A new trail
When Santa Clara County Open Space Authority
opened the Blair Ranch preserve south of their Rancho CaŮada del Oro
for a day, I couldnít resist. It was an opportunity to hike a new
trail, see new scenery, and tell you about a place youíve never
In December 2007, the Blair ranching family sold
their 868-acre ranch to a private trust, that in turn sold it to
Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. This was a great purchase
because it added some beautiful grass-covered hills adjacent to the
3,017 acres of the Rancho CaŮada del Oro preserve. Between the two
is Casa Loma Road, a paved trail for the disabled, and a developed
parking area, complete with rail fencing and a restroom. Blair Ranch
also came complete with eight miles of ranch roads, providing an
immediate trail network.
Blair Ranch is close to other parks and
preserves, including Uvas Canyon County Park to the southeast,
Calero Park to the northeast, and Sierra Azul Peninsula Open Space
to the west. The happy result is a view of wild lands in almost
every direction. Together, these nearby protected areas and the
ranch improve the possibilities of building wildlife corridors along
the eastern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. All that and from the
ridges, you can see our very own Loma Prieta and Mt. Umunhum.
It was a cold and foggy morning when I reached
the Blair Ranch trailhead to sign up, but Open Space technician
Megan Chamberlinís happy smile was like sunshine. Not only did she
remember the old man from a hike more than a year ago, it turned out
that she was a mountain neighbor living in Chemeketa Park. She was
the first of many Open Space people (David Tharp, Lark Burkhart, and
several others) who made me feel welcome. While I am a dedicated
solitary hiker, itís nice to know that people like this are around.
I crossed a dry-creek bed, and began a steep
climb up an old ranch road. Grades up to forty percent slowed my
ascent (walking stick recommended), but the cold fog had become my
friend. It kept me cool and provided a little mystery with ghostly
oaks and shrouded hills slowly emerging on the climb.
When I reached the ridge, I found myself above
the fog, looking down on treetops and hilltops. If it hadnít been
for my camera equipment and a pack full of lunch, I would have
thought I was flying. But walking along these ridges for several
miles was pleasure enough. Now I could see Loma Prieta and Mt.
Umunhum. I could also see interesting hills and valleys, trees, and
rocks, and all that other stuff called scenery.
Then came the horses. This was also a special
day for equestrians throughout the South Bay. Posse after posse of
trail riders came trotting by. When I stepped aside to let them
pass, riders would assure me that it was safe. As a person who has
lived with horses, I was more concerned about the riders. Horses,
especially horses on a strange, new trail, can spook over little
things like the click of a camera shutter, a funny-looking hat, or a
bear-like man leaning on a stick. Yes, equestrians and hikers can
share multi-use trails. After all, both share a fear of being run
over by bicycles. Nevertheless, mutual consideration makes hiking
and riding safer. Itís best not to surprise each other.
As I passed through a gate, the trail entered an
area I would call very open space. I could see for miles across a
giant valley and over another ridge. It was spectacular. To make it
even better, I could see the silhouettes of galloping horses
outlined against the sky on the distant ridges.
I sat uphill from the trail, overlooking this
vast open space. I was content, especially after a nice lunch. The
walk back was my favorite kind, downhill at the end of the day. Itís
unworthy of me, but I took extra pleasure in watching hikers sweat
their way uphill in mid-afternoon heat.
The only thing better than an up-and-back hike
is a loop that gives you new views. A new trail through the valley
could provide more choices, and perhaps an easier path to Blair
This is a great hike for equestrians and their
horses. In fact, I thought I saw several horses smile. I think they
love the open spaces, wide trails, and long views. They feel safer,
and so do their riders. Itís also one of those rare trails with good
places to gallop.
The long climb is difficult for unfit hikers,
but meeting the challenge is satisfying, and the views are worth it.
Although Blair Ranch is still closed, it may
open, at least for a special day, in the spring. Every trail rider
should try to make it. Hikers should, too. The open-space people
tell me that the spring flowers are exceptional here.
I was not alone on this trip. Over 140 hikers
and equestrians enjoyed this special day, including Summit riders
Ellen Carter, Henrick Aberg, and Julie Dresti. Bicyclists had a
special day at Blair Ranch in October. If they made it up the first
mile, Iíll bet they enjoyed the trip. If you were one of those
cyclists, let me know about your experience.
Although Blair Ranch may not be open, I
recommend visiting Rancho CaŮada del Oro, especially to hike the
Longwall Canyon and Bald Peaks trails. To get there drive south on
Highway 85 or Blossom Hill to Almaden Expressway, turn right at the
end of Almaden Expressway on Harry, turn left at McKean Road, go
past Calero Reservoir and Calero County Park entrances, then turn
right on Casa Loma. Follow Casa Loma into the preserve parking lot.