Not every hike turns out the way you expect. Most offer surprises of a good kind.
Sometimes you get a mix of good and not so good. Usually it all depends on how you look at it.
Back in April, my girlfriend and I set out to hike to the top of Kreyenhagen Peak in the Coast Range. Hiking opportunities in the closest part of the Coast Range (between I-5 and U.S. 101) are mostly limited to Henry Coe and Pacheco state parks, and Pinnacles National Monument. We may also be able to add the Bureau of Land Management's Clear Creek Management Area if it ever reopens (it's been closed since 2008).
The Kreyenhagen Trail is one of the few outside of those areas.
It starts in Fresno County's Coalinga Mineral Springs Park, northwest of Coalinga. You get there by taking Highway 198 west from Coalinga to Coalinga Mineral Springs Road and turning right. The road ends at what still is officially a Fresno County Park, even though it appears to be abandoned.
Along the road to the park you'll see both abandoned and nearly abandoned homes. The entrance sign at the park boundary looks abandoned, too. What once was a camping and picnic area is now overgrown with weeds. The restrooms were boarded up at some point and since have been partially reopened by vandals.
No water is available.
I've seen some poorly maintained recreation areas, but this one truly takes the grand sweepstakes. Fresno County should be embarrassed. It's the only park where I've ever had the feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there. Throughout our visit we didn't see another soul, even though we visited on a Saturday at midday.
Despite the less-than-welcoming appearance of the park, we set out on the trail -- once we found it, that is. If you park at the last parking area before the private property begins, you can find it by crossing a small dry creek bed and looking for a large signboard on the other side. There's no directional sign in the parking area.
The trail is part of the National Recreation Trails network and most of it is actually on BLM land. Starting at 2,105 feet and climbing to a 3,494 summit, the trail is best hiked in the cooler months. The wide view from the top stretches across peaks, ridges, and canyons.
Although it is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians, it isn't a good bike trail unless you like riding straight uphill for 2¾ miles before going downhill again. Some extremely narrow sections with steep drop-offs also make it questionable for bikers and a poor choice for horses. The bare, triangular summit rises above the surrounding landscape and easily is identifiable as soon as you begin the hike. For hikers, it's a great destination with a moderate climb to an expansive view.
We had one surprise left after we hit the trail -- a surprise that resulted in the unofficial renaming of Kreyenhagen Peak. My girlfriend and I have since referred to it as "Big Tick Mountain." We saw and picked off more ticks than I've seen over all the other outdoor adventures of my lifetime combined. We stopped every quarter-mile to find and remove them. Generally they crawl around for a while before embedding their heads beneath the skin and out of more than 300 that we removed, not a single one had yet begun the process.
Fortunately, this experience seems to have been unique. I've read several other people's reports from the trail and talked to the BLM, and so far I haven't heard of anyone who has encountered the same storm of ticks. I guess we hit this trail on the wrong weekend. You're less likely to see them in the late fall or winter. If ticks appear to be a problem, spray bug repellant with DEET on your clothes and skin. It will help you to enjoy the hike and views without the creepy crawlies. Only a small percentage of ticks in California carry Lyme disease and likelihood of transmission is very small if the tick is removed within 24 hours of the bite. It's not something to lose sleep over.
Although this trail offered some unfriendly surprises, the view from the top was more than worth the difficulties encountered. Go prepared and you'll be able to enjoy a great California vista that few people ever see.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.