A new trail

Blair Ranch

Neil Wiley

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 been.

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.


My hike

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 Ranch.

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.


Getting there

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. Enjoy.


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