For those of you who read my blog here instead of that other, more embarrassing URL, I’m adding this post I forgot to put in both places a couple weeks ago:
Joseph D. Grand Ranch County Park is seven miles from me up Mount Hamilton road. The road first snakes along the tops of the hills that edge the valley, climbing higher and higher above the city below until it reaches a pass where it switches to the west side of the hills, climbing up to 1900 feet before descending gently back to 1600 feet as it enters the park. On a crisp Saturday morning with the top down, the first half is a vista of blue skies, waking city and golden grass slowly turning green, the land rising impressively to the left and falling away alarmingly to the right. The second half is a sun-dappled cruise down a country road repleat with family farms and ranches.
The park itself is 9553 acres of undulating hills covered in oak trees and trees of almost every other description. The tops of the hills are sparsely populated with trees, instead covered in ideal grazing pasture. In summer the grass goes dormant under the dryness and heat, and in the winter pokes green shoots up from the ground. The cattle that graze here have worn tiny terraced paths in the hill sides, criss-crossed in places by the paths of the communal ground squirrels between their burrows and followed by the feet of the foxes who search for them. Falcons swoop overhead, searching for squirrels as well. The squirrels are hard to catch by surprise, rarely far from their holes and quick to scurry to them. They are fascinating, quick, curious creatures, and the hillsides are thick with them.
The hills are also alive with tiny green birds too quick and nervous to get a good look at, and tiny budgies that hop around the trails looking for food. Larger birds costantly root through the leafy undergrowth in the valleys, creating a constant rustle of movement from all sides. Stellar’s jays give a raucous call whenever you cross their path.
I hiked a little over eight miles on Saturday, starting out near Grant Lake, the lowest part of the park at 1600 feet, and making my way to the second-highest point in it, at 1950 feet or so. The walk out was a little longer, and wound down through Hall’s Valley before climbing inexorably upward for three miles or more. Near the top there were fewer trees, and more prairie. The sky was so blue cerulean doesn’t really do it justice. Milky white clouds splayed across it, as if to set off the gold grass that covered the hills. I could see for a mile or more in some directions, and I could see no one, just an vast expanse of fall foliage and titanic rolling hills.
When I got to the top I was greeted with a stunning vista; if the day had been clearer, I think I might have seen San Francisco. I could certainly see as far as the south end of the bay; downtown San Jose lurked blue in the background, and the Santa Cruz mountains wafted off, layer after layer, into the south.
I With the help of my camera, I could just see my car in the parking lot, several miles away. For the trip back down, instead of turning back, I took Washburn trail. The park has 52 miles of trail, and because it was a working ranch, the trails are actually drivable dirt roads of varying degrees of impressiveness. Large parts of the Washburn trail, in particular, are wide enough for at least two lanes of traffic with a wide shoulder on either side, and wer obviously carved through the hills with bulldozers and explosives. It is also very, very, very steep, and hard on my knees. I made it back down, though, and walked a mile along Hamilton road back to my car, past a ranch and farm or two along the way.
I got back to my house by before 2PM. It was a way more peaceful way to spend a morning and afternoon even than I’d thought it would be, maybe more than I even thought possible. I feel better now.