A hidden jewel
It is privately owned but serves more people
than many public parks. It is an organic farm, a rustic hostel, a
romantic retreat, the oldest multicultural summer camp in Santa
Clara County, a wedding facility, and best of all, at least for me,
a great place to hike. Deep in the Los Altos Hills, this non-profit
farm and wilderness preserve serves 50,000 visitors a year through
environmental education, a multicultural camp that served 1100
campers last summer, a hostel, community-supported agriculture,
day-use hiking, and farm tours.
For most of us, Hidden Villa is simply a nice
place to visit for a few hours. It’s a good site for a family
outing. You can hike, tour the gardens, visit the historic
buildings, see the farm animals, do some bird watching, enjoy a
picnic, or all of the above. There is lots of space—1600 acres of it
and it’s all natural and real.
Hidden Villa is nestled in a large valley. Hikes
take you up to surrounding hills on the east and west, along
riparian corridors, over sunny open meadows, and through dark, shady
forests. You can walk with your children along the gentle grades of
the Creek Trail, climb up the switchbacks of the more challenging
Hostel or Toyon trails to the top of 1200-foot Elephant Mountain, or
climb up 2280 feet on the Black Mountain trek to the biggest peak in
the northern Santa Cruz Mountains.
I began my hike at the first parking area
located just past the entry kiosk in front of a small building used
for meetings called the Dana Center. I followed a path to the left
of the building, and then followed the west branch of the trail
around a large meadow. I photographed some chickens that were
enjoying the sun, then looked behind a colorful wall/blind to find
flocks of wild birds at several feeders. I continued on past a
rather unusual facility for a farm, a nice-sized swimming pool used
for summer camps. I saw the large Mediterranean-style building named
Duveneck House for the original owners, the Education Center,
several barns, some farm animals, and a large organic garden open to
Just past the oldest operating hostel in the
United States, I found the trailhead for the Hostel Trail that would
take me on the 2.3-mile Elephant Mountain Loop.
I was climbing the switchbacks of the
single-track Hostel Trail up to Elephant Mountain when I encountered
my first wildlife—a four-year-old male human in the midst of a
tearful tantrum. His mother was attempting to explain why he
couldn’t take toyon berries, flowers, and other plant material home.
I slid past mother and child without comment, but even after
reaching the summit, I could still hear his cries.
I turned left at the intersection with Toyon
Trail, then right at the 1200-foot summit. Through the fog and haze
(faze?) I could see most of Santa Clara Valley. I was turning right
on Grapevine Trail when I met a solitary hiker. I could tell he was
a serious trekker. He used two walking sticks, wore a desert hat
with a long bill covering his neck, and had the squint of someone
who has spent a lifetime outdoors. At first we shared our
experiences of local hikes, but soon he was talking of treks in
Nepal, Tanzania, and Chile. In fact, in 2009, he is leading treks to
Mt. Kalish near Lhasa (Nepal/Tibet) and 21,300-foot Mera Peak in
Nepal (the tallest walkup peak). In 2010, he is planning a climb up
19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. While these are not
technical climbs requiring ropes and axes, they pose a challenge for
any hiker. One little detail: Warren Storkman is 81 years old.
It was an honor to follow Warren down Grapevine
to Creek Trail. He turned left, I turned right back to the main
building of Hidden Villa. Perhaps we will meet again in Nepal,
Tanzania, or a local open-space park. No matter, he left me with the
hope that even at an advanced age, I can hike for many years.
Take Highway 17 to Highway 85 north. Exit on
Highway 280 north. Exit on El Monte’/Moody Road. Go west to El Monte
Road and Foothill College. Drive past the college entrance. At the
first stop sign, go left on Moody Road. Continue for 1.7 miles.
Watch for the Hidden Villa sign on the left.
The farm is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9
a.m. to dusk. The parking fee is five dollars. For more information,
visit www.hiddenvilla.org, or call 650-949-8650. For more about
Warren’s private treks, email email@example.com, or call