Archive for October, 2014

Sierra Azul

October 26, 2014

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Sierra Azul open space preserve is said to have 24.4 miles of trail, and hiking all of them generally adds an overhead of 50%, so it was clear that I was not going to do all the trails here in one visit. Two, probably. It was raining — the first rain this season — and wonderful to get out into it. The faded, dusty colours brighten up and the world looks great. And there is no such thing as bad weather, merely inadequate clothing. Not a problem.

I parked at Lexington reservoir and hiked the figure-8 trails (well, I actually hiked a PG-rated 33 set of trails), as well as a 4-mile down and back side trip to Kennedy road parking. Total 19 miles, over 5000 vertical feet. Hard day, but it felt good in the coolth.

Because of the rain, I put my cell phone and car keys into ziploc baggies, and left the real camera at home. So there aren’t many pictures: the GPS receiver has a camera, probably not even as good as the cell phone. These are from the Limekiln quarry, across the canyon as I descended back toward Lexington reservoir at the end of the day.




Jacky and I dined at an Indian restaurant (street food: and indeed we ate on the street), then went to a performance of the SF chamber orchestra at a local church whose pews have been padded in the seat in compliance with the Geneva convention, but still torture the lumbar vertabrae. We lasted until the interval. A good day.

Sunday, 26 October

I had rather intended to do another killer hike today and finish off Sierra Azul, but decided instead to go to Windy Hill and chase broom. I had volunteered to work on the broom along the lower part of Razorback ridge trail. I had already suspected that there was some form of Ur-forest of broom uphill and upwind from the trailside manifestations, and in last Sunday’s visit, I speculated on the location, a clear spot visible in the aerial photographs on Google earth.

Today I thought I would try to reach the hypothetical eye of the broomicane, but I was unable to find a good way to get there. What I did discover is an old power line, possibly inactive: at least one pole had no wires on it. The comparatively open space under it was a hotbed for broom, but unfortunately, also for poison oak. I looked for broom, found a lot, removed a lot, until my enthusiasm waned.


When I got home, I checked the GPS track with Google earth. Today’s work is above. Alpine road goes uphill across the upper right corner of the picture; Rapley trail goes uphill more or less straight down the picture. Damiani creek from lower center to upper right. GPS track in blue, erratic because of unreliable reception in the  woods.

Google earth includes aerial photography archives. The oldest available photos of this area date from 1953. I overlaid today’s GPS track onto it for reference. As we see, there was a patch of open country at the time, where today we find a lot of broom. The 1953 resolution is good enough to show shadows of the trees, so if there was ever a house in the clearing, it was gone by 1953.


I traced the outline of the open space in red and overlaid it onto the 2014 photo. Broom likes to get started in open areas, but it is perfectly capable of spreading into forests, which seems to be what is going on here. It is clear that unless this Ur-forest can be controlled, there will be a rear-guard action along the trail, continuing forever.

Today’s adventures. Check this space to see whether I managed to avoid the poison oak.

Bear creek anvil trails

October 18, 2014

Saturday, 18 Oct 2014

Today I hiked all of the trails at Bear Creek redwoods open space preserve. It claims to have 10.3 miles of trail, so I wasn’t surprised that the day turned out to be 15.3 miles of hiking. This preserve is open by permit only, although I have been here before on volunteer projects. Broom, and the whole preserve is chock full of it. If 7 maids with 7 mops broomed it for half a year, they would stand no chance of sweeping it clear.

Started the day by going uphill, into the redwoods. Pretty nice; and at the top is a Presentation Center. Never heard of it. When I got home, I checked its web site: hosted by a convent (below), its purpose is legal training in the advocacy of social justice. Barf!


Whatever my views of their positions, I have to admit it’s a nice place. Walked through the campus to a trailhead on the far side, and back down into the redwoods.


There are a lot of ruins here; this is where Alma college once was. But this chimney base was far up in the redwoods, well away from the little townlet that used to be here.


A cornish pastie fungus. Looks delicious!


A quiet little pondlet where it would be possible to have lunch. I didn’t; I went on and perched later on a rock at the side of what might be a stream if it ever rains again.

Much of the lower part of the preserve is open grassland, devoid of charm and interest. Just a matter of putting in the time. Met an equestrienne and two other hikers, but mostly had the place to myself. Found three deadfalls; two of them I was able to clear myself; took a photo and reported GPS coordinates of the third for a preserve maintenance visit.

Back to the car early, about 2 — this is a moderate hike, after all. The parking area is shaded by trees above the shore of a pleasant little pond (larger than the pond we see above). As I stepped up to the trees, I flushed a bobcat from the vegetation at the shore. First bobcat I’ve seen for two or three years. My adventure du jour.

Vounteer project, Mt Umunhum

October 11, 2014

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Another volunteer project, this one in the Sierra Azul open space preserve, better known as the home of Mt Umunhum. I have never been to the south part of this preserve, and have not even been in the area for years. Well out of the way, it is. And the upper part is closed to the public, so a special event is the only way to see it close up anyway.

The open space district had its volunteer recognition event up at the tower, but Jacky and I were on a plane to Ireland that day, and missed it. So it is a completely new experience for me.


The old radar tower is a landmark, visible from any number of bay area locations. It was at one time the centerpiece of the Almaden air force base, scanning the skies for signs of attack. The volunteer group included a couple of really knowledgeable people, one of whom was (is?) the project manager for the site cleanup and preparation for public access. The tower was designed to survive a nuclear blast a mile away, and was coated with four layers of material presumably intended to soak up radiation — but it meant a great deal of hazardous material had to be removed, in addition to the usual asbestos and such that was commonly used some years ago.


