A peak experience
Fremont Peak State Park
Neil Wiley

On a sunny day in September, I drove over one hundred miles, climbed a mountain, and went to church.

The drive
It started with a long drive that was more pleasant because it avoided early morning traffic. Instead of fighting the challenging hordes of commuters heading north on Highway 17, I traveled south on San Jose-Soquel Road to south Highway 1, east on Highway 129 (Riverside Drive) and San Juan Road, back north on Highway 101 for 2.6 miles to east Route 156, and then a right turn at The Alameda in San Juan Bautista. (A sign directs you to the Fremont Peak State Park.)

I enjoyed the next eleven miles driving San Juan Canyon Road through a canyon shading a nice road and a series of old ranches. I’m glad I drove slowly, because a large buck jumped within inches of my car’s front bumper.

As I got closer to Fremont Peak, a climb out of the dark canyon brought me up to wide-open vistas of rock-covered mountains and, in summer, golden ridges crossed by dirt roads and firebreaks. Down below I could see the Salinas and San Benito valleys, and in the distance, Monterey Bay blanketed by fog, and the mountains of Diablo, Gavilan, and Santa Lucia ranges. It was pretty impressive.

From the park entrance, I drove almost a mile up to the nicely shaded main parking area where I paid an entrance fee ($6 per vehicle, but only $5 for seniors). Nearby, I saw a Fremont Historical Plaque, a John C. Fremont Historical Monument, and one of 25 oak-shaded campsites, complete with tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.

The mountain
I could have hiked a series of trails that loop around the park, but I opted for the Peak Trail that circles around the south slope of Fremont Peak and up to the summit of 3,169 feet. Until the last 100 yards or so, this is a surprisingly easy walk. The southern end of the loop exposed a wonderful view of mountains and ridges to the south and a giant fog bank to the east. Crossing over a small bridge, I saw a small cave that welcomed exploration. No critters were found, but I saw several lizards basking in the sun.

The trail continued over several easy switchbacks until I reached the eastern side, close to the microwave and broadcast towers. There, the trail got rockier and steeper. One concrete and rock stairway helped a short distance, but as I reached the north side of the peak, the walk became a climb. The distance up was short but I was glad when I reached the top where I could unload my pack and have a long drink of Pellegrino®. I enjoyed perching on a nice, big rock while viewing almost 360 degrees of scenic views.

Although the fog obscured some of the view, it also enhanced the feeling of being on top of the world. It was good.

The fog has another value. The coastal marine layer of clouds masks light from lower elevations, reducing urban light pollution. This has led to astronomy programs featuring a 30-inch-diameter telescope at the park observatory from April through October, on Saturdays without a full moon. Evening programs are scheduled for October 1, 8, and 29, at 8 p.m.

A daytime solar program uses special filters to allow safe viewing of the sun’s surface. The next solar program is scheduled for October 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.fpoa.net.
For more information about park history, camping, and programs, visit Fremont Peak State Park at www.parks.ca.gov.

The church
If you or your children studied California history, you may remember making a model or writing a report about Old Mission San Juan Bautista. Even if you aren’t religious, a self-guided tour of this 200-year-old mission is an interesting walk through history. The largest of the mission churches, San Juan Bautista was founded in 1797. It sits astride the remains of El Camino Real, a road connecting a 600-mile circuit of missions, presidios, and pueblos. A tour guide and brochure, available at the mission’s gift shop, costs $4. Seniors pay $3.

More history
Across the square from the mission are four historic museums managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation—the Plaza Hotel, the Zanetta House/Plaza Hall, the Plaza Stables, and the Castro-Breen Adobe. Other interesting sites include an old blacksmith shop, historic jail, and an early American settler’s cabin. You can follow a self-guided tour or arrange a guided walking tour. For general information and tour reservations, call 831-623-4881.