Walking above water
Lexington Reservoir and Park
Neil Wiley

If you want to see something positive from record winter rains, visit Lexington Reservoir. Six-point-five billion gallons of water look much better when they are safely behind a dam. Named for the town of Lexington drowned by the reservoir in 1952, this artificial lake is 2.5 miles long, 475 acres big, and as much as 150 feet deep. The water is released into Los Gatos Creek where it percolates down to underground aquifers, the source of the valley’s groundwater.

After the rains, the reservoir is full, but a few years ago, it was emptied to make infrastructure improvements. Marlene and I walked through the almost dry bottom of the reservoir to see the remains of the towns of Lexington and Alma. As we approached the south shore, we decided to take a shortcut across a small stream.

A few steps later, Marlene sank up to her waist in mud. I hoped that the circling CalFire helicopter would save her, but it flew away. As a good husband, I sacrificed my clothes to the mud, lying flat to drag her to dry land. As we walked miles back to our car, the mud dried to create “mudman” and “mudwife.” We laughed all the way home.

Swimmers are not allowed, but fishing and registered non-gas-powered boating are okay. In the early morning, you often see the crews of the Los Gatos and Santa Clara University rowing clubs practicing. They are headquartered at Banjo Point.
In addition to many fishermen, the reservoir attracts fish-eating birds, including eagles, herons, and egrets. It’s also home to the locally famous beaver colony.

Visitors often stop at various places around the reservoir, but official parking areas on Alma Bridge Road are located at the boat launch ramp, 0.3 miles from the dam, Banjo Point, and the Miller Point day use area (1.3 miles from the dam). Hikers walking the Jones Trail or the Saint Joseph’s Hill Open Space Preserve will find the first parking area the most convenient. For those using Priest Rock Trail to link up with Limekiln Trail or Sierra Azul Open Space, use the public parking lot at Banjo Point. It’s a short walk to the left up Alma Bridge Road to the Priest Rock trailhead.

Although several short trails meander along the reservoir, the Priest Rock/Limekiln loop is a more challenging and interesting hiking experience.

The Priest Rock Trail takes you uphill, first up a gradual slope through the Lexington County Park and then up steeper switchbacks in Sierra Azul. As you go higher, the trail gets wider and the views more open. On a winter day, the sun feels good, but in summer the open exposure is less comfortable. In either case, be sure to bring water. The climb will make you thirsty but is rewarded by views of the reservoir, old eucalyptus trees, a few mountain-top mansions, and the surrounding hills. On your way up, the trail meanders under giant electric transmission towers.
When you reach the ridge, the trail gets redder and wider. The view broadens to disclose a Mars-like, virtually treeless plateau. It’s a visit to another world.

At an intersection of three trails, you take the left branch downhill on Limekiln Trail. The other trails would take you deeper into the Sierra Azul. The trail to the right takes you to Woods Trail and Mt. Umunhum, (The Mt. Umunhum summit opening is scheduled for this summer.) The other trail goes to the Kennedy Trail and the Kennedy Road trailhead.

Traveling down Limekiln Trail, you soon enter deep shade that continues most of the way to Alma Bridge Road. It’s darker and quieter than Priest Rock unless the Lexington Quarry is busy. Even then, trees and distance shield you from noise.

You look down on a more natural element, Limekiln Creek, roaring and foaming in spring, as it heads down to the reservoir. It’s a pleasant walk. A rocky surface protects the trail from erosion but also dings the bottom of your feet. You’ll be happier wearing thick-soled hiking boots.

When you reach Alma Bridge Road, it’s a short walk back to the Banjo Point parking lot. On the way, you’ll find a bench with a view where you can contemplate your trip as you look over Lexington Reservoir.