Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Watsonville, California - Pinto Lake County Park

 Waning Gibbous Moon

Ancestral lands of the Ohlone Kalentaruk people

Yesterday I took a little journey to another nearby park that I had never visited before. Pinto Lake County Park is situated in the agricultural lands northeast of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County. It has the appearance of an older facility, with weathered wooden pavilions and restrooms and infrequent signs. But there are groomed soccer fields, a few miles of walking paths, and an 18-hole disc gold course, too, as well as Pinto Lake, of course. I didn't know what to expect really, but I decided to go just to see something new (to me). 

I forgot to take a picture of the park's sign. This photo is from Google.

I have been spoiled lately by Santa Clara County parks that have neat and clean kiosks with shiny detailed maps of their hiking trails and facilities. Nothing like that was to be found, so I followed my nose around the soccer field to spy what I took to be a trailhead. It was actually one of the last holes of the disc golf course, but a small, faded sign said golfers shared the trail with hikers, so off I went. The golf course looked pretty challenging to me, an admitted novice and infrequent player. I think it would be a fun course to try. The trails that I followed were clean single tracks through the woods above the various "fingers" of Pinto Lake. They covered less than three miles total, but nonetheless, it was a pleasant, if short hike. After winding through the trees, I found a connector trail that led me down to a wooden walkway next to the water. 

There were a few different kinds of wildflowers and some very shiny ivy growing along the shady trails. There was no trash. I could see what I guessed were fisherman's or fisherwoman's narrow side trails that plunged steeply toward the water. It appeared to be poison oak central and I wasn't interested in that, so I stayed on the main paths.

The walkway over the water seemed to be a popular fishing spot for non-fans of poison oak. Two guys were plopping surface lures into the water as I passed by. I can't imagine what they were trying to catch. They answered my standard fisherman question ("ketchin' inny?")  with a very resigned and simple "nope." A small boat with a silent trolling motor and two middle aged dudes were not ketchin' inny either, but they were having fun being followed by two begging ducks. The dudes stopped and fed the ducks some pork rinds. Watsonville ducks love them some pork rinds, don'tcha know.

At the end of the boardwalk the trail made a U-turn and climbed up a little ways directly to a most colorful and decorative surprise. I had stumbled into a shaded flower-and-candle laden shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe. Little did I know that this humble outdoor chapel has been featured on CNN and visited by thousands of people from all over creation. 

As the story goes, a woman named Anita Contreras was walking along by herself next to the lake one day in 1992. She was feeling deeply sad and despondent due to a failed marriage at the time, when lo and behold, she looked up and saw the likeness of the Virgin Maria looking down on her from the bark of an oak tree. A devout Catholic, Anita took this as a sign and a blessing. She pledged to build and maintain a shrine at that spot and to share it with other people in need of solace. She did exactly that, caring for the place for more than twenty years before she passed on. Now others have taken her place and Mass is celebrated there by local priests for the faithful on most Saturdays and Sundays. 

A happy, toothless gentlemen about my age, originally from Mexico, was there yesterday, tending to the flowers and candles. I didn't catch his first name, but he said his last name was Figueroa and he claimed to be a descendant of the famous General Jose Figueroa (governor of Alta California from 1833 to 1835), for whom Figueroa Street in Los Angeles was named. Senor Figueroa worked in vineyards from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa in his lifetime, slowly learning English and helping to raise a large family. A nicer man you have never met.

I didn't know Anita's legend before yesterday, so I didn't look for the image in any of the trees close to the shrine. Is it still there? Is it visible to ornery pagans like me? I'll go back and check one of these days. One thing for sure is that Senora Anita saw something there that changed her life for the better and however it happened, that's okay by me.

On my way back on the loop trail, I saw a sculpture of sorts. There were no signs or happy, holy attendants, but I guessed that the turtle represents Turtle Island, what is called North America today, with little symbols of some of the continents animals on its back. A biggo turtle sculpture may not be as sensational as a virgin birth, etc. etc., but hey, this is pretty cool, too.

Peace, Love, and Comfort

#2,022 in 2022

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