The rare sandhills ecosystem of Santa Cruz county is like no other place. High in the coastal range, with no ocean in sight, I have white sand between my toes. The sandy floor and a dry, warm coastal mountain climate support a unique community of plants and animals adapted to dry conditions and fire ecology. Pine trees and Santa Cruz cypress, manzanitas, monkey flowers, and an endemic kangaroo rat dwell among many of California’s finest examples of drought tolerant species, large and small.
Walking in the hot sand, I found light shade below the twisting branches and silvery-green leaves of the endemic Bonny Doon manzanitas, Arctostaphylos silvicola. I sat beneath them, sketching a portrait of everything I could observe, from it’s general habit of growth to it’s minute details of leaf, stem, and berry. In the sun nearby, the endemic Ben Lomond buckwheat grew, its creamy white flowers on long stems, basal leaves covered in fuzzy white hairs (endangered status, CNPS). Quails and other shy, small creatures like the endemic Santa Cruz kangaroo rat thrive in the scrubby hillsides, raptors soaring above. Wild.
The sandy foundation of “sand parkland” and “sand chaparral” ecosystems is marine Miocene in origin: marine fossils are found throughout, even beds of fossil sandollars, and shark’s teeth!
The trails of Quail Hollow Ranch are open to the public, and just beautiful. Open dawn to dusk, this Santa Cruz County park asks visitors to “take only photos and leave only footprints”. The Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, parking is offsite next to the Bonny Doon Fire Station.
for more information:
The Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.) http://www.santacruzsandhills.com