Monday, January 31, 2022

Santa Teresa County Park, Santa Clara County Revisited

New Moon

On a strangely cool, overcast Monday, I returned to the Santa Teresa Park near San Jose to finish up some Bay Area Ridge Trail miles. The sky was dappled with what I like to call brain clouds and the Sun was deep in thought way back behind them. On such a winter's day.

I took the Fortini Trail up along a little creek to its intersection with the BART. There was some sort of dam structure and a few cool trees, then I spied some mountain lion tracks, I believe, very clear on the dry, hard surface of the trail right next to the water. I think they were pretty fresh, made by a good-sized cat with wet feet. They were footprints more than tracks. The older, dried tracks made by horseshoes when the trail was muddy give you some idea of size by comparison. Pretty interesting, in my humble opinion.

After I climbed up to the main trail, the rocks and sky took over my attention. There were other hikers, but they were few and far between, all quite friendly and quiet. On one prominent hill, a short trail led to the top where a bench awaited anyone who bothered to notice. Great views there. I was sweating by then and didn't want to get chilled so I only stayed long enough to snap a few photos and say thanks.

Then came the switchbacks, which made a hilly adventure a little less taxing. Just beyond the park boundary fence was a long, elaborate rock wall. Somebody did a lot of work to build that thing. They reminded me of the rock walls I saw in Connecticut on my 2013 northern tier bicycle ride across the U.S. Different rock types, of course, thousands of miles and a continent apart.

After I finished my hike, there was one last odd piece of sky that called to me. It might be a dental x-ray cloud or something, I'm not sure. What I can say for certain is that this hike was fun and engaging and the weather added to its intrigue.

Peace, Love, and Wildcats,


Sunday, January 30, 2022

Mudstone Ranch, Hollister, California

 Waning Crescent Moon

Mudstone Ranch is part of the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, an 850-acre park south of Hollister on the San Andreas Fault. Mudstone is on the North American Plate, with 13 miles of trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. It provides a little bit of a sound barrier between the off-road vehicles and the suburban residential area to the north. The trails and old ranch roads are hilly so it's a good place to work your legs and lungs.

 Yesterday I hiked the Road Runner Trail to its crest, then switchbacked down the Glen Loop Trail to a deep creek drainage and up the other side past the transmission lines before turning around and repeating the course in reverse. Just as I began the hike back to the start, a man and his son cruised by me on their e-bikes. They seemed really nice and happy!

The crest of Road Runner is a good place for a snack.

The creek bed was a little muddy with lots of deer tracks, but no water.

After a rainy December, January has been completely dry and mostly sunny. It seems weird to see wild flowers starting to pop up this early, but I guess everything is out of kilter with the ongoing drought and uncertainty of seasonal changes. Plants and animals must go with the flow.

I got back to the parking lot just as the e-bikers were pulling up as fresh as a a couple of daisies. I made a cheery comment about it being a very good use of a Saturday afternoon and the Dad couldn't help but observe that I was limping. Old enough to be HIS Dad, I briefly considered spanking his backside and calling down fire and brimstone upon his $5,000 bike, but instead I just laughed and said, "No knee replacement for this guy!" (Besides, what the heck is brimstone anyway?). I felt happy and strong and only a little sore. I earned that limp.

Peace, Love, and One Step at a Time,

#2,022 in 2022
January mileage (after tomorrow): 174

Friday, January 28, 2022

Almaden Quicksilver Park Revisited

 Waning Crescent Moon

I went back to this park yesterday to hike the eastern half of the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment from Mockingbird Hill to English Camp. This piece began right at the edge of suburbia with groomed trail, lush green grass, and photogenic mammals. It quickly became quite steep with great views of sprawling, nearby San Jose. Although a little hazy, it was a good day for a healthy workout on the way back up to Mine Hill. 

