Newcomers to San Benito County may be unaware that much of the land where the towns of San Juan Bautista and Hollister are situated today was once under water -twice under water, actually. Those rich, productive farm soils in the San Juan Valley formed at the bottom of Lake San Benito and Lake San Juan way back in the Pleistocene epoch some 200,000 years ago. If you want to learn more about how all that happened and how long the lakes lasted, watch the slide show attached to the end of this article. If you want to take a walking tour of today’s San Juan Valley, read on.
On a somewhat toasty Tuesday morning, I parked near the Luck Museum in San Juan Bautista and started walking out of town on First Street toward Prescott Road. Local bicyclists are familiar with this route as a safer alternative to Hwy 156 between Union Road and The Alameda. Turning right on Prescott past True Leaf Farms, I was soon hoofing it along San Justo Road (facing traffic for safety) with great views of the Lomerias Muertas (the Barren Hills) to the north and Fremont Peak to the south. Depending on the season in this stretch, you might see artichokes or apples or peppers or berries or Lord knows what kind of fruit or vegetable growing here before the big “S” turn at Lucy Brown Road. The folks on this route stay busy.
Continuing east on Duncan Road from the “S” turn, I passed the driveway to Pinnacle Farms on the left (site of the Foster’s Saturday farmer’s market) and some exquisite, shade-protected berry huts on the right. The sweet scent of the ripening strawberries was intoxicating. Off to the north, just beyond the tree line marking the San Benito River, I could barely make out leftover terraces of the Pleistocene lakes at the base of the hills.
At the Bixby Road intersection, I stopped for a water break to take in the beautiful view of Santa Ana Peak and the Three Sisters. These cone-shaped peaks are remnants of a volcanic island arc that was once at the bottom of the ocean long before San Benito County came to be. Deep underground, beneath the valley sediments on which I stood, sit the basement basalt and serpentinite rocks attached to that island arc, all that is left of the ancient, now-buried ocean floor. Just ahead, on the left side of Bixby, what did I see? Palm trees for sale! I had discovered San Benito County’s geological memorial beach!
Turning left on Freitas, heading east toward Flint Road, there were more berry huts and trimmed fields of broccoli and strikingly landscaped haciendas with well-tended gardens and horses. By the time I got to Mitchell Road, I was more than a little hungry. I was ready to sit my sweaty self on a barstool at Chillin’ and Grillin’ and enjoy some grub. This seven-mile Tuesday morning amble was two hours and twenty minutes well spent. And Chillin’ and Grillin’ was a perfect place to end the hike.
To get back to my truck, I used the Dial-a-Ride service provided by the San Benito County Express. For stately gray, honorable senior citizens like me, it only costs $1.25. If you’re a young whippersnapper sort of hiker, you might have to pay a few cents more. Or, you could always organize a car shuttle with a partner. Either way, the walking is good, there are lots of things to see and learn about, and you get to claim another little piece of the county as yours. Pretty soon, you know, if you keep this up, you will have walked from Aromas to Tres Pinos and beyond.
A friendly reminder: the farms and houses along these roads are all private property. Trespassing is illegal and foolish. As my bright, savvy, young friends like to say, “Stay in yo lane.”
And please, my friends do not litter.
For a location map of this hike, please click here.