A few miles south from my camp, up in the foothills of the Gabilan Range, is the St. Francis Retreat, a Franciscan Brothers refuge from the nutso world of 21st century America. Located on 73 acres of prime oak and buckeye forest overlooking San Juan Valley, the facility was once part of Rancho San Justo, a Spanish land grant dating back to the old mission days. The Franciscans purchased these acres for $100,000 in 1947 and converted the existing ranch house into a conference center and housing for the bros. The original house burned down in 2006. Three years later, a new facility was built. I have a love/hate relationship with the place, as I do with most things churchy, but I love the grounds.
Interestingly, the St. Francis Retreat web site describes history in the region as beginning in 1795. The Amah Mutsun branch of the Ohlone people, who lived and loved here for thousands of years prior to the friar, are not even worth a brief mention. Insert frowny face here.
Anyway, that atrocity aside, the retreat grounds are open to the public for hiking and contemplation as long as you check in with the nice office folks and state your peaceable intentions in advance. Rain was forecast starting at noon today, so I went up there this a.m. to explore a little bit before the front came in. This is the love part.
I started my walk at the koi pond near the office parking lot and made my way toward Flint Lake, a small but pretty sag pond along the San Andreas Fault. The fish in the pond are colorful and active, protected from marauding birds and raccoons by tough synthetic nets. The lake is bigger than I remembered it plus it features a very cool bridge leading to a little shrine to Our Lady of Fatima - all good stuff.
The netting keeps the birds out.
Time to reflect.
I have seen the bridge.
Our Lady of Fatima and friend.
A short walk from the shrine is a first-rate gazebo overlooking the valley (see http://gazeebook.blogspot.com), distinguishing this place from all the other run of the mill, gazebo-less Roman Catholic land holdings in California.
For a better view, check out The Gazeebook!
In front of the gazebo is another fine place to take in a long view.
Having bagged yet another gazebo, I continued walking on the Brothers' Trail toward Ofelia Road, where I was treated (and re-treated) with animal sightings: a rafter of wild turkeys and a small herd of whitetail deer. The turkeys were cautious but not skittish. The deer were both skittish and cautious.
As long as I stood still, the turkeys just slowly made their way toward the trees.
These guys bolted in a matter of seconds.
Up on Ofelia Road, I found a cabin named after Leo of Assisi, the "favorite disciple, secretary, and confessor" of St. Francis. Brother Leo died in Assisi, Italy in 1270 A.D.
Brother Leo's Cabin.
The rest of the hike was on The Loop, winding through the oak and buckeye forest around the edge of the property back to the parking lot. Some nice gentle climbs made my heart beat a little faster and stole my breath away as the rain started to arrive. I made it back to the truck with just the beginnings of a wet jacket. This was an hour and fifteen minutes well spent on the first Wednesday of the year.
The Loop Trail in winter.
Some kind of mushroom.
Nearing the end of The Loop.
Peace, Love, and Well Being,