There was quite the complete little town here. We were told that there were still two of the original remaining structures standing. Eyebrows were raised among the knowledgeable: the tower and what else? The other original structure is the flagpole, at the Y junction just above the housing area on the map above.


The concrete was demolished on the spot, crushed and used to fill the grades. Unpainted wood was chipped on the spot and used as mulch. They say 97% of the material was re-used or recycled. That’s pretty good. Above, we see that they left the tile and the depth markings of the old swimming pool. Swimming pool? Up here? They must have had to haul in water in trucks… good thing the taxpayers were picking up the tab.


 Before and after pictures.


How the cleared and mulched landscape looks now. Quite different from most of the bay area, this is a pine forest. Very Sierra Nevada kind of look, a nice change from the usual scrub oak. Well, there’s scrub oak, too.


Volunteers voluntarily attacking yellow star thistle. As usual, I marched over here to the beat of a different drummer, where I also found at least as much YST as I wanted, all to myself.


After a couple hours of hot, hard work, we had lunch in the shade of the radar tower.


The yellow and black sign says it’s unstable. I asked what was unstable about this mass of solid concrete. Apparently under some extreme kind of earthquake, the whole mountainside could go sliding down. Oh, wait, that’s not the problem: under some extreme kind of earthquake, the building could do something it shouldn’t.


Terrific views in all directions from here, including San Jose in the near ground, and Lick Observatory atop Mt Hamilton on the skyline.



The patch at middle of the picture is called Bald Mountain, for obvious reasons, with a new parking area just to this side, a thousand feet down. It is not yet open to the public, but was open today for the volunteer group.

Fremont Older, St Joseph’s Hill

October 5, 2014

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Yesterday I went to Purisima and spent five hours pulling French broom. Hard work. Jacky’s hiking class went to Wunderlich park.

Today was promised to be a little cooler than yesterday, so I thought I would finish hiking all the trails at Fremont Older, then go to St Joseph’s Hill and hike all the trails there.

Parked on Stevens Canyon road, entered the preserve from the west side. Lots of mountain bikies, hikers, horses. Horses? The place adjoins Garrod Farms, which boards and rents out horses. Not as many dogs as one could imagine, but it may be too hot and too far for the dog-walkers. Steep, hot and sunny, hard work. I heard a couple of mountain bikies trading information about a ranger with a radar gun (15 mph maximum speed). A few minutes later, I saw him. I told him the bikies were swapping information about him. “That’s fine,” said he, “They’re doing my job for me.”

On a previous visit, I had missed a couple of loose ends all the way at the other side of the preserve, so I had to pick them up. One is just a paved back road — moomph! But along its course was a beautiful little shrine. Ok, that makes it worth the while.


Saw two other rangers, talked with both. They really patrol this place heavily! I told one ranger I was thinking of going on to St Joseph’s hill this afternoon; he tried to discourage me.

This preserve has 14.7 miles of trail, and I hiked 11.8 miles here today, 2600 feet of vertical gain. This is my third visit, but clearly, I haven’t been efficient in minimizing redundant trail distance.

Running low on water — I have another full quart bottle in the car, having already drained the quart bottle I took with me, along with a big bikie bottle — when I passed through the picnic area on the way back to the car. There was a drinking fountain, so I refilled my big bikie bottle. Glad I did; I would have been negative by the end of the day without that boost.

It was only noon, so of course I went to St Joseph’s hill. Never been here before. It’s a small preserve, only 4.2 miles of trails (7 miles of hiking to cover them all), but presumably vertical (yes: 1800 vertical feet by the time I had hiked all of them). More hot and dry, alleviated by a bit of a breeze now and then. On the way home much later, the car thermometer read 97 degrees F, so I had an excuse for dragging my ass by the end of the day.


The trail passes under a pair of high-voltage power lines. Highway 17 runs through the valley here, the major route from the bay area to Santa Cruz, and they have taken measures to protect the wires from low-flying aircraft and vice-versa. I suppose news and traffic helicopters would be most at risk.


Jones trail drops down into Los Gatos, where there is a loop called the Flume trail. As expected, it has a very uniform grade, until the very end where it steeply switches back to rejoin Jones trail. Pressurized iron pipe renders flumes obsolete; I think that’s the Los Gatos creek trail down along the pipeline, which looks like a dreadful place to hike. Actually, much of St Joseph’s hill is also pretty unattractive: the trails run right along the property boundary, and the neighbors to the north and east have erected chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

The major higher trails are associated with the monastery: Novitiate trail, but if you were a brother instead of a novice, you could use the Brothers Bypass trail.


Limekiln canyon back into the Sierra Azul range, and a quarry that I didn’t even know existed. To the right, a collapsed hillside, revealing blue rock that may be serpentine. The Limekiln trail runs past its base, so I will get a closer look when I hike that preserve.


Redwoods aren’t the only red wood here. This is a eucalypt!


We have a view out over Lexington dam reservoir, which is so low that the old towns, long inundated by the lake, have re-surfaced. I thought the picture below might in fact be the old town of Alma, but when I zoom further in, it’s clear that these are just rocks.



In terms of the anvil award for patrolling all the trails in the entire open space district, I am down to only three more preserves. They are all down here in the south end of the region, where I have been putting them off until the weather cools. I have a volunteer project next weekend at Mt Umunhum, so it will be a chance to see how the autumn is evolving there.