Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Mission Santa Cruz/UC Santa Cruz
Trip Date: March 7, 2009
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: March 9, 2009

This Saturday, March 7, at the Mission Santa Cruz/UC Santa Cruz Arboretum field trip, at least ten camera club members and associates drove over the hill to the city of Santa Cruz to go to the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum to see the hummingbirds. (Some of our club members, I suspect, were touring with a local garden club.)

It couldn't have been a more beautiful day and five of the foodies met at Zachary's to start it with a nice breakfast before we drove up to the very beautiful campus of UC Santa Cruz.

It just so happened that Saturday was hummingbird day at the arboretum and a large number of other people were there on the grounds, making it seem like a big event. My trip timing was impeccable, but unintentional! (Did you notice me trying to take credit for something I didn't do?) To tell the truth, without the hummingbird event, the day would have seemed fairly lackluster, but everybody seemed to be having a very good time, so the trip didn't wash out after all.

The collection of plants at the arboretum include a strange mixture of natives and exotics from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. There were some odd looking plants and flowers and the little "hummers" were happily buzzing allover the place. Those who brought their extra long lenses probably got some good pictures of the amazingly colorful little birds. And there were some species of them that we usually don't see in Santa Clara County.

I was counting on Mission Santa Cruz to be more of what it wasn't. Although it is part of the state park system, it is small and relatively uninteresting - unless, of course, you are an aficionado of the California missions. Originally we planned to meet at the mission after breakfast, but the new hummingbird developments at the arboretum caused plans to change. Had we based all the interest of the trip on the mission, we would have all been disappointed.

I'm not saying Mission Santa Cruz is not interesting, there s really not much left of it. All that remains of the original complex is a portion of one of the reconstructed secondary buildings only a couple hundred feet of it. The museum, relative to some of the others, is really a bit of a disappointment, but the structure itself is interesting because you can see behind some of the finished walls and see how it was constructed. Now that I've been to about half of the California missions and one of the ruins in Mexico, I can say that if you've seen one mission museum, then you could probably skip the rest!

In my opinion, Mission San Juan Bautista is one of the better missions to go see because there are quite a few structures from the old town nearby and the landscape around the mission hasn't been completely ruined by development. The gift shop is pretty nice and the courtyard and interior of the sanctuary are beautiful. Plus it's got chickens! If you walk around the old mission village you can see several chickens strutting around engaging in important chicken business crowing, scratching, pecking and cackling. The chickens sort of pulled me back into the time vortex to a place where I could close my eyes and visualize what might have been. You can still see the old dirt path that used to run where El Camino Real did and imagine some of the travelers stopping by for a drink of water or to rest in the shade provided by the mission's roof.

The history of Mission Santa Cruz is more interesting than that of Mission San Juan Bautista, but there is nothing there to put you in contact with the long-buried past definitely no chickens! A replica of the mission chapel sits on the square, but since the original mission was sort of a rambling complex, the replica chapel is small and squat and does little to command the eye. The view inside the sanctuary is lovely, but lacks any of the much better statuary, iconic art and native-painted designs that adorn the sanctuaries of the other missions such as San Luis Obispo, San Juan Bautista etc.

Unfortunately the church probably doesn't want to capitalize on the "Bad Luck Mission" aspect of the history. Natural disasters such as a flood and two devastating earthquakes, not to mention hostile locals and threats by pirates make the history and legends much richer than anything the museum has to offer in its exhibits. Although a demonstration on making acorn mush provided by a very enthusiastic state park employee had a group of us going for a few minutes. In case you are curious, acorn mush tastes like Cream of Wheat! And the term "Cream of Wheat" could pretty much sum up the experience that most visitors have when they visit Mission Santa Cruz. Still, I enjoyed seeing the old houses that surround the mission site, and the view of downtown Santa Cruz from mission hill is very pleasing.

Later my traveling companion and I went down to the good old Boardwalk to clear the taste of the Cream of Wheat off our palettes with some corn dogs and caramel apples on the midway. (Down by the sea, the pirates are plastic, but the atmosphere was much more interesting!)

If you want to go on your own to either location, admission for the arboretum is $5 per person and it is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Hummingbirds should be present most of the year, but the spring blossoms really brings them out. Take a drive around the campus it is spectacular!

The mission opens at 10 a.m. and a donation is suggested. The grounds are very pleasant and suitable for a very nice picnic. Plus the acorn mush is the best in town!

© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs