Vounteer project, Mt Umunhum

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 Before and after pictures.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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