Eric Morgan recalls guiding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar through the pastoral hills outside Fort Ord in Monterey, California. To the west, the maritime chaparral unfurled for miles beneath their feet before giving way to a peninsula, where the land crawls under the Pacific and great whites swim offshore.
“He kept calling the place a crown jewel,” says Morgan, the project manager of habitat restoration at Fort Ord, which is under BLM jurisdiction.
Secretary Salazar is only the most recent "somebody" to pass through Fort Ord. In 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza slept beneath the hills on his journey from Tubac (now Tucson) to San Francisco, where he established the Presidio. John Steinbeck called the nearby Gabilan Range “beckoning mountains with brown grass love.” (Their westerly counterparts, the Santa Lucia’s, he said, were “brooding — unfriendly and dangerous”). And from 1917 to 1994, the fort served as a military base. Unexploded shells still lurk behind Keep Out signs.
The fort is as worthy of exploration as it is rich in history. Hikers can search for threatened California tiger salamanders — amphibians known to slink through vernal pools and co-opt rodent burrows — and view Toro Manzanita, a fuzzy plant with 90 percent of its range on Fort Ord lands. Each year, 100,000 people travel Fort Ord’s 86 miles of trails, and half of them ride mountain bikes. Some say it’s the choice single-track on the Monterey Peninsula.