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Backyard Adventures: Pebble Beach / Del Monte Forest Trail Running

Posted May 16 2012 12:00am

*Before today's post, a reminder to give me your best Beastie Boys lyric for a chance to win a 30-serving bag of Monkey Shakes.  The winner will be announced Saturday, so get going !

When most people hear the name Pebble Beach, they most likely conjure up the following things:

3) Luxury cars , or

What they don't think of very often is "trail running adventure", but that's part of the beauty of running in Pebble Beach: almost nobody knows how to do it.

Even longtime residents sometimes struggle with running in Pebble Beach - often shortened to "Pebble" by locals - as many trails are unmarked, unmapped, or oftentimes both.  Paths are frequently interrupted by a road or house or fairway without any clue as to where they continue - if they indeed continue at all.  Even though the Del Monte Forest that dominates the region is only 10 square miles, it's easy to get disoriented, causing planned 5-mile runs to become 2-hour explorations.

I've lived in this area for almost 20 years, and I still get turned around in the forest sometimes ... but the more miles I spend there, the more amazed I am that this place exists, and the more awestruck I am at the glory of creation.  Which sounds like enough reason to do a photo tour, right?  I thought so ... and took my camera with me one day for a 20-miler that highlights the best (and strangest) of what the area has to offer.

(As usual, click any photo to enlarge ...)

For most locals, a run into Pebble Beach actually starts outside the area, in the parking lot at Carmel Beach - which is a natural wonder in its own right.  The reason we park here instead of going into Pebble Beach proper ...

... is this gated entrance.  All road access points into Pebble Beach pass by manned gatehouses, where visiting cars - classified as anything without a resident medallion on the front grill - are charged $9.75 to enter.  On the other hand, if you pass through on foot, bike, or rollerblades, there's no charge.  Running in Pebble is wonderful, but it's not 10-dollars-a-pop wonderful - so adding an extra mile or two onto either side of your run to avoid the fee is pretty much a no-brainer.

You encounter your first trail less than a quarter mile past the gate - a restored remnant of a historic horse path that used to circle the perimeter of Del Monte Forest.  Many of the trails here were built or maintained by the local equestrian community; in a related story, mountain bikes are pretty much outlawed in Pebble Beach - but that's a discussion for another time.

Trails also pass remarkably close to multi-million-dollar homes, many of which sit vacant for most of the year, because they're the vacation homes of people who have an equally (or more) expensive house somewhere else.  To say Pebble belongs to people with money is quite the understatement.

Here's the most remarkable thing about Pebble Beach, though: for long stretches of trail, there's no sign of any civilization or development, and it looks and feels almost exactly like running through the Sierra Nevadas.  It would be easy to completely forget where you are ...

... except that every now and then you skirt a lush green fairway, which reminds you that no matter what the surroundings look like, in these parts, golf is king.

Many of the trails are marked by signposts with colored stripes to distinguish one from another.  The green posts mark a popular route that climbs towards the top of the forest ...

... and back down to another swanky fairway near the Pebble Beach lodge.

This is a polo field near the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center.  It's nothing special, really - probably just like the polo fields in your own neighborhood.  Let's move on.

One long stretch of the green trail turns into a deep sandy path that rises up and over a large dune ...

... before cresting the dune to get your first breathtaking glimpse of the coastline below.

Remember that multi-million-dollar home earlier?  This futuristic one with beach access would be in the multi-multi-million dollar range.

This is Bird Rock - a name that become obvious if you click to enlarge and check out all the little black dots on top of the white surface in the distance.   It's a popular stopping point for auto tourists on 17-Mile Drive, and a popular rest stop for cyclists and runners ...

... mainly because it's got one of the only public restrooms and drinking fountains in Pebble Beach.  You can refill your bottles, catch your breath ...

... and gaze down the coastline at the flat stretch of trail ahead.  You know - just like the view at the public bathroom near your house, I'm sure.

The trail continues for about two flat miles along the coast, where the sound of crashing waves and the sight of rocks and surf is almost mesmerizing.  Not coincidentally, this is the section where you're most likely to see fellow runners or cyclists who are lucky enough to be there too.

Soon enough you leave the beach behind and start back up the hill, crossing over more sand dunes until you re-enter the heart of Del Monte Forest.

Here's one of the challenges I mentioned at the top: occasionally, trails just emerge upon a road or intersection, and unless you happen to know which way to go from here, it's very tough to figure out where they continue on the other side.  In many cases, the continuation is a quarter-mile or more down the road from where you first hit the asphalt.

Sometimes the trail is marked on the trunks of trees on the periphery of a golf course, and you know if you stay to one side of the fairway you're in the general vicinity of the trail ...

... and other times the golf course IS the trail as you make your way along cart paths down the length of one fairway and up another.  If you thought it was easy to get turned around on trails, try telling one immaculately groomed fairway from another sometime.  I've gone back and forth on golf courses more than a few times ...

 ... before popping out on the road somewhere and thinking, "Wait - how did I end up at the Poppy Hills clubhouse?".  Fortunately, if you know the road system here - which is no small challenge either - you can at least point yourself back in the right direction back into the forest ...

... where the trails eventually turn back into secluded Sierra-like fire roads ...

... and quiet single track as you climb to the apex of the forest.

The trails stay quiet all the way down a long descent back toward sea level ...

... and within a couple more miles you exit the Pebble gate and return to Carmel Beach.  In the space of a few hours, you've gone from seascape to forest and back, from sea level to hilltop, from civilization to seclusion, from the gaudy excesses of humanity to the simplest joys of natural existence.  It probably offers the largest environmental variability of any run I know of - and the more time I spend here, the more thankful I am for every opportunity to explore it.

*See other photo tours under tab at top of page.

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