Over 15 million years old and standing 500 feet at their tallest, the Moon Rocks are located in the Bonny Doon ecological preserve above the small town of Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz. The reserve is located in an area that was once privately owned until it was bought by the Nature Conservancy in 1989 and is now managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.
The preserve contains some rare and interesting plants such as the Santa Cruz cypress, rhododendron rose bay, Bonny Doon manzanita/silver-leaf manzanita, bear grass and the coast range ponderosa pine. There is also the Kincaid’s bee, which is solitary, unlike most bees. However, the most interesting part of the Bonny Doon ecological preserve are the rocks.
The Moon Rocks are comprised of Santa Margarita Sandstone, a type of sandstone that covers a small portion of Santa Cruz County and is not found anywhere else in the world. Sandstone retains heat and has a low reflectivity; the rocks soak up heat from the sun all day — similar to how concrete stays warm for a bit after the sun goes down. When hikers arrive at the rocks, they are greeted with heat, quickly dissipating the cool air that is common in the Santa Cruz area.
Most locals will suggest you to go to Moon Rocks at night to avoid the heat of the rocks. The cool ocean meeting the mountain Santa Cruz air is lovely, but if you have been at the beach all day and are ready for an adventure, Moon Rocks is perfect for after dinner or a picnic on the beach that stretches along Highway One. The terrain is mostly flat with a few slight inclines, so it is pretty accessible for people who do not usually hike. The sun soaked rocks are a perfect contrast to the cool air. The area was ravaged by a fire in 2008 and most of the ecological preserve is still repairing itself from the fire, with large amounts of gray ash everywhere — so you won’t miss out on too much of a view if you go at night.
Here are a few tips for hiking the four mile trail. One: Stay on the trail! It sounds simple, but the trail is made up of thick and gritty sand surrounded by burnt brush and the slowly regrowing flora of the reserve. So a trail made up of rather sparse details can make it easy to wander off the path. There are houses with rather large yards nearby. With the fluidity of the ground, a hiker may think that they are on track until suddenly they are in someone’s backyard.
Two: head up Highway One before sundown; with parking for the trail just across the street, try to park before sunset because parking afterwards is generally not allowed. (Cars likely won’t be reported if they are there after sunset, especially if parked earlier — just be sure to leave at a reasonable time!)