Sunny trails through history.
Almaden Quicksilver County Park
If you could fly over Mt. Umunhum, you could be
in this park within a few minutes. It’s located in the New Almaden
area between Almaden and Hicks roads.
Almaden Quicksilver’s predominantly south-facing
slopes, few trees, and wide road trails over relatively easy grades
make this county park a good choice for a hike or ride on a sunny
winter day. Although I’m neither a bike rider nor horseman, this
park seems ideally suited for riding. Of the 33 miles of trails, 25
are open to horses, 10 to bicycles.
The three main park entrances are open to
bicyclists and equestrians. The newest entrance (Hicks/Wood Road
entry) offers easy trailer unloading with plenty of space and no
backing required. Several points of interest along the trails have
tie-up rails and bike racks. The park also offers picnic tables at
several locations throughout the park, a much-appreciated feature
that is all too rare in state parks and open space areas.
The park is somewhat less desirable for hikers.
The main multi-use trails are wide, rocky, and long. The
south-facing slopes have little shade. Although not a problem in the
winter, some of the uphill walks could be brutal on a hot July day.
Walking from the Hacienda entry to the northwest end of the park is
6.5 miles one way. Although you can leave a second car at the McAbee
Road park entrance, it has only on-street parking.
Almaden Quicksilver has a long and interesting
history, but little remains visible. To get the most out of your
hike, I recommend reading about its history on the county parks
and visiting the Casa Grande Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum on
Almaden Road near the Hacienda park entrance. With this background,
you’ll better appreciate what is left to see—a few interpretative
signs and decaying structures.
A brief history
The Ohlone Indians used the red ore of mercury
known as cinnabar for face painting even though many were sickened
by mercury poisoning. In 1845, the Indians showed Andres Castillero
the source of red ore, but the war between Mexico and the United
States blocked his development of the area. The Barron, Forbes
Company took over the property and set up the Hacienda de
Beneficio, (reduction works) for the New Almaden Mines, named
after the Almaden Mines of Spain. Thus began the history of the
first and richest mine in California. By 1854, thirteen furnaces
were in continuous operation. Workers built a settlement which
became Spanishtown. Down below, the mine manager built a home, Casa
Grande, which is now the Quicksilver Museum.
A twelve-year battle resulted in the forced sale
by Barron, Forbes Company of the 8,580 acres for $1.75 million to
the Quicksilver Mining Company in 1864. The new company built a
company store, schoolhouse, and a tramway system. By the end of the
Civil War, there were 700 buildings and 1800 people on the hill.
Cornish miners built a new settlement—Englishtown. The town included
a school, boarding house, community center, and a church. Although
the mines produced millions of dollars worth of quicksilver, mine
operations at Mine Hill closed in 1912.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps
occupied what had been Englishtown. They built fire roads and
lookout towers. You can see a CCC monument on Mine Hill.
Many small operators mined and processed mercury.
A 100-ton rotary furnace was built below Spanishtown. By the 1970s,
lower mercury prices and increased awareness of mercury dangers
Santa Clara County acquired some of the property
in 1973, more in 1975, and still more since 1976.
What’s left to see? Not much. You can see the
remains of a reduction plant, a powder house, a small railroad
trestle, the CCC memorial, a few abandoned structures, and some mine
openings and tunnels. But if you know the history, your imagination
can see hundreds of miners and their families investing their lives
in mining and processing mercury. And you can wonder about the
temporary nature of work, money, and life itself.
I started at the museum. In addition to seeing
some historical artifacts, I got some good advice from a park
ranger. He suggested that I begin my hike at the new Hicks/Wood Road
entrance. My guide books didn’t cover this entrance because the
trail from Hicks is relatively new. Although this trail appears a
bit longer, it isn’t as steep as the Hacienda entry near the museum.
I also enjoyed the drive around the southeast side of the park,
especially along the Almaden Reservoir. The hike along the Wood Road
trail offered easy walking with good views of Mt. Umunhum, Loma
Prieta, and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve.
A 1.3 mile walk took me to the first historical
site—the remains of a giant processing plant. I then walked up a
short but steep hill to the Castillero Trail, the beginning of a
loop around the major historical sites. A left turn and 6/10 of a
mile took me to Bull Run, a view site complete with picnic bench and
some great views of Sierra Azul. After a lunch of sausage, almonds,
and a Pink Lady apple, I took a sharp right on Mine Hill Trail. I
passed a short trail to San Cristobal Mine, missing an opportunity
to photograph the mine entrance, but continued on to the April Trail
Loop. The loop took me by a restored powder house and an unrestored
railroad trestle. I continued on Mine Hill to the CCC camp and the
English Camp. I completed the loop and returned on Wood Road to the
car. The total trip was about six miles.
With a total of 33 miles of trail running over
3,997 acres, I barely scratched the surface of this park. Next time,
I’d like to park at the McAbee Road entrance and visit the Senador
mines, then follow the Guadalupe Trail above Guadalupe Reservoir,
and finally complete the loop on the New Almaden trail. (If you have
walked any of these trails or have other favorite walks in Almaden
Quicksilver, let me know.)
To reach the museum and main Hacienda entrance,
take Almaden Expressway southeast, then turn right on Almaden Road.
To reach the Hicks/Wood roads entrance, you can continue on Almaden
Road, then turn left on Hicks past the Almaden Reservoir. Or you can
get to this same entrance from the northwest via Camden Avenue to
Hicks past the Guadalupe Reservoir. The McAbee entrance on McAbee
Road is further along off Camden.
Two other entrances are available on the northern
side of the park. The Webb Canyon entry isn’t recommended (no
parking), but the Mockingbird Hill entry off Almaden Road at
Mockingbird Hill Lane has parking, parkbenches, and restrooms. For
more information and a map, visit the Santa Clara parks website
call 408-266-3883, or visit the Quicksilver Museum, open Fridays,
Saturdays, and Sundays. And if you go, bring a map, food, and water.
These trails are long and dry.