Night and day
Rancho Cañada del Oro
Back in December 2005, local realtor and
horsewoman Niki Lamb told me about a newly opened parking area and
entrance on Casa Loma Road that provided access to Rancho Cañada del
Oro. Her suggestion led to one of my favorite hikes, which I
reported in our February ’06 issue. It also led to an email from
David Tharp of Santa Clara County’s Open Space Authority (OSA).
Thanks to seeing my hiking stories at www.mnn.net, he invited me to
two events: a night hike and a trail-opening celebration the next
The night hike
Night hikes can be problematic. You need many
things to make it work. You need to assemble the right supplies
(flashlights with a red filter to maintain night vision, tripod and
cable release for your camera because you won’t get much of a
picture without timed-release, a first-aid kit because accidents
happen in the dark, and getting help at night is more difficult, a
map because even if you can’t see in the dark you’ll at least know
where you are in the morning, one or two walking sticks to lean on
when you trip over rocks, a cell phone that may not work but will
make you feel safer, food and water because it may take longer to
get back than you plan, and something warm (jacket, blanket, or a
very good friend).
Our night-hike group had most of these supplies
but didn’t need them. Our leaders, open-space technicians Megan and
Doug, knew the trails so well that they warned us of almost every
little gully and rock. Although I prefer an amble rather than a fast
walk, they kept a pace we could all follow.
You need the right people. Although I enjoy the
solitude of a solo hike, it is less safe at night. At the same time,
you need fellow hikers who can keep together in the dark, walk at
the same pace, are considerate of others (no light in the face, no
loud talking), and are generally pleasant. Our small group was
simpatico and efficient.
You need a suitable trail. Some trails have too
many trip-rocks, cliffs, or other hazards. Others are simply too
boring. Who wants to walk on a long flat trail in darkness? Our
trail up to Bald Peaks took us along riparian corridors, up gradual
slopes, through grasslands and forest, with lots of twists and
turns, to a ridge that promised views of the valley.
You need light. We had the benefit of a full
moon, but when we reached the ridge, someone had turned on the fog,
covering every light below. After carrying a tripod and cameras, I
was mildly disappointed, but it was still a good walk, and I hope to
do it again. Like so many things in life, it isn’t the destination;
it’s the journey.
You need darkness. Although the fog dampened the
ridge-top views, darkness has its own rewards. We saw tiny
glow-worms on the trail. Prosaic trees and rocks became mystical
shapes. And while we saw less, what we saw created a different and
interesting experience. I recommend night hikes.
The next day I joined the celebration of national
trails day and the opening of two new trails at the preserve. OSA
general manager Patrick Congdon welcomed more than fifty people,
including many bicyclists, equestrians, and hikers. The speeches
were short and the picnic lunch was free. I met many nice people,
including Lark Burkhart, public information specialist for OSA.
After the singing of "Happy Trails," the ribbon was cut for the new
Llagas Creek Loop Trail, a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail nearly
one-half-mile long. The trail winds through open grasslands,
complete with deer, hawks, and wild turkeys. Several groups,
including the Open Space Authority, Audubon Society, and Youth
Science Institute, provided information tables.
Another new trail, the Mayfair Ranch Trail, was a
welcome addition. Although still prohibited in the adjacent Calero
County Park, bicyclists can use the new Mayfair Trail for a
challenging off-road experience. Equestrians, especially those using
Calero County Park, can ride over Mayfair as another way to enjoy
the preserve. Hikers are just happy to have another trail. And all
should enjoy the varied terrain, intermittent shade, and ridge-top
Walking the Mayfair Ranch Trail
My walk began on a faint path next to the newly
paved Llagas Creek Trail. After crossing the Casa Loma Road I
reached the trailhead. A series of moderately steep switchbacks took
me up, disclosing views of the large meadow surrounding the Llagas
Creek Trail before curving around to the north side of the mountain.
The trail looked raw and red, and I could see where brush and tree
branches had been cleared, but the north side was shady. The climb
continued at a more gentle grade. After a few more ups and downs
(mostly ups), I reached the top of the ridge.
Here was the reward for the climb. Walking along
a long and wide ridge through large meadows interspersed with shady
forests, and scenic views to the north and south, made for beautiful
I was changing camera lenses to capture the scene
when I heard the approach of two horsewomen. In an amazing
coincidence, one of the riders was Niki Lamb, the person who
introduced me to this preserve in 2005. She and her friend had
ridden over from Calero to try the new route.
I continued west along the trail through a giant
meadow, made a sharp turn northeast down hill to Baldy Ryan Creek,
and then turned right on Longwall Canyon Trail. I passed the
intersection of the new Catamount Trail and on to the Serpentine
Loop Trail, then right on a connector road that took me back across
Casa Loma Road and to the parking lot. Total distance: About four
and one-half miles. Time: A few hours with many stops for
photography, snacks, and loafing.
I recommend this preserve and this hike. It’s
virtually undiscovered. Trails are well-maintained and signage is
good. So burn more carbs, less carbon. Come out and hike in Rancho
Cañada del Oro.
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. Distance from Summit and 17:
about 28 miles. Travel time: approximately 45 minutes.
Eight miles of connected pathways. Staging area
with 24 paved parking spaces, vault toilet, horse trough, and a
gravel lot for 10 horse trailers. No water is available at the
staging area or along the trails. Admission is free.