Our next hike dares to go where no Circle of Trust & Beer hike has ventured: Santa Clara County.
Not all of her valleys are forged from Silicon. Welcome, Trustees, to the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve in the hills above (way above) Stanford University. And welcome to Deer-Palooza. On my scouting hike on the Ides of March, I counted 44 (the hike ended just in time – I can’t count past 45). And mating season isn’t until fall.
GETTING THERE: From I-280 in Los Altos Hills (13 miles south of Highway 92), exit Page Mill Road. Head west on Page Mill for exactly 7 miles – it’s a serpentine, climbing road, so give yourself 20 minutes to cover those 7 miles. The parking lot for Monte Bello Open Space Preserve will be on your left (across the road from Los Trancos Open Space Preserve).
THE HIKE: The open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay is a world apart from the usual Circle of Trust & Beer hikes; it’s predominantly grassland. But what Black Mountain lacks in flora diversity is more than compensated by its abundance of fauna. Here a deer, there a deer, everywhere a deer. More deer than humans. Which, this being nature and all, is how it ought to be.
It wouldn’t be a Circle of Trust & Beer trail description if I didn’t geek out a bit on the history, so here goes: The city of Mountain View was named for its visual relationship with Black Mountain – which is really just the highest peak along Skyline Ridge, which runs the length of the Peninsula before merging with the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Thanks to a generous alum, Stanford University actually owned the land for a few decades -– but Stanford is all about its endowment (okay, most guys are), and sold the 694-acre Black Mountain Ranch at the top of our hike as open space in 1978.
We’ll start this hike at 1,500 feet above sea level, overlooking the source for the Stevens Creek, which flows along the most renowned seismic line in the U.S. -– the San Andreas Fault. Our 1,300-foot ascent to the summit of Black Mountain over 3 miles is so mellow -– much like our Top O’ Tam hike from Pan Toll Ranger Station to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais on Jan. 19 -– that it scarcely feels like you’re climbing for much of the route.
But that might have something to do with the deer, which distract you from the climb with so much regularity that you’ll probably tire of the photographic opportunities. That’s when you’ll get a glimpse of the most endangered of all species: a pay phone … in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it’s in the middle of a small campground – the only one in the entire Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. There’s also an outhouse of uncommon cleanliness, considering the location. Knock first -– the deer have gotten used to modern conveniences, as well.
Now you have an empty bladder for your stroll past the not-so-breathtaking microwave towers that mark the summit. Avert your gaze -– a different summit view lies just ahead, to the right, where a strange outcropping of rocks forms a Black Mountain version of a moonscape. Lots of wildflowers in bloom this time of year, including farewell-to-spring, checkerbloom and the ol’ standard, California poppies. Here we’ll drop our bags and enjoy the fruits our labor -– and actual fruit, if you packed accordingly.
After a respite, it’s back to the campground and on to the most dramatic part of the hike (scenically and vertically) -– the descent through stunning Indian Creek Canyon. If there's a Bay Area loop with more extreme contrasts between the uphill and downhill hikes, I haven't found it.
Twisted, lichen-covered oaks, precariously perched on straight-drop ledges, frame a forest of Douglas Firs below. Following the steep, corkscrewed fire road, we’ll get downhill in a hurry -– you’ll feel it in your quads … and you'll probably thank me that we didn’t ascend via this route (we’ll save that for the Semi-Circle of Trust & Beer).
In no time, we’ll be at the bottom of the canyon and diverting our course to the Stevens Creek Nature Trail, following the creek and fault line through a lush, riparian area for 1.5 miles. To finish up, we’ll climb 300 feet out of the canyon back to the parking lot. Congrats! You just hiked 6 miles and knocked out 1,600 vertical feet in about 3 hours. Now you’re ready for …
The Alpine Inn in Portola Valley (known by the locals as Zott's) is such an institution that it doesn't even bother with a web site. So here's their Yelp page. Lots of outdoor space, lotsa beer, lotsa meat stuffed between bread. I don't know about you, but Monte Bello always puts me in the mood for venison burgers.