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Pacheco State Park

Spikes Peak, South Boundary, Canyon Loop, Pig Pond Trails

To Spikes Peak is 5.5 miles round trip with 500-foot elevation gain

The trees are a tip-off that it gets mighty windy in Pacheco State Park. Squat, flag-shaped oaks bow to the east, sculpted by the prevailing winds into picturesque poses.

An even more obvious wind indicator than the stunted oaks are the multitude of wind turbines strategically placed on Pacheco’s ridges. During the March through October “wind season,” Pacheco Pass is a veritable wind tunnel that whirls the propellers of nearly 200 windmills.

Pacheco State Park earns a portion of the revenue from the 21 million kilowatts a year generated by the private utility that owns the windmills. Thanks to this revenue, Pacheco is a rarity in California’s impoverished state park system—a park that actually has adequate funds for its maintenance.

Pacheco is located at an environmental crossroads of the coast range, Diablo Range and the San Joaquin Valley. Blue oaks and valley oaks dot the park’s grassy slopes. Botanists have counted some 15 species of native grasses in the park.

Although Pacheco seems far removed from the coast, the Pacific plays a significant role in the area’s odd weather. An indentation in Monterey Bay that puts the Pacific only 50 miles as the gull flies from the park, the park’s location at a gap between mountain ranges, and strong westerly winds all combine to bring heavy coastal fog to the park during hot summer days.

Pacheco is a fairly dry park, though you might guess otherwise from the number of lakes depicted on the park map. Nun, Diamond, Bear’s Hide, Wolf, Dinosaur, Mammoth and many more lakes are actually tiny reservoirs, originally created to serve as cattle watering ponds.

Hikers frequently spot mule deer, ground squirrels, black-tailed hares and feral pigs in the park. More elusive animals include badgers, skunks, gophers and voles.

The land around Pacheco Pass was originally part of a 48,000-acre Mexican land grant deeded to Juan Perez Pacheco in 1843. The Pacheco family soon built a tiny adobe fortress near a waterhole at the base of Pacheco Pass.

Rancho San Luis Gonzaga stayed in the family for a century. Paula Fatjo, a San Francisco debutante and fifth-generation descendant of the Pachecos, moved into the adobe fort-turned ranch headquarters in 1948. She desired to live the life of a rustic ranchero in emulation of her 19th-century relatives.

Unfortunately for Fatjo’s pastoral way of life, the state of California began construction of the mammoth San Luis Reservoir and Fatjo was forced to sell her soon-to-be-underwater ranch to the state in 1963. She then relocated her ranch, historic adobe and all, 12 miles west to the top of Pacheco Pass.

Given the shabby treatment of Fatjo by state government, it speaks well to her character and generous spirit that, upon her death in 1992, she bequeathed her ranch to the state of California as a state park “for the protection, maintenance and fostering of natural flora and fauna.”

Paula Fatjo’s funky 1960s-era ranch house is mixture of adobe and wood frame construction wrapped around a mobile home. Murals with wildlife themes decorate the walls. Nearby stand two crumbling walls (seriously damaged in Fatjo’s forced move), all that remain of the Pacheco family’s 1846 adobe.

An extensive network of former ranch roads comprises the park’s trail system. Paths and junctions are well-signed. Rangers suggest that first-time visitors trek to the top of Spikes Peak, the park’s 1,927-foot high point, for a good overview of the park. Reward for the climb is a 360-degree panorama from the San Joaquin Valley to the snowy crest of the Sierra Nevada.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 in Gilroy, exit on Highway 152 and travel 24 miles east. Turn right (south) on Dinosaur Point Road and proceed 0.4 mile to the entrance for Pacheco State Park. Follow the park’s short gravel road to a parking area and main trailhead.

From Interstate 5, you can also reach the park by taking the Highway 152 exit near Los Baños and traveling west to the state park.

The hike: Join signed Spikes Peak Trail (a dirt road) heading south. Pass through a gate and walk along a fence separating hikers from bovine park users and their pasture lands.

After 0.5 mile, Spikes Peak Trail bends west and soon passes signed junctions with both the north and south segments of Pig Pond Trail (your return route). The path climbs grassy hills, soon serving up views of historic Pacheco Pass to the north and a few dozen windmills positioned on breezy slopes to the east.

Keep climbing south with Spikes Peak Trail as it passes junctions with three east-west trending paths: Tunnel Monument Trail, Up & Over Trail and Spring Ridge Trail. A last 0.3 mile climb past the junction with Spring Ridge Trail brings you to the crest of Spikes Peak.

It’s a modest promontory, but one with great clear day views: Fremont Peak to the southwest, Pacheco Peak to the west and Mt. Hamilton to the northwest, the snowy Sierra Nevada to the east.

From the summit, descend on signed South Boundary Loop Trail 0.4 mile east to a junction with Canyon Loop Trail and join this path as it drops north into a lovely oak-filled draw. The path zig-zags past junctions with Up & Over Trail and the eastern leg of the Canyon Loop Trail before joining Pig Pond Trail.

True to its name, the trail soon passes a pond named for the feral porkers and continues north to meet Spikes Peak Trail. (You can retrace your early steps by following this dirt road 0.7 mile back to the trailhead.)

For a different return route of about the same distance, briefly travel east on Spikes Peak Trail then resume a northward course by getting back on Pig Pond Trail. As you approach park headquarters, you’ll need to hop a low barbed wire fence then walk through a cow pasture.

Stroll over to the historic ranch buildings and view Paula Fatjo’s ranch house and the Pacheco family adobe. Hike 0.1 mile along the park access road back to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.