Alma College (aka: Bear Creek Redwoods)

How much do you know about the “Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve”? It’s right off Highway 17 and Bear Creek Road, just above Los Gatos, California.

Well…it’s not open to the public yet, but it’s very easy to get a permit to visit and it’s a very interesting place!

(Get your car’s license plate number and apply here a few days in advance: )

Why is it interesting? Well it was the site of a wealthy individual in the early 20th century. He had extensive fountains and a man-made waterfall. It was then sold to the Jesuits around the time of the Depression and was home to “Alma College” until 1969. There was then a small private school there for a few years, then it passed through the hands of  few owners. Since 1999 it’s been owned by the Midpeninsula Open Space District (“Mid-Pen”), which is taking the slow steps to open it to the public in 2019. Read about those efforts and more history here:

Why am I blogging about it? Two reasons: (1) GO SEE IT before the bulldozers arrive. Mid-Pen is proposing to demolish all the buildings except the main chapel and library building. and (2) when I was there recently, we met someone who offered a collection of historical photos from when the Jesuits were there. She didn’t know the origin of the photos, but they do seem like they were taken by the Jesuits. If you know anything more about them, send me a comment (link at bottom). I’d like to give credit where credit is due, and maybe learn a bit more.

Anyway…back to YOUR upcoming visit and the photos.

After you enter the gated parking area, you’ll be in a small parking area. It used to look like these photos (below), but not any more! Note the pond in the background.



From there, walk straight back, with the pond on your right, and you’ll see a lot of fenced-off derelict buildings.


Study the roofline of the photo above and the photo below. Same building!


I believe this current photo (below) is the chapel building


The chapel building (below). Again, study the roofline to be sure you’re looking at the same building!


More of the chapel (below), during a rare snowfall:


More of the chapel, with the flagpole in the background, near the entrance area:



Towards the rear of the main cluster of buildings, you’ll see these brick columns:


I believe the above brick columns match the following three pictures. This place was beautiful “back in the day”!




Below, I believe, is the library building. (Photo credit: Sharon Lum) Notice the tall, smashed windows, then look at the second photo below. See also pictures #7 and #31 in the Mercury News article.



Below are a few more historical pictures of the grounds, including many of the same buildings, as well as the pond, which is at the right foreground of the main buildings.






The picture below, dated 5/5/1942, is in front of the chapel. An interesting rumor that I heard from this individual we met, was that the hilltop at the back of the property had a ham radio antenna, which received the first mainland report of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Is that true? Quicker than military communication channels? Who knows for sure, but I did send a comment to Mid-Pen suggesting that be investigated as part of the current historic assessment of the property.


My advice is to go see it now, including walking counter-clockwise around the main buildings, onto the lower road. From down there, you’ll get quite a view of these (potentially historic) structures, as well as what looks like a huge (dry) man-made waterfall.

The adjacent historic stables, mentioned in the Mercury-News article, have an active Facebook page and some great programs!

That’s it! If you have anything to add, please send me a comment. (Comments are reviewed by me, before publishing. If you wish to send me a note, that won’t be published as a comment, that works too!)


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A Chill in the Air: White Sierra & El Corte de Madera

A chill was in the air here in Silicon Valley this week, unlike any I’d felt since spring. The lack of light coming through the curtains, at my normal wake-up time, told me that summer is passing.

On thursday evening I sent out my periodic “here’s my hiking plan, please join me” e-mail to about 20 friends. I can’t plan much more in advance than that, and I usually get about 4 others to join me.

At 9AM on sunday we met at the “CM08” gate of El Corte de Madera Open Space, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (General info: Trail Map:

It was chilly! A few weeks back I connected with White Sierra, a local outdoor clothing company. They provided me a few complimentary items for evaluation, including convertible zip-off hiking pants and a flannel shirt. They’d been sitting at home, waiting for an opportunity to try them out. In the summer I usually wear shorts and a long sleeve runner’s shirt. On this day, I was glad I brought the warm stuff!

Off into the beautiful redwoods the 6 of us went. (Did you notice the three people on the left, studying the ground? Yup…Geocachers! )


The park is quite popular with mountain bikers, as all the trails are open to bikes and nicely graded (and quite steep!) All the cyclists we encountered were careful and polite. We even had a good conversation with a few of them, as three of us in the group also ride mountain bikes.

Below, you’ll notice three people who couldn’t seem to stay on the bridge. Yup! They’re called “trolls” and there’s a cache under there somewhere.

If you’re not familiar with this area, notice the stately old redwood stump on the right. Most of the redwood forests around here were clear-cut around 100 years ago, particularly after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when there was a huge need to rebuild the city.


