The perfect hike is, of course, an impossibility.
It requires so many things to be just right. To begin with, the
weather has to be perfect, as it was in January. After weeks of cold
and rain, a day of warm sunshine helps you remember why you live in
California, a day so perfect you want it to go on forever.
The day I hiked Rancho Cañada del Oro was such a
day. The brisk morning air made for good brisk walking. The
Serpentine Loop Trail followed the twists and turns of winter
rain-filled and turbulent Baldy Ryan Creek. The trail was level,
wide, and easy—a good way to start a walk through a gentle landscape
of creekside meadows and light forest. A heron kept me company,
flying only far enough to maintain a safe distance.
Just when I had enough of easy walking, I entered
Longwall Canyon Trail. It took me up 900 feet, but the climb was not
difficult. As I gained altitude, the roar of the creek softened, and
the trail itself was softened by new, light green winter grass. As I
rounded bend after bend, the world grew quieter still, and I felt
the solo hiker’s paradoxical feeling—the excitement of exploration
and new experiences blended with the comfort of solitude. The canyon
walls, trees, and grass were beautiful, and each turn provided
changes in the landscape and a variety of plant life.
After walking through forest, I emerged on the
open slopes of Bald Peaks Trail. Here was a different world of
sensuous, rounded hills and long views, sometimes to the north and
east toward Calero Reservoir, Mt. Hamilton, and Silicon Valley but
more often south and west toward the ridge lines of our Loma Prieta
and Mt. Umunhum. These were "Ah" moments. I didn’t need an
observation deck, table, or chair. I laid down on the short, green
carpet of grass next to the trail, and soaked up the view, the sun,
and the joy of living, which included eating lunch.
The trail continued along the ridge line,
climbing another 97 feet in elevation, then over ups and downs and
around gentle curves. A coyote on the next hill scampered away as I
got closer. Then I was startled by a herd of deer coming upslope and
across the trail in front of me. They may eat our flowers, but there
are few living things more graceful than running, leaping deer.
I passed the shortcut down to Serpentine Trail,
continuing on around the longer loop. It was a good choice. The
trail narrowed down to a grassy footpath, winding downhill through
increasingly deep forest. It was here that I flushed the largest
flock of wild turkeys that I’ve ever seen. I was a little nervous
because I once met a French bicyclist in Monte Bello who was
attacked by turkeys. Being turkeys, however, they weren’t too
bright. Some were roosting safely in trees but fluttered down to the
ground where I could have easily caught them. Perhaps they knew that
I had eaten too much turkey at Christmas. I also saw several hawks
As I neared the valley floor, I saw the remnants
of an old orchard and a little stream feeding into the larger and
noisier Baldy Ryan Creek. I crossed a funky little bridge and out
into a large meadow. In a few minutes, I was back in the parking
lot, completing my 8.8-mile perfect hike.
This hike was especially perfect because the
trails are fresh and lightly used. In December, the Santa Clara
County Open Space Authority opened a parking area and entrance on
Casa Loma Road, providing access to Rancho Cañada del Oro trails.
Before the new entrance, it took a seven-mile hike through Calero
Park to reach them. (Our thanks to mountain realtor and horsewoman
Niki Lamb for telling us about the new entrance to this 3,017-acre
preserve in a letter published in last month’s
Drive south on Highway 85 or Blossom Hill to
Almaden Expressway, turn right at the end of Almaden Expressway on
Harry, turn left at McKean Road, go past Calero Reservoir and Calero
County Park entrances, then turn right on Casa Loma. Follow Casa
Loma into the preserve parking lot.
At the trail head, take the main trail, and turn
left on Serpentine Trail to Longwall Canyon Trail, then continue on
Bald Peak Trail, and pass the Serpentine Trail shortcut to continue
the loop. (This eliminates backtracking and makes for a better
While perfect for equestrians and hikers, the
preserve is off-limits to bicyclists and dogs. For more information,
call the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority at 408-224-7426, or