walkingThis is not supposed to be a hiking blog. I don’t have the experience or the cred to do that. But since I decided that hiking was the way to see the best San Jose had to offer, seems like all I’ve been posting about is hiking. So here’s another one — again with the South Bay hiking group I found on Meetup.com. A funny thing happened with this hike, though. Eight of us were scheduled to hike the trails between the Saratoga Gap park and Castle Rock State Parks. Only three of us showed up. Which was secretly a relief to me. The dropouts were all gals in their early twenties. I wasn’t interested in hiking 8.5 miles at a twenty two year old’s speed. Not that I wasn’t scrambling to keep up with our fearless leader, David, and Vicky, the other hiker. But we did go at a pace that let us stop and smell the Banana Slugs.

Don’t know about the famous Banana Slugs? They are lovely bright yellow slugs that are much loved residents of the Pacific Coast from Alaska to the Santa Cruz Mountains. In fact, they are the mascots of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

banana slug

The Pacific banana slug is the world’s second-largest species of terrestrial slug, growing up to 9.8 inches  long.

We also saw this guy. He's clearly not a rattler, but I didn't want to get too close for the photo-op.

We also saw this guy. He’s clearly not a rattler, but I didn’t want to get too close for the photo-op.

But mostly we saw lots and lots of trees. Because this is a largely forested hike. One that often involves trails clinging to the side of a steep ravine.

But mostly we saw lots and lots of trees. Because this is a largely forested hike. One that often involves trails clinging to the side of a steep ravine.

It was sweet that this little stream was called the San Lorenzo River. I'm told it gets larger further down.

It was sweet that this little stream was called the San Lorenzo River. I’m told it gets larger further down.

I  should mention how quiet it was. Even though we started the hike off Big Basin Way and, at certain points paralleled Route 35, once we were just a few hundred feet away from the roads, it was all just the sound of birds squawking and squirrels chomping nuts. That is until the noise of the Los Altos Rod and Gun Club went ringing through the canyons. We weren’t exactly sure where the Gun Club was, how close to our hike or even how many guns were being fired. It was all the more surprising because it’s illegal, not only to bring a gun into Santa Clara County parks, but “any device capable of injuring or killing any person or animal including BB guns, spears, bows, arrows and slingshots.” So the guns couldn’t have been in the park itself. But it turns out, in a canyon, the sound echoes and ricochets off the ravines. As we zigzagged back and forth, the gunfire alternately sounded as if it was coming either ahead of us or behind us. It’s amazing how much faster you hike when you think guns are being fired behind you!

There weren’t a lot of vista points on this particular route. But those that we reached were wonderful.

This is looking out sort of toward the Pacific over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This is looking out sort of toward the Pacific over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It wasn't clear enough to see the Pacific -- or maybe we weren't high enough -- but we could see out to the line of fog at the edge of the Pacific.

It wasn’t clear enough to see the Pacific — or maybe we weren’t high enough — but we could see out to the line of fog at the edge of the Pacific.

And these hikes always seem to have a point where you can look back at the sprawl of Silicon Valley.

And these hikes always seem to have a point where you can look back at the sprawl of Silicon Valley.

All in all, it was an amazingly peaceful foray into nature. Until the last quarter of a mile. Then we passed this:

We were just hoping they weren't Meth labs.

We were just hoping they weren’t Meth labs.

And the end of the trail was close enough to a parking lot that several people had brought their Starbuck’s cups down the trail and dumped them.

People! What's wrong with you?

People! What’s wrong with you?

Oh, and on what would have been my longest hike, my phone ran out of juice so I didn’t get credit for the last nearly two miles!

Bummer. If you can't record it with an app, it's almost as if it never happened.

Bummer. If you can’t record it with an app, it’s almost as if it never happened.

The Deets

Park: Castle Rock State Park and Sanborn Park

The Trails: From the Saratoga Gap Vista Point parking lot took the Saratoga Toll Road and Tavertine Springs Trails to the Castle Rock campground, returned to the parking lot via the Loughry Woods and Skyline Trails.

Best: Walking in thick tree cover away from it all.

Worst: No facilities until we were 2/3 through the hike.

Facilities: None until you get to Castle Rock Campground.

Why I’ll Go Back: One of the less exposed hikes I’ve been on, so suitable for hot summer days.

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