Much of the upper portion was forested and shady. There were lots of interesting trees as well as outstanding outcrops of serpentinite and cinnabar. Once again, the bicyclists were courteous and there were only a few stray pieces of litter. It might sound funny to you that I even bother to remark about those things, but I'm giving credit where credit is due. Leave No Trace is more than a slogan. It's a lifestyle and a very positive one.

My favorite place on this hike was the San Cristobal Tunnel, which was my turn around spot. This (now closed) tunnel leads to the San Cristobal Mine on Mine Hill and it dates back to 1866. Old mines and tunnels are somewhat mysterious and 100% historically important, not to mention potentially dangerous. For fans of spooky superstitions, it might be fun for you to read a little about tommyknockers!). It's probably a good thing that these places are blocked off from the over-curious, careless, and clumsy among us, but it's also good that we get to peer inside in wonder. Just imagine the work that went into this tunnel's construction.

The hike back to Hondo featured lots of downhill grunting, but I was able to get on the road and beat most of the traffic to once again be safe at home. This month of increased activity away from my own backyard has been fun and rewarding. With only three days left to hike in January, I am on pace to reach my mileage goal for the year (157 miles so far), I have pieced together 60 of the 400 miles of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and I have topped out on 13 of the Nifty Nineties. The BART and the Nifty Nineties will get tougher and tougher to complete because pretty soon I will have hiked all the stuff that is closest to me. Hello, Bay Area traffic jams.

My great friend and geoscience mentor Rob Negrini saw my previous post on the New Almaden area and messaged me about a Wallace Stegner book called Angle of Repose for which Stegner received a Pulitzer Prize in 1972. The book, divided into five parts, covers the history of four generations of an American family as told by a retired historian confined to a wheelchair. Part II is set in New Almaden and is centered around the experiences of a mining engineer named Oliver Ward. Stegner was a master novelist and Stanford professor, whose students included Ken Kesey, Larry McMurtry, and Edward Abbey. Angle of Repose is recommended reading for certain.

Peace, Love, and 2,022 in 2022,

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Castle Rock State Park - Goat Rock Loop

 Waning Crescent Moon

On another perfect, crisp, cloudless day for hiking, I drove up to Castle Rock State Park near Saratoga to hike the Saratoga Gap loop trail and visit Goat Rock, one of the Nifty Nineties. I was also hoping to see a good flow at Castle Rock Falls, which is on the way and part of the loop hike that skirts one of the many ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This park and much of the surrounding area showcase the Oligocene Vaqueros sandstone formation and its signature tafoni. The ridges look like forested waves and the tafoni come in so many varieties of shapes and sizes that they defy the imagination. They can be fist-sized and shallow to cave-sized and deep enough to crawl into. For those folks who are unable to hike the trails here, Indian Rock is a beautiful outcrop right next to Skyline Boulevard. A parking area provides good access. 

Castle Rock Falls is a quick hike from the trailhead, following the loop trail in a clockwise direction. The spring-sourced falls drop dramatically about 80 feet almost straight down in a gorgeous, wooded setting. To prevent most of the daredevil selfie takers from plunging to certain death, the thoughtful park administrators have erected a viewing platform with sturdy metal rails. Judging from the well used trails that descend around the safety platform, lots of nimble shutterbugs risk their lives anyway. What can you do? On this particular day, the flow was just a thin, but steady ribbon of water that gave me a hint of what it might be like in a period of regular rainfall. It was still fun to be there and the sound was captivating. 

The trail along the ridge below Goat Rock is sunny and rocky, a little bit of a challenge for old knees, but not more than I could manage. There were several places where I scrambled in a crouch through tricky sandstone boulders. The rest of it was pretty normal up and down single track. It was good, sweaty fun as the day warmed up and the trail became more exposed. 

Eventually, the trail loops around past the Castle Rock Trail Camp and heads toward Goat Rock through old oak and madrone forest with occasional boulder scrambles and side trails to overlooks named after people whose names I did not recognize. This area is widely known and used by climbers. Perhaps the overlook people were involved in that sport or perhaps they helped acquire the land for the park or perhaps both? 