The photo below is a bit washed out, but it’s a good overview of what much of the park looks like: smaller, second growth redwoods in steep canyons. I highly recommend parking at one of the lesser-used gates, versus the bigger parking lot on Skyline. You’ll avoid the starting point for most cyclists and get into the quiet canyons quicker. (If seeing bits of plane crash debris is interesting, you can find them on the “Resolution Trail” if you know where to look. The story is here:

The lower part of the park borders on the property of Neil Young. (Yeah, you know: The Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Cinnamon Girl…) Some people claim to have heard him jamming from these trails. Here’s a bit more about the nearby roads and his property:

Here is a map and GPS track of our 14 mile and 3000 vertical foot hike


Oh yes, back to the clothing that kept me from freezing on this hike, at least until the sun warmed things up a bit. White Sierra’s “Trail Convertible Pants”


…and the comfy cotton flannel shirt. One person commented that it looked like a classic Pendleton pattern. (Being cotton, you wouldn’t want to take it on a trip that might involve wet weather. For fair-weather hikes and casual wear, it’s great!)


I’ve been using a pair of Columbia zip-off pants that I bought at REI a few years back. They’ve served me well and I was interested in a direct comparison. The White Sierra zippers worked easier, as did the belt buckle. I also liked the generous amounts of Velcro on the pockets, versus the smaller Velcro bits on the Columbia pants.


Also (below) the White Sierra pants have both a vertical zipper and a horizontal Velcro flap at the bottom of each leg. This helps in converting the pants to shorts, without removing your boots or shoes. All are thoughtful design features. (The only advantage I’d give Columbia is the waist button is riveted, versus sewn.)


White Sierra just introduced their fall clothing line, which can be ordered on-line. Their Sunnyvale HQ (right off Central Expressway) has an outlet store, with significant discounts on overstock and clearance items. Sign up for their mailing list.

The husband and wife team that founded the company in 1979 sounds alot like other Silicon Valley success stories, except they’re not techies. They’re clothing experts! Their interesting story is here:

That’s it! Enjoy the hike, say hello to the mountain bikers, dress warmly, and maybe stop for a snack or rehydration at Alice’s on the way home!


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Flight 802 Memorial Site (Bishop, CA)

I recently enjoyed a 6 day journey around the eastern Sierra, including 2 nights in the higher (cooler) elevations of Death Valley, plus a hike to a 1974 plane crash site. The hike was unexpectedly difficult, due to a navigational error, not having a 4WD, and it being 102F degrees when I got back to the car…more on that later!

The story: On March 13, 1974, on a dark moonless night, with calm and clear weather, a chartered Sierra Pacific Airlines Convair 440 took off from Bishop airport, headed back to Burbank. On board was an experienced crew of 5, plus 31 people from Wolper Productions, who were in town filming the “Primal Man” miniseries. Minutes after takeoff, with no radio calls or signs of mechanical issues, the aircraft impacted a steep mountainside. 36 people died instantly in a fireball that was seen from the town.

Full text of the crash report:

…and a shorter summary here: (The actual “Primal Man” film footage was recovered from the crash site, having miraculously survived in the tail section. After some consideration of the friends and families involved, was aired on television. I could not locate the show anywhere, but USC has a collection of all Wolper Productions work, which can be viewed by appointment.)

I found out about this site many years ago, via and have had it on my “to do” list for awhile. I’ve also visited and blogged a few other crash sites. (F-2H Banshee above Saratoga, CA, ( and an F-4 on the San Mateo County coast (

After reading the experience of other Geocachers, I drove my 2WD car as close as I could to the memorial summit, and just started walking, bushwhacking, scrambling, and dead reckoning…there is no defined route.


Unpaved turnoff to Redding Canyon Road

Using old USGS Topo maps, downloaded to the GaiaGPS App on my iPhone, I drove my regular 2WD car as far as I safely could. (A capable 4WD vehicle would have a been a big help, and cut at least 1/3 off my hiking time)


That’s my 2WD car!

I headed up the gravel road for awhile, then at some unknown point, I headed off cross-country to the right.


Bishop Airport

Most of the advice I read was to leave the gravel road when you’re at the same elevation as the crash site, which I did. It took me 3 hours from the car…a bit more than I expected, but I can’t give much advice on what I did right or wrong…at times it seemed I did it all wrong, but there was no obvious “better way”!


The plane crashed 180 feet below this summit. Large reflective aluminum pieces are visible as far down as my finger is pointing


Descending down to the memorial peak


A cross on the peak, made of aircraft bits

At the summit there was very little wreckage. If you read the (above linked) crash report, you’ll note that the impact point was 180 vertical feet lower. Interestingly, several pieces, including a door, went up and over the summit, according to the diagram in the report. Most pieces impacted the side of the mountain and tumbled down.


