Great views of the Santa Cruz Mountains
Neil Wiley

Some of the best experiences in life (and hiking) come from the unexpected. I didnít have high hopes for El Sereno Open Space Preserve. After all, itís too easy to get toójust a short three-mile drive up Montevina Road. I had never heard much about it. And, when I looked at the map, all I saw was one entrance, very limited parking and one long trail, with no loops. (Like most hikers, I donít like backtracking over the same trail.)

Now it can be told. I was wrong again. El Sereno is another secret place in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an interesting open space preserve with the best panoramic views that Iíve seen in our areaómore interesting, more varied, more exhilarating scenery than Sierra Azul, Mt. Umunhum or Castle Rock.

Even before you hike, the drive up Montevina is interesting. As you go up the mountain, the road is wider, the homes larger, the gates higher and the views more spacious.

By the time I got to the end of the road, I was anxious to get out of the car and see more. Unfortunately, what Midpen Open Space calls roadside parking is only slightly wider than the road itself. I didnít actually park; I simply abandoned my old Corvette near the gate.

But not to worry. As I walked along the ridgeline at about 2600 feet, I first viewed Lyndon Canyon and the Black Road area, then looked down to see the large estates along Montevina Road. Walking a little farther, my view opened to the east, revealing the southern Santa Cruz Mountain rangeóSt. Josephís Hill, El Sombroso, Mount Thayer, Mount Umunhum and Loma Prietaólooming large over wave after wave of smaller mountains in various shades of misty blue-gray. Itís a big, wide, beautiful view that alone is worth the walk.

But thereís more. As the trail curves around the mountain, your view changes again. Now you can see all of Silicon Valley, southeast to Mount Hamilton, and northeast to East Bay and Mount Diablo. I like the view even more than from Skyline.

In spite of the great vistas, El Sereno doesnít seem as steep as most mountains. Although the four-mile trail to the east drops from 2400 to 1200 feet, the trail follows many turns and switchbacks down a relatively mild slope, with many flat terraces. It is almost garden-like, except the plants are chaparral and toyon.

They arenít kidding when they call El Sereno open space. I saw only one person all day. Most of the preserve has a feeling of high desert emptiness but with more exciting views. And when all this openness is too much, a few groves of trees provide welcome shade.

As the trail turned north, the toy town of Los Gatos got bigger and bigger. By the time I reached gate ES02, it seemed easier to walk down Sheldon to Overlook and finally down West Main Street to the park. Then I reached into my pack for this hikerís favorite tool, my cell phone, and called my wife for a shuttle back to my car on Montevina.

There are other El Sereno trails Iíd like to try. You can hike through the 1083-acre preserve to Bohlman Road or Linda Vista Avenue. Unfortunately, there is no parking at any gate, except for the laughably small roadside space on Montevina.

But if you like your scenery big, you can hike, bike or ride your horse through El Sereno. But donít tell anybody. This is another secret place in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


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