The trail approaching and leaving Goat Rock is steep and rocky, but fun to hike. I slowed way down for this part, receiving kind smiles and encouragement from youthful hikers carrying ropes and helmets. When asked, I replied, "I am in my 71st year, thank you very much." There were a couple of friendly young bucks sitting atop the rock itself. It looked like a doable hoist from the trail side. The other side was steep and would require skills and flexibility I do not possess. I was happy to be there and to inspect the various routes upwards. I had no problem deciding to move on after a snack and a swig of water. The steepest part of the trail turned into the easiest part due to a set of stairs provided by those busy park people. Thank you so much. 
"I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings, coming down is the hardest thing." - Tom Petty.

It was uphill and less rocky most of the way after that, with lots of beautiful trees and tafoni outcrops. One outcrop had smallish rounded boulders still embedded in the sandstone matrix, giving me a glimpse into how some of  the tafoni may have formed. Some day, slightly acidic rain water (pH ~ 5.5) may soak into the rock and dissolve enough of the calcareous (calcium carbonate) cement holding the sandstone together to allow the boulders to escape their prison, leaving behind a curious depression. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. At least until somebody who is more schooled in sedimentology tells me something different. I ain't proud. 

Overall, this is a great trail to exercise your gluteus maximus, work up a sweat, and ponder the mysteries of Oligocene deposition, compaction, and cementation, plus subsequent tectonic movement along the San Andreas, not to mention the acrobatic hijinks of rubber-jointed, agile rock climbers. What a great way to get to know a little piece of California.

Peace, Love, and Tafoni,


Friday, January 21, 2022

Almaden Quicksilver Park, Santa Clara County, California

 Waning Gibbous Moon

Almaden Quicksilver Park, near the small community of New Almaden in Santa Clara County, on Mutsun Ohlone ancestral lands south of today's San Jose, was once a booming center of mining for cinnabar, the red ore of mercury (aka quicksilver). The study of Earth Science tells us that through the slow grinding of tectonic plates and interaction with hot water beneath Earth's surface (hydrothermal alteration) serpentinite can gradually metamorphose into cinnabar. That's what happened here. After millions of years, this location contained one of the most productive (mineable) cinnabar sites in the world. Today, the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is a terrific resource for both the history and geology of the region.

Casa Grande houses the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum

Mining of the ore was a vital industry from 1847 to about 1870 as the California Gold Rush boomed and mercury was used to extract gold from the ore mined in the Sierra Nevada. Major mining operations ceased in 1912, ending completely in 1976 as the toxic environmental consequences of mercury contamination became better understood. The fish in Guadalupe and Almaden Reservoirs to this day contain harmful amounts of methyl mercury. Catch and release only! 

In the county park, you can still see lots of evidence of excavation and equipment and former settlements, but access to mine entrances and tunnels is blocked for obvious reasons. There are 38 miles of hiking trails, including a stretch of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Yesterday, I hiked six of those miles and added Mine Hill (1,728 feet) and Church Hill (1,450 feet) to my Nifty Ninety scorecard. Horses and mountain bikes are also allowed on the park trails. I found the few bicyclists that I encountered to be courteous and safe, which I greatly appreciate. I saw absolutely zero litter or graffiti on this hike. Bravo!

A lot of the trails are exposed to the direct Sun, but there are occasional tree-lined segments.

A considerable effort has been made to educate and inform users of the park about the land's history and cultural importance. I found the rocks and the old, rusty remains of the furnaces and settlements most interesting. 

The best long view I found was from Church Hill, an easy walk up from the rest stop at English Camp.

The damage that the era of mining and development has done (and continues to do) to plants, animals, soil, and water at New Almaden is irrefutable. The effects on humans are probably greater than we let on. But the efforts at education and the creation and use of this park are positive outcomes. Maybe, just maybe, we are getting smarter and things are getting better.

Peace, Love, and Learning,