The Bishop Airport is just above the cross, on the right. About 6 miles away.


Very few pieces were at the summit. The plane crashed 180 vertical feet below the summit.

That’s it! Time to head back. I attempted a route back along the higher ridge to the north, instead of scrambling along the sides of the ridges, in an attempt to save time. It did not! It took me just as long, and at one point I had to slide down a chute of small rocks, on all fours! My Cabela’s canvas shorts suffered minor damage. My pride and navigation skills suffered more.


A lone sentinel tree I stopped at during my meandering return to the car

That’s about it! Get some good maps, lotsa water, and a 4WD if you can, and make an interesting day out of it!

At some point, I may try a more direct route from below, to the actual impact site. It “might” be easier and I’d definitely see the wreckage. There are some great photos here:

Please remember, this is a tough, and potentially dangerous hike. Be respectful of the site. Don’t remove anything.

Note: If I knew an optimal route to get there, I probably wouldn’t publish it anyway! “The Code of Ethics” for Wreckchasers, and people who search out archaeological sites, is to not make it any easier to locate than it already is. The bigger the effort to research and visit a site, the more likely there won’t be any disrespectful visitors and souvenir collectors.

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Steve Jobs is somewhere at Alta Mesa Cemetery (Shirley Temple Black, David and Lucile Packard, and William Shockley)


On my local bicycle rides and hikes I usually try to see something new.  I use topo maps,, others’ trip reports, and just a bit of exploring trails or roads I’ve not been on before.

I recall when Steve Jobs passed away that he was buried in Alta Mesa Cemetery. I had not heard of Alta Mesa before then, but I took a mental note of it. Some recent surfing, plus my recent “mysterious headstones” adventure and blog post, put me back on the track to look into this a bit more.

A little bit of time on Google is all it took to read that Steve is indeed there, but the location is a closely guarded secret. One Italian blogger and visitor even thought a freshly dug grave, not too far from David and Lucile Packard, must be the spot. That was later proven to be false. (How’s your Italiano? )

Anyway…I did find that there are also other famous “residents”, including David and Lucile Salter Packard, Shirley Temple Black, and (the temperamental genius that brought the silicon to Silicon Valley) William Shockley.

It’s 72 acres, right near the corner of Arastradero and Foothill Expressway, but fairly well disguised with landscaping, except at the main entrance.

First stop was the main building, where there was a friendly receptionist on the right, and the Steve Jobs memorial book to the left.


The receptionist confirmed that Steve’s spot was confidential, but was very helpful in giving me directions to the others.

Shirley Temple Black was my first stop. (Insert obligatory “On the Good Ship Lollipop” link here 😉 ) Looking at the map below, the orange line is my route from the office (top) to the Adobe Creek Mausoleum (yellow highlighter).


Detail of the Adobe Creek Mausoleum below:


In the door:


Out the back door, into the “Redwood Grove”:


Look along the wall on your immediate right:


Shirley Temple Black was a resident of nearby Woodside and was also the Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia later in life. (Why is a Seven-Up or ginger ale, with a shot of cherry syrup called a “Shirley Temple”?)

There she is!


Next stop: William Shockley. Refer to the first map (above), with the blue building. Below is the detail of that blue building. (The receptionist smartly used different colored markers for each destination!)


Zig-zag through the courtyards to Section 8, in the back-left corner.


Towards the lower-left part of that wall, where my finger is pointing..


…lies the remains of William Shockley and his wife. I looked around on Google for the meaning of “W=SHOCKLEY” and could not find it.


William Shockley was a controversial character, who made major breakthroughs in transistor technology at Bell Labs, on the east coast, then later at his own company in Palo Alto.

Hewlett and Packard may have helped spawn “Silicon Valley” a decade or two earlier, but they built instruments, not silicon! William Shockley brought the silicon to Silicon Valley and his company spawned many other young companies and pioneers.

Speaking of Hewlett and Packard, David and Lucile Salter Packard are buried near the main office. In the image below: there are 2 redwood trees at the center and at the left side of this photo. Between the trees is the Alta Mesa office, and at my feet are “David and Lucile”!


Lucile Salter Packard was known for her philanthropy, including the “Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital” at Stanford.

And below is a touching sculpture in a section which I believe is for children.


That’s it! Come have a look around, if you want. 72 acres, non-denominational, founded in 1904.


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Return of the Mysterious Headstones!


The Local “San Jose Mercury News” ran an article today with the happy ending of my “Mysterious Headstones” discovery of 2013.

