Head for the Hills: Fort Ord National Monument

Hiking, Photography


The thing is, from the road the hills don’t look all that steep.  They look like hills of the ‘gentle rolling’ genre and seem relatively tame after a trip to Big Sur or Pinnacles.

However, they suddenly get a lot steeper when I’ve lost whatever inertia I had peddling up from the base of the hill and I’m clicking like a mad man trying to find just one more low gear and it’s just plain easier to get off and walk.

So I walk.  Which is fine.  Because, as I’ve found out, the more I walk up, the more I ride down. And the ride down is just a ridiculous amount of fun.  I really can’t wait to hoof it back up the hills and do it again.

Of course, I’m not the only guy with this idea. DSC_5342There’s plenty of people of all shapes and sizes with the same idea.  People on bikes, people hiking, joggers and people on horseback, moms with strollers.  All taking on the hills with a fitness mindset.  A fresh air workout you can dial up or down any way you want.  All of this activity takes place amongst the soothing scenery of grassy hillsides, peppered with oaks and madrones and the occasional pleasant vista of the farmland of the Salinas valley.

DSC_0802FromPSDAnd that’s my take on the Fort Ord site.  It doesn’t have tall stands of redwoods, or spectacular rocky coastline or stunning behind-the-wheel vistas.  This is a place you come to get away from the TV set or the office, put on the running shoes or hop on the bike and clear your head with some easy-to-access fresh air and fitness.

The ‘National Monument’ is really more of a county or state park in look and feel.  There’s many, many well marked trails for the humans, their horses or their bikes (by Trek, not Yamaha).  Nice parking lots with facilities, signs with maps and wildlife notes and it’s just minutes from Monterey, Salinas or Seaside.

Of course, you can do your fitness thing just about anywhere you can find a sidewalk or a high school football field.  DSC_5421But when you take your workout routine on the road to Fort Ord, you’re challenged with some legitimate changes in altitude and rewarded with a view of the climb you just made and open, pastoral views of the countryside you generally won’t get from the highway.

There are basically two kinds of trails.  Wide gravel roads that I’m guessing used to serve as paths for tanks and other military vehicles, and narrow ‘singletrack’ trails that wind their way through scrub and connect with the wider dirt roads.  It’s the singletrack stuff the people on bikes really like.  DSC_0884Keep that in mind if you wander into these trails.  Be prepared to suddenly come face-to-face with a few colorfully dressed, two-wheeled bike types flying past you at, shall we say, very enthusiastic speeds.

Like I said, the two times I’ve been out there on my bike I’ve lugged along my cameras and ended up huffing my way up most of the hills.  I end up huffing up most of the hills around here anyway.  I’d like to think that it’s because in a previous life I did all my riding in Florida where it’s flat just about everywhere.  Nice try, but that’s a crappy excuse.  It’s really about being in shape.  Or not.

When I hear people coming and I’m walking and they’re still on their pedals, I’ll put the camera up to my eye and wave.  ‘ Yes, beautiful day…  just stopping to take a few shots…’  Really what I’m thinking is that these rolling hillsides will make an easy landing zone for the Calstar helicopter to fly me to the nearest cardiac trauma unit.

DSC_0797Nonetheless, both times I stick with it and heading back to the parking lot, I get a chance to blast back down the 900 feet in altitude I gained going up.  How fast is a ‘blast’ in my world?  A little slower than the top speed I’m willing to dump it at.  That’s my collarbone speed.  The last time it happened the doc said he put it back together with paper clips and if I broke it again I was on my own.

It’s started to green up a bit, with the rain we got a few weeks ago, but the photo ops here are bit more work than you have at the other places I’ve written about.  Think landscapes and low-on-the-horizon sunlight.  If the fog is in, some opportunities will materialize when you get up into the hills and look back at the Salinas valley.  DSC_0351If it keeps raining (not likely) the hills might really green up and the wildflowers could put on a show.  But I suspect we might be looking at all the green we’re going to get this year.

While a lot of the reserve’s acreage is off limits because of munitions hazards left over from the Army days, there’s plenty of room to breathe and it might be some comfort in knowing there are other folks usually not too far away.

So if you’re thinking it’s time to get outside, but you don’t really want to fight the crowds at Point Lobos or Hwy 1, or it’s late in the day, grab the bikes or some decent shoes, some water or Gatorade, maybe even a picnic lunch and head for the hills at the Fort Ord National Monument.

Kid Factor: (+)  Plenty of wide open spaces to expend some energy; bring the bikes, water. (-) Might be poison oak around; a few bluffs / overlooks that need parental attention with younger children.

Fitness Factor: (+)  Great place to work on your fitness program;  walking, hiking, jogging, biking.  Take in as little or as much as you want.  Why walk in the neighborhood when you can walk here?

Photo Factor: (+)  Think landscapes, early morning, late in day;  some detail shots might come up, but it’s been dry, so the flora is limited.  Fog in Salinas valley might be fun to time-lapse.