If you stop along Summit Road,
across from Burrell School Vineyards, you can see it all--whats good , bad and ugly
about the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although this view site is neither the best nor the worst,
it manages to combine both magnificent beauty and disagreeable ugliness.
Looking north from this site, you see an imposing series of mountains
that create what appears to be an impenetrable wall of high peaks and continuous ridges.
To the left is Mount Thayer at 3483 feet. In the center is Mount Umunhum, second only to
Loma Prieta in height at 3486 feet.
On a dear day, you can see the abandoned five-story radar station that once
"blipped" radios and TVs every few seconds as it scanned Monterey Bay for
hostile invaders and incoming spy planes, ours and theirs. And although the station is
abandoned, except for a caretaker and a ranger, it is still used as a landmark by pilots
entering San Francisco airports flight path. To the right, you can see 2387-foot
Bald Mountain and a ridge that continues all the way to Loma Prieta and Loma Chiquita.
As you look up at this range of mountains, you get a great sense of openness, majesty
and quiet. The whole area appears relatively unchanged by time and man, marked only by the
seasons, turning from green to brown and back to green. And for those of us traveling
along Summit Road, this view brings a touch of serenity to a busy life.
For hikers, bikers and other local explorers, this beauty has a price. Not content
to see these mountains from afar, we want to climb up through Hooker Gulch or Austrian
Gulch, ride across the ridge of the Sierra Azul and look down on Lake Elsman, the Summit
area and Monterey Bay, or look north to see Santa Clara Valley and the bridges across San
Francisco Bay. But most of this area, so easily seen from Summit Road, is virtually
Although Mount Umunhums southern flank and old air force radar station facility
are now owned by Mid-Peninsula Open Space, they are off-limits to hikers. Unfortunately,
the air force left without cleaning up their mess, so the old buildings and hazardous
materials make the area a safety hazard. Also, access to the open space area is disputed
by a major landowner, Mr. McQueen, who zealously guards the many radio transmitters on his
ridge top from would-be trespassers. The property below, including the beautiful Lake
Elsman, is owned by the San Jose Water Company, who also employs a private police force to
keep people out.
So, all we can do is look, not touch. And perhaps that is not such a bad thing,
considering a closer look at our Summit scenic viewpoint.
If you look down instead of up, you see a dramatic shift from majesty and beauty to
unpleasant ugliness. Close to the road, you find all the junk from drive-by litterers and
other folks who use this area as their lunchroom -- beer and soda cans, fast food
wrappers, empty cigarette packs and all the other garbage that is all too pervasive in our
society. Here youll often find truck trailers parked, often for days. And here are
deep ruts, formed by cars and trucks that already left their etched signatures.
As you move farther away from the road, you might expect less ugliness, but you would
be wrong. What was a nice meadow is now a dump. Here is a broken refrigerator; over there
an old clothes washer. And here in the gullies are two cars, smashed and marked by
So is this our choice -- beautiful and restricted or ugly and free? Does
everything have to be fenced and guarded? Or could we enjoy more beauty if we were simply
socially responsible? Tough question; no answer.
In the months to come, well look at other places in our area of the Santa
Cruz Mountains, both the best and the worst. Your suggestions on where to look are
E-mail your suggestions to email@example.com