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Gray Whale Ranch

Gray Whale Ranch is a part of Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz County, California. It is a 2,305 acre parcel of undeveloped land in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of the City of Santa Cruz and adjacent to the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The addition of Gray Whale Ranch to Wilder Ranch results in a 6,000 acre park that extends seven and a half miles upslope from the coast, and creates a swath of publicly owned land from the shore all the way to the town of Felton. In June of 1999 a new trail was completed that linked previously existing trails.

The ranch contains a variety of grasslands, redwood and Douglas fir forest, oak woodland and mixed conifer forest. There are trails and fire roads through the property, making it a favorite for mountain biking and hiking. The diverse habitat provides a home for the silver-leaved Manzanita, Santa Cruz Cypress, and American Kestrel. There are also caves which have at least three invertebrates that are found nowhere else in the world.

The trails of Gray Whale Ranch reveal many interesting ruins on the land. There are foundations of old homes, sluices along Cave Gulch Creek, old quarries, and ruins of limekilns from the days when the limestone was burned to produce lime.

Spelunking is one popular activity on Gray Whale Ranch, although most cavers try to prevent the location of the caves from becoming widely known. This is done in an effort to keep people from spoiling the caves by littering or damaging the cave formations. The main cave frequented by spelunkers is known as Hell Hole and is reputed to go all the way to the ocean. The main destination in Hell Hole is the Hall of Faces, a clay room where people leave sculptures and sign a book. Getting to the Hall of Faces is no easy task, and requires descending the 90 foot vertical called the Pit. Barricades are periodically placed in the caves to prevent people from entering, but these barriers are typically removed fairly quickly.

Becoming a State Park

Gray Whale Ranch was privately owned ranchland that became a part of the State Park in November of 1997. This triumph for environmentalists was just one of many instances of Santa Cruz North Coast land being preserved as parkland, going back to the early 1970s when the Wilder Ranch property became a State Park.

Gray Whale Ranch was slated for logging and development in the 1980s when conservation groups sought to stop the proposal. A variety of challenges and proposals were made, with the final result being purchase of the land by a private conservation group. The Save the Redwoods League transferred the land to the State Parks Department after purchasing the land in 1996 for $13.4 million. The Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board each contributed to the State Parks to help them acquire the property for just over one million dollars.

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