Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with my hiker friend, Ilia Carson, to discuss her most recent project called Pomniv: the Way to Go. Ilia is an accomplished walker, a veteran of El Camino Santiago in Spain, the Inca Trail in Peru, as well as the California Mission Walk (Pomniv) from Sonoma to San Diego. She is in the process of building and promoting a website to make the 800-mile California pilgrimage a world class trek on par with El Camino Santiago.
About 15 of those miles cross through San Benito County, from Aromas to Mission San Juan Bautista, of course, and finishing up on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail.
OK, you and your hiking buddy are already in pretty good shape, you heard that people actually walk the 800 miles between the twenty-one California missions, and you want to know what the local section is like. You came to the right place.
This hike is best accomplished using a car shuttle. Park one vehicle at the Prunedale trailhead of the De Anza Trail at the end of Old Stage Road accessed from Crazy Horse Canyon. Then drive together to Aromas and park near the town square across from the Aromas Library. The Mission is nine miles away via scenic back roads.
Walk north on Carpenteria Road past the Aromas School, turn right on Quarry Road and right again on Aromitas Road near Graniterock. The paved road gives way to gravel as you climb the shady rise to Anzar Road heading east. Moving along this narrow country lane, on the now mostly downhill route, Anzar Lake appears on the right, full of sparkling water from this year’s abundant rain. After Cannon Road and just before the Stevens Quarry, you cross the San Andreas Fault, seen as a deep linear gash plunging toward Highway 101 at a sharp angle to the southeast. You are now on the North American Plate.
Soon, you cross under the highway, still on Anzar Road, passing McAlpine Lake (small convenience store and bait shop) on your left. Just before turning right on San Juan Highway is a field of fragrant, colorful wildflowers and an aging, photogenic barn. If you hike this road around noon on a weekday, you will see lunchtime walkers from Earthbound Farms getting their outdoor exercise. I recently met local nooners Sonia and Natalie enjoying their daily two-mile walk – healthy, happy hikers!
From there, walk against light traffic to San Juan Bautista using the bike lane. Just before you get to the stop sign at the edge of town, you again cross the San Andreas Fault, where the bumpy, cracked road belies the constant creeping motion of the tectonic plates against each other. Welcome back to the Pacific Plate! Stay on First Street until you see a barricade, then shift over to the right one block and continue on Second Street to the Mission San Juan Bautista State Historical Park.
Hungry? Take a break and feed your face at one of the eateries on Third Street before moving on. Third Street becomes The Alameda, which leads you to cross Hwy 156 toward the De Anza Trail. Follow the signs to the trailhead. It begins at the end of a gravel track that continues straight where Salinas Road turns right up to the San Juan Grade Road.
From the trailhead, it’s a beautiful, four-mile hike up and over the grade back to your shuttle vehicle. There are great views from the trail of nearby Fremont Peak, Pacheco Peak and the Diablo Range to the east, and from the top of the divide near Ben’s bench you can see Monterey Bay. You never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to see on the De Anza Trail, from an assortment of hardy locals to mission pilgrims to bobcats, coyotes, deer, cattle, or mountain lions.
If you can walk 15 miles in one day, folks, trust me, you can do 20. When you have walked 15 to 20 miles a day for 46 days from mission town to mission town, you will have accomplished the physical/spiritual challenge of Pomniv. As Ilia says, it’s a life-changer, a journey of both body and soul. It’s the way to go.
About the De Anza Trail: closed to motor vehicle traffic, this historic route from the Salinas area to San Juan Bautista is open daily to hikers, horses, and bicycles during daylight hours. No camping is allowed and pets should be leashed for their own protection. There is no drinking water on the trail or at the trailhead, so be sure to bring some for you and some extra for Fido. And please my friends, do not litter.
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