Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve is a relatively large and
very
popular park just off I-280 near Cupertino and Sunnyvale. The highpoint of the park is called Black Mountain and it is the high point of a major spur off the main crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains called Monte Bello Ridge. This peak has been on my radar for quite a while due to its prominence of over 700 feet and its visibility from most of the south  and east bay. It's also on the Everest by the Bay San Francisco Area Peaks list- a list that I may actually compete (only two more)!

Due to the popularity of Rancho San Antonio OSP, I knew that an early start was obligatory for this hike. I went online and found one source that said the OSP opens 30 minutes before sunrise- another source said it opens at sunrise. I decided to go with an arrival at sunrise. What a mistake! My primary parking goal (of the 6 large parking lots) was already full. My secondary parking area was also full. Lines of cars kept pouring in! I finally found a open slot near the RC airplane field. As I hiked the extra quarter mile to the trailhead, I saw plenty of cars driving around looking for parking that was likely not there anymore. Geez! This park might be a little too popular for my blood.

The trailhead kiosk was surrounded by hikers in various garb depending on what their chosen activity was for the day. Trail runners (there were a lot of them) in shorts carrying minimum gear. Hikers (such as myself) with small day packs and possibly trekking poles. It was a circus.

The one thing that I would liked to have seen there was a restroom. Alas, the nearest one was about 5 parking areas away. I resolved to find a spot off the trail when the crowds thinned out. Easier said than done I was to find.

The crowds were indeed thick as I started out on the trail. Noisy, too. Most people were talking to each other about their phones as they passed me on the wide trail. Really? In this scenically beautiful semi-wilderness all you can think about are your phones? …sorry about the rant. I had to pee really bad and every time there was a possible spot where I could go to off the trail, I would suddenly be surrounded by hordes of people- talking about their... PHONES! ARGH! (Okay, ranting again... sorry.)

The crowds finally thinned out just a bit so I could duck off the trail where a use trail led to a spot down a litter covered hill immediately below one of the high tension towers. I returned to the trail in a much better mood, but I was still kind of put off by the endless lines of hikers. Every time I passed a trail junction, I hoped that most people would be leaving my trail (I was following the PG&E Trail), but, alas, such was not the case.

I tried to focus on the view and the plethora of photo opportunities. In spite of the crowds, this was a lovely region. I'd pretty much given up saying, “Hi” to the people I encountered going the other direction. Most looked at me with puzzled expressions or simply ignored me altogether. Now and then someone would initiate with a “Hello” or a “Good Morning” and I enthusiastically returned the greeting usually somewhat surprised. Manners and courtesy in the 21st century? More often than not, the people who initiated or returned greetings would turn out to be other old-timers such as your humble writer.

I finally reached Vista Point which is a three way junction. In addition to the PG&E Trail upon which I'd arrived from the east, the Upper High Meadow Trail arrives from the north via a long ridge top that  climbs gradually from the park headquarters area. This seemed like a good alternative to what I'd already hiked, so I spontaneously decided to return to the truck that way after returning here from my side trip to Black Mountain via the Quarry Trail- the third trail at this junction. This latter trail leaves Vista Point toward the south to eventually connect with the main Black Mountain Trail after a mile.

I briefly enjoyed expansive views of the south Bay Area from Vista Point before setting off on the Quarry Trail for the four mile round trip to the summit of Black Mountain. There were far fewer people on this trail and it occurred to me that most of the people I encountered along the PG&E Trail were hiking the 9 or 10 mile PG&E / High Meadow Trail loop. Only a very few were interested in the Black Mountain side trip. Good.

The Quarry trail is an easement through private property owned by the LeHigh Southwest Cement company where the massive Permanente Quarry resides. The trail in most places is actually a slot running between shoulder high stands of almost impenetrable chaparral. Probably a good way to discourage trespassing off the trail. There were places where the brush was low enough to provide some views of the Bay Area, the quarry itself, and the first views of my main goal.

After only about a mile, the Quarry Trail meets the main Black Mountain Trail which is the main route to the top from the east. There were very few hikers on this other trail, not surprisingly, due to the very limited parking at that trailhead. The views really began to open up as trail climbs south toward the top of Black Mountain. A small saddle is passed before a final steep climb to the com towers near the top.

The satellite view shows the summit near the com towers, but it is actually further east across Monte Bello Road on a grassy knoll with numerous rock outcrops. Views were limited- especially to the east by the sheer broadness of the summit area and by the trees and shrubs in that direction. There was very little haze and the air was quite clear. Where there were no obstructions, the views were very nice, indeed and I took several pictures looking north, west, east and south. There were small collections of people on top- many of whom arrived by cycling along Monte Bello Road.

I spent about 15 or 20 minutes at the summit before I began the long journey back to the truck. After retracing the trail back to Vista Point, I made good on my resolution to follow the Upper High Meadow Trail back down to the parking areas. This turned out to be a good decision for the most part. The first several miles follows the crest of a ridge that runs north of and roughly parallel to the PG&E Trail that I used on my ascent.

The views on the open ridge were more extensive and I found this part of the hike to be quite enjoyable. The problem was that lower down, the trails become somewhat confusing even with my GPS and map. My feet were getting pretty sore and I worried about finding the shortest trail back to where I parked. As it was, the trail I followed had way too many switchbacks that prolonged what should have been a short descent into a long foot-pounding ordeal.

Soon I was approaching the more popular attractions of the park including Deer Hollow Farm. This is supposedly an actual working farm where families- especially kids- can learn about agriculture and  participate in the process of taking care of animals and performing other farm duties. It would probably be fun to come back with Matt and Nora, but today I took a bypass trail around it.

I joined the throngs of people walking to and from the farm on a pedestrian trail that parallels the access road. Before long, to my relief, I reached the first of the several parking areas. I was a little disoriented, so I checked my GPS to see what direction my truck was from there. I found a trail that more or less led toward it.

This final trail had far fewer people and I was surprised to see what might have been a bald eagle doing some midair playing with what could have been a couple of eaglet chicks. I tried to take a picture before they got too far away, but I wasn't quite fast enough with my camera.

Soon, I came to a dirt parking area and became somewhat confused as to the whereabouts of the paved parking area that my truck was in. My GPS revealed that I had bypassed my truck's parking lot and had ended up back at the trailhead where I'd begun my hike many hours before. Oh, well. Only about ten extra minutes were needed to find my way back to where I'd parked.

Parking was still scarce, and there was someone waiting for my spot when they saw me approach my vehicle. Sorry, but I needed to change out of my hiking boots and into my civilian shoes, and into a clean sweat free shirt. There was also my very necessary apres-hike stretching routines. Luckily, more parking spots must have opened up as he was gone by the time I was ready to leave.

All in all, a very good hike in spite of the crowds. If I were to ever do this again, though, I would alter two things: 1- Start earlier(!) and 2- Hike up the High Meadows Trail and down the PG&E Trail. I think that the many switchbacks of the lower High Meadows trail would make a good warm up for the trip if one is ascending them. The PG&E Trail is a much more direct way to descend even though there is a two or three hundred foot dip along the way that has to be descended and reascended.
Black Mountain
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