.Hiking in a Storm in the Byrne-Milliron Forest

Is it worth the risk to traipse in a tempest?

“Take a Hike With Richard Stockton” appears weekly on the Good Times website.

I make the mistake of turning on NPR. As I drive past the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company on Hames Road and turn left on Browns Valley Road, I hear a Texas politician pontificate about his divine knowledge of when life begins. For me, that would be my first cup of coffee. I turn on my windshield wipers and wonder, “Why the hell am I heading for the Byrne-Milliron Forest in this storm? Who would drive through driving rain to climb a mountain?” I’m indeed a curious duck.

SIGNS OF CONFUSION Browns Valley or Brown Valley? Google Maps says Browns.

The Roses of Yesterday and Today sign with monarch butterflies on it is an easy landmark for the road up to the parking lot. Turn left onto the entrance road across from the Roses sign. It’s about a mile up to the Land Trust parking lot.

YESTERDAY’S FLOWERS Welcome to the forest.

My Prius is the only car in the parking lot. There is a blue porta-potty that claims a video camera is capturing everything. I wasn’t too keen on using the porta-potty anyway but reading that my defecation reflex efforts are going to be captured on video makes me want to take my chances with a poop bag in the woods.

I start from the parking lot and find the Byrne Trail. The rain has slacked off, but the wind picks up. It blows harder and harder. The trees bend sideways, creak and pop. Is this a little crazy to be up here now? Yeah, it probably is. I’ll try not to get hit in the head with a redwood limb. 

secure document shredding

Why do I love hiking in a storm?

Inclement weather can turn a hike into an adventure. Even the easiest trail feels like it’s going into uncharted territory. You can’t see far, you pay more attention to what’s under your feet. You become wild. You’re not just a person invading the landscape, you’re part of it.

Rain is easy. We’re made of water. Wind is different. Wind is to be reckoned with. Wind can be frightening. I was near a tornado once. Very near.

It’s 1996, I’m in Lubbock, Texas, and the comedy club put me up in a motel room that has indoor-outdoor carpet on the floor. The walls shake every time a cattle truck goes by. I pace the floor and berate myself.

“I’ve been a comic for ten years and I’m playing in Lubbock, Texas, at a club called Froggy Bottoms. My career is on fire!”

That’s when I hear the wind. At first it whistles around the windows but grows to pound the little motel and the walls shake. I turn on the radio. The DJ says, “Get down, people. The big blow’s comin’. Ya’ll, it is time to git to the root cellar!” The radio dies and the lights go out. I tremble in the dark as the walls rattle and the wind howls. I’m going to die in Lubbock, Texas.

I go to the door, because being from California, I know that it is safer in a doorway. I open the door three inches. I see a lawn chair blow by. A garbage can shoots down the street. I see a young boy, caught out in the tornado. He is being blown down the street. I should go out and carry him to safety, right? Where exactly is it safe? Am I going to do nothing? Will I let a child perish?

Wait a minute. He is on a skateboard. He has his jacket pulled up over his head as a sail to catch the wind. He shoots past and I hear him yell. “Yeeeeeeeeeehaaaawoo!”

I shake and he sails. There it is. You can cower in fear or go on the ride of your life. No, I did not save that boy. He saved me.

Tornadoes aside, how dangerous is it to hike in a storm?

CLOUD COVER The view from Byrne Trail’s observation deck.

In the Central Coast I think we can probably get away with hiking in weather. Our climate is so temperate, you’re not going to freeze, you’re not going to die of thirst, and it’s not like I’m going to get lost on the Byrne-Milliron mountain and starve to death. It would be hard to get lost enough to have an intermittent fast.

I talk to a woodlot owner, with 20 years in the forest industry. He says, “Walking in the forest during windy conditions can pose risks, especially if there are old or weak trees. You may be able to hear a tree start to fall, but the question is if you will have enough time to react and get out of the way. It can be dangerous, particularly in softwood stands.”

Softwood? That would be redwoods, right? Like the giants that are creaking, moaning and groaning all around me?

I make it to the Byrne Trail observation deck and can look over Watsonville all the way to the ocean and a panorama of much of Monterey Bay. This observation deck alone is worth the trip. Binoculars are amazing up here.

The deck looks like a stage, with Monterey Bay as the backdrop. I feel like King Lear, shouting into the wind. 

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! 
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout 
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

A PATCH OF BLUE as the wind dies down

The rain stops, the wind dies down. Blue sky opens over the ocean and the angry heavens pass over us. I’ll bet you a dollar that back in the day, Ohlone people would stand here to check in on their land and their tribe. It feels like they are here now.

I’ve walked the mountain, with nothing but the feel of the wind and rain across my face. I’m at peace with my storms. Tromping around a mountain of old trees in a violent storm? Probably not a good idea and I don’t recommend that you do it. Unless you have to. Then pull your coat up over your head to catch the wind.

How to Get There: Take Highway 1 to Freedom Boulevard, cross over the freeway and drive up Freedom to Hames Road. Drive through the metropolis of Corralitos, which consists of the Corralitos Market and Sausage Factory, and continue straight. Turn left at Browns Valley Road and go until you see the Roses of Yesterday and Today sign, with monarch butterflies on it. Turn left there. The road up to the Land Trust parking lot is approximately a mile after you turn off Browns Valley Road.

Byrne-Milliron Forest Land Trust: a 2.9-mile loop trail near Watsonville, California. Considered a moderately challenging route, it takes maybe 2 hours to complete. This is a popular trail for birding, hiking and walking, but you can still find solitude. The trail is open year-round and is great to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome and may be off leash in some areas.


  1. This was a great review! Very well done and interesting.
    Years ago, I had a great hike at Byrne-Milliron with my then dog. We just took the inside loop, but wound up where you did at the overlook.
    I tried again two years ago and was less successful. The single lane road up there scared me with no turn outs and perhaps a need to back up on the downhill. I also didn’t find the trail signs clear. I had printed out a map, but it was hard to orient. Finally, the parking lot had a lot of signs that were scary about break ins and theft. I didn’t make it very far.
    I so appreciated your review and it inspired me to try it again. I would point out that while I wouldn’t go in a storm, I also wouldn’t recommend going when it’s hot. Too many unsheltered areas.
    Thanks for a great review. If you ever lead a group there, let me know.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

music in the park san jose
Good Times E-edition Good Times E-edition