The original blog post:

Even in busy Silicon Valley, you never know what you might find if you venture on the road less traveled!






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Berry Creek Falls Roaring in the Rain (Big Basin State Park)

Last week, on Martin Luther King Day, I met a friend at Big Basin State Park for a hike to Berry Creek Falls. We’d both been there several times, but never when the ground was soaked and about 2 inches of rain had fallen recently. We expected quite a bit more than the usual trickle and we got it!

It’s about an hour from most places in Silicon Valley, including the last few miles of twisty winding road down through the redwoods.


Roadside sign, coming from the upper entrance


Park HQ, with the big log slice on the right. (Notice the pay phones! No AT&T signal here)


Yes, this bridge near HQ, really was as wavy as it looks. Note muddy water underneath. It was muddy and high throughout the park. The aeration of the falls masked most of the brown color.


Headed to the falls, passing by a fallen giant (or a fallen “medium size”)


Ducking under. I suspect this tree has been here 100 years and will be here for many more


Lotsa sporadic “rivulets” coming off the hillsides


First sight, zoomed-in, of the falls as we head upstream


Silhouettes on the observation deck, as we head up


The main fall, from the observation deck.


Looking from the top of the main falls. Notice the red jacket at right, on the observation deck


The “famous” cable steps at the second fall, as we head upstream


Close-up of water tumbling on the edge of the steps


Sometimes the trees provide a size reference, and sometimes the trees are huge too!


The third fall, as we head from bottom-to-top


The uppermost fall, I think…


Not to far for a day trip from major cities. Though the last few miles are SLOW!

Details: As you can see in the last picture, it’s not a bad day trip for most Bay Area folks. It is a VERY popular park, however, in summer tourist season. It gets busy and the campgrounds book well in advance. The park’s site is here: Big Basin State Park and our GPS track is here:

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Kickham Ranch (Henry Coe / Hunting Hollow)


My car on Jamieson Road. Kickham Ranch is in the distance.

The Kickham Ranch office at Henry Coe State Park, a few miles SE of Hunting Hollow, gets very few visitors. I was there twice before, without really knowing if I was supposed to be there or not. I decided to visit again on a muddy and short bicycle loop into the park.

The signs have changed a bit, but it appears to be OK to use, though not officially publicized or encouraged as an entrance.  There are no discouraging signs, but there is one gate to hop over if you want to connect to the Hunting Hollow Trail.

I parked my car on Jamieson Road, a bit before Kickham Ranch, and unloaded the mountain bike. A State Park truck passed me and waved before I headed out. Kickham Ranch is actively used by park staff, and I think I’ve heard that one Ranger may live there.


Room for several cars, outside the white lines!

I stopped in to say hello to the bear, and headed back out.


Kickham Ranch. “Do not feed the bears!”


Sign board at Kickham Ranch

Shortly after passing the Canada de Los Osos pond, the road got a bit steeper and I encountered some VERY sticky mud. I was later told it had been recently graded, which ruined the normal hard pack surface.


Low water level. Active with water birds, including a white egret.


The wheels and derailleur totally locked-up with over 20 pounds of mud and grass

I struggled to push or carry the bike uphill for a few hundred feet, while my feet slid in the opposite direction. Finally I got to the top of the hill and everything got better…slowly…as I poked at the mud with a stick and used some water from the closest trough.


Peaceful trail just before the Hunting Hollow intersection

This is a standard ranch gate, without any way around it. You, and your bicycle, must go up and over the 5 foot height.


The gate just before the Hunting Hollow trail.

No more sticky mud was encountered. The creek crossings had a few stagnant puddles, but no flowing water. I did get splashed and muddy, however (in a fun way, knowing I had clean clothes in the car!)


Hunting Hollow Trail


The famous windmill, which is kept operational by park volunteers. (“Thank you” Paul L.)

Hunting Hollow was quiet. This car had been there for awhile, but not overnight, judging by the small amount of warmth coming from the engine. I did not see anybody in the park, and only two vehicles on Canada and Jamieson Roads.


One car mid-day on a wet weekday. (Hunting Hollow parking)


An unpopular sign!

Head down Gilroy Hot Springs Road, and turn left at the Fire Station.


The Fire Station where Canada Road starts


Canada Road, heading back to Kickham Ranch


Filet Mignon along Canada Road


Canada Road turns right and Jamieson Road to the left (towards Kickham Ranch)

That’s it! It was about 11 miles and ~600 vertical feet. An interesting outing, but also a good reminder as to why the single track trails are closed to bicycles after a rainfall. Yuck! (Map & GPS track on Strava: )

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