If you make your way through the windy roads of Highway 84 and Skyline Boulevard, you will find yourself at one of the most unique spots on the Peninsula: the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside.
The group holds a Public Sculpture Hike tour on the 583-acre ranch on Sunday mornings every March through November, with up to 20 guests per hike.
I spent the day walking with the group at the end of September. With registration about to open for spring hikes, here's a preview of what to expect, based on my experience.
Windy roads leading to the artist sanctuary, about 11 miles west of central Woodside, off Bear Gulch Road.
Cars converge at the black gate at SMIP Ranch by 9:45 a.m. to meet a docent who leads them onto the property by car.
The tour guide leads the way, pointing out the window to highlight sculptures leading into the main residency area.
Once parked, there's a lesson on the history of the land near the residency studios, the Diane Middlebrook Studios built in 2012, and the Artists' Barn, before heading down the trail.
Dr. Carl Djerassi, a Stanford University professor of chemistry who is credited with inventing the birth control pill, also was a playwright and passionate patron of the arts, according to Djerassi's website.
He purchased the property in the early 1960s, started a cattle farm and built a home, as did his children, Pamela and Dale.
In 1978 when she was 28, Pamela Djerassi, an artist, died by suicide. Soon after, her father visited Italy and thought about how the Medici family had acted as patrons to artists in Renaissance Italy. He decided that extending support to contemporary women artists would be a meaningful way to honor his daughter's memory.
A residency program, now run under a nonprofit, began in 1979, with just one artist and initially just served women. About 2,300 artists have taken part in the program since, according to Djerassi's website. The program has been scaled back since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with a group of six resident artists currently. It previously hosted 11 to 12 artists for month-long residencies.
After that overview, the roughly three-hour, 3-mile hike starts. It features around 40 sculptures (there have been about 170 sculptures created since the inception of the program).
One particularly entertaining part of the trip is the plaques with "state certified facts" by U.K. artist James Chinneck on some of the pieces. They share interesting, but fictitious, tidbits about the "history" of the landscape.
One of the plaques is near an old truck ridden with bullet holes that reads: "Frank faithfully delivered sausages from his store at 974 Howard Street to the loggers in the mountains. One of the loggers, Chuck Malone, had an issue with Frank the Sausage man ... having a love affair with Malone's oldest daughter, Mary-Anne. On November 8, 1937, Chuck Malone fired 13 shots at Frank's sausage van. Tragically for Malone, Frank was not driving the van that day; Mary-Anne was. Upon realizing that he shot and killed his own daughter, Malone turned the gun on himself. Frank never delivered sausage again."
Over time, some of the works become weathered or decompose into the environment, said Djerassi Hike Program Director Danny Goldberg. Goldberg is accompanied on the hikes by a docent, who also answers questions about the art and landscape.
Along the hike, there are views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean and descriptions of the artworks.
The tour also brings visitors to the Old Barn, where there is currently an installation "Eclipse" by Paola Cabal with the names of 116 victims of police violence cut into paper and mounted to the building.
There's a break to eat snacks before finishing off the hike.
Registration for 2023 hikes
Registration for this year's hikes is now open.
Reservations for public hikes are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each person can reserve up to three spots on the paid hikes and two spots on the free hikes.
Public hikes take place every Sunday, at 10 a.m., beginning March 5 through Nov. 26. Tickets for the 12 public hikes each year are free and go quickly. The rest are ticketed events that cost $50 per person.
Bring sunscreen, a liter of water and snacks for the hike. Register at djerassi.org.
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