Sta’yokale is the Salinan name for what is now officially named Junipero Serra Peak, or referred to by old timers as Santa Lucia Peak. Tallest point in Monterey County, it was a holy place for the Salinan tribe that lived at her feet.

I had heard about Indians for years and had wanted to visit. The Ventana Wilderness Alliance Spring Gathering celebrating the adoption of the Milpitas Special Interest Area plan got me there. I learned of the unique cultural heritage of the area and how, by working with VWA and joining the wilderness and cultural preservation forces, they were able to get one of the largest ever special interest areas ever in terms of acreage.

Sta’yokale requires dedication. Its at least a 12 mile trip and some 3,700 feet of elevation gain from the valley floor to the peak.

Near the top is reminiscent of the Sierras, with some of the only sugar pine stands in the Ventanas (others are on Cone Peak).

I hiked up with Mike Splain, ED for VWA and was grateful for it. In many cases (not unusual for the Ventanas) the trail disappeared into knee high brush and you just had to trust it kept going on the other side. Mike was great to hike with as he got stoked on seeing new plants and critters and photographing them for the index they are making for the Special Interest Area. He took me off trail to visit some Harlequin Lupin (we counted 9 species of lupin on the trip). The blue bush lupins smelled wonderful!

There was cell reception up top due to Fort Hunter Ligget and we were able to check in on FB (“Junipero Serra Peak, Local Business”) and call our family folks for mom’s day. We lunched and napped under the big sky clouds before parting ways on the way down.

We clambered up the skeletal remains of the fire tower there and Mike oriented me to so many places I’d been in the Ventanas – it was great to view it from the east side and put it all in perspective.

We parted ways on the hike down so Mike could scout for some Luisia he’d heard was on a spur ridge (he did find it) so I had a sweet, meditative and sunset-light-loved hike down the sacred mountain back to my campspot.

I dove into the chill waters of the upper Arroyo Seco River to wash the dirt away and headed home in the dusk.

The Wagon Cave Plains rolled out in front of me like a scene from the past that was everywhere in California – undulating grand oaked meadows that go on for miles.

Go sometime in the spring, between mosquito and face fly season and dunk the creek, roll in the wildflowers and say hi to those old oaks for me, too.