an easy stroll, but one half of it, the Dunes Trail, is deep sand, making walking, even with very little elevation, rather aerobic. This is a loop through some of our most lovely and accessible dunes and there are two starting points.
One end of the trail is at the parking lot at the end of Potrero Street in Moss Landing. The dunes trail starts on the southern end of the parking lot. The other trail head is at the end of Monterey Dunes Way, by the Monterey Dunes Colony. You reach that parking lot by taking Molera Road toward the beach, off Highway 1, and then turn right on Monterey Dunes Way for a half mile.
I started from Potrero, so I’ll take it from there. The Dunes Trail, shared by hikers and equestrians, is a narrow path through the back dunes — dunes thick with native vegetation. A cable runs along both sides and signs are posted periodically advising hikers to stay on the path. These dunes are being restored and are far more sensitive than they look.
At the beginning of the hike, you have a view of the old Salinas River Channel, left over from the days when both the Salinas and Pajaro flowed along the coast and breached the dunes at Moss Landing. Look carefully, and you might see some wading birds in the channel.
In just a few minutes, there’s a path over the dunes to the beach, perfect for someone who only wants a short walk, rather than a hike. The old river channel disappears shortly after this path, as the dunes widen and you find yourself following a low spot in the sand. You might see some flowering plants along the path, such as Indian paint brush.
You should take water, as walking in deep sand will make you thirsty, and it takes about 40 minutes to complete the dunes leg. Then you’ll see one of the buildings on the Monterey Dunes Colony straight ahead, and the trail branches, the right going to the beach, the left to the parking lot. There is another trail, a boardwalk from the parking lot back to the beach.
The walk back on well-packed sand takes only a half hour, but along the way, there is much to see. You may see other hikers, but it’s almost certain you’ll see at least one person on horseback. This is a very popular equestrian stretch of beach. Also, along the beach you’ll find some fascinating driftwood structures, places people have built to get away from the sun and wind.
Best of all, this stretch of beach is loaded with birds. Little sandpipers and other plovers rush back and forth with the breaking waves, and curlews prod the wet sand for crabs and other small creatures. Naturally, there are always gulls on the beach and the occasional vulture cruising just overhead. You might even see a V formation of pelicans going by.
After you pass the spur you saw on the outward walk, you’re almost back. You’ll see some metal poles and cables leading up the beach toward the parking area. By the time you’re back to your car, you’ll feel you walked more than a couple miles, and you’ll have tasted some of the best of our local coast.
Meade Fischer is a retired teacher, outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer who lives in Watsonville. You can see his new book on the California coast at http://www.amazon.com/Sea-Beside-Me-intimate-Californias/dp/0967252369/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346195217&sr=1-1&keywords=with+the+sea+beside+me