Babe the Muffler Man, San JoseAnother stint in our part time residency in San Jose, and I continue my quest to find the good parts, the traditional parts, the historical parts, but especially, the parts that don’t involve getting on a freeway or expressway. However, the first order of business was to find an area where I can take the terriers on a good long walk — the kind that makes them crash out on the couch in the afternoon and sleep through the night. Admittedly, our part time neighborhood is lovely with street after street of small Craftsman style bungalows and tree-lined streets. But any walk that involves being on a tight leash and waiting at corners to cross streets is not going to do the trick. So we headed out to explore the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

First of all, let me say I love the idea of the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Setting aside local politics and jurisdictional issues, the governments of three towns — Los Gatos, Campbell and San Jose, as well as Santa Clara County government — came together to build and maintain a multi-use 10 mile trail that meanders along a major waterway. It’s now one of the most heavily used trails in the area — in fact, many bicycle commuters use it to get to work. That’s a boon in a City where I’m finding you have to work really really hard NOT to get on a freeway or an expressway. The trick, I imagine, with the Los Gatos Creek Trail is to use it for what it’s great for and not expect it to be something it’s not. Bicycle commuting. Check. Mommy groups. Big check as it’s paved and flat for much of the way. Those looking to tire out terriers. Er, not so much.

dogs on Los Gatos Creek Trail

We should have realized this wouldn’t be a terrier favorite when we read that all dogs must be on leashes. The dogs also weren’t huge fans of all the points where the trail becomes a pedestrian freeway overpass.

I gave points for when those overpasses were decorated by paintings by local elementary school students. The terriers were freaked out by the roaring traffic of 280 below them.

I gave points for when those overpasses were decorated with paintings by local elementary school students. The terriers were freaked out by the roaring traffic of 280 below them.

Los Gatos Creek from the Los Gatos Creek Trail

We were also saddened to see that the Los Gatos Creek is running in a concrete channel. They need John the Baptist to restore this to a natural creek.

Los Gatos Creek Trail

And then, surprise! We walked further away from the town of Los Gatos and the trail became a real trail with a real creek. Yay!

Still, a mixed review of the Los Gatos Creek Trail. I say, lots of points for providing a flat, paved trail with many easily accessible parking lots, rest rooms and benches along the way (although not nearly enough trash cans for those of us who took the order to pack out dog poo seriously). Perfect for running, for mommies with strollers and for bicycle commuting. The dogs give it only one paw up for the fact that they have to be leashed, can’t splash in the creek and had to dodge bicyclists along the way.

I’ll put in one last good word for the Los Gatos Creek Trail. I thought it might be a good running trail for me, but was concerned by the number of freeway overpasses it went under. Usually, an overpass means lots of trash, possible homeless encampments and people my mother would call “Nogoodniks” hanging about. That’s the main reason I took the dogs on my first trail reconnaissance.

Los Gatos Creek Trail

I’m happy to say, the trail seemed very safe, well patrolled, showed no signs of encampments and the underpass areas were interestingly decorated with scenes from California’s history.

Los Gatos Creek Trail, I’ll be back. The terriers won’t. So we headed back to San Jose. And I’m proud to say that I found a way to get from Los Gatos to San Jose without going anywhere near a freeway or expressway. That way is straight down Bascom Avenue which pretty much connects my neighborhood in San Jose with downtown Los Gatos. From what I can find, and there isn’t much on the InterWebs, Bascom Avenue used to be a thoroughfare for stagecoaches and wagons hauling logs from the Santa Cruz mountains to San Jose. It used to be lined on either side with fruit orchards. Sadly, those orchards are gone and Bascom Avenue is now lined largely with shabby strip malls and fast food restaurants or shopping centers of no distinction.

Which is a shame, because the woman whose husband’s name was given to the street was a hardy early Anglo pioneer who should have a better monument to her family. Mrs. Anna Maria Bascom came overland from Kentucky with her husband, Dr. L. H. Bascom in 1849. She once had occasion to meet the ever boastful and self-promoting John C. Fremont who pontificated “Yes, I have been a pathfinder.” “You,” the tart-tongued Anna Maria replied, “were more fortunate than me. There was no path for us. We had to make one.” Grandma Bascom, as she came to be known, also ran a boarding house that put up many legislators in the early days of California’s statehood. I imagine Grandma had more than a little influence in keeping those politicians organized.

After dropping the terriers off, I decided to take a short jaunt in another direction hoping to find what vestiges of Old San Jose may be left. Turns out, the house isn’t that far from the Mission Santa Clara de Asís, one of the original Franciscan missions of Alta California. As most Californians know, the chain of missions — stretching from San Diego to Sonoma — was established so that each mission in the chain was roughly a day’s ride from the next. What you may not know is that San Jose was never a mission town. The official Mission San Jose is over in Fremont on the other side of the Bay. What San Jose can claim is being the first civilian town in Nueva California, founded in 1777 as  El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. But the good padres up at Mission Santa Clara didn’t want this missionless city to escape their influence. Under the orders of Father Magin de Catalá in 1795, Native American neophytes in Santa Clara were rounded up to build an easily traveled road between the mission and the pueblo. Apparently, it was quite and engineering project with irrigation ditches on either side, bringing water from the Guadalupe River and Mission Creek to the fields and feeding a pond near the mission. Willow trees were planted in multiple rows along the road in 1799. The idea was that a beautiful shaded avenue would encourage more people to attend church at the mission. That road is The Alameda — which means, appropriately, “tree lined avenue” in Spanish.

The Alameda, San Jose

The last of those original willows was pulled out in 1982. Now a small stretch is lined with palms, which the original padres could have told San Jose wouldn’t do much to create a shady walk.

As for The Alameda? Well, it’s not living up to its past reputation as The Beautiful Way.

The Alameda, San Jose

On one side are lovely, and lovingly kept, historical buildings. Unfortunately, many of them are vacant.

On the other side are strip malls of no distinction.

On the other side are strip malls of no distinction.

But The Alameda is still a nice wide surface road that takes you from some of the older neighborhoods in San Jose right into the downtown area. Or more specifically, right to the HP Pavilion which I read somewhere is one of the most heavily attended and successful indoor arenas in the U.S. So maybe The Alameda is on the way up. I’m hoping so.

Another thing that’s happening down in this area is the Guadalupe River Trail. It’s another 10 mile paved, multi-use trail alongside a major San Jose waterway. My friend, Scotch Andrew, who is a fanatical biker and triathlete uses the trail a lot. He assured me it would be a safe place for me to run. Maybe for a 6’2″ Scotsman who is an extreme athlete. But I’m not sure I’d want to venture down there on an early morning run.

Guadalupe River Walk

My first impression was of an LA style “culvert” river. But I have to give points to the anti-graffiti crew that was scrubbing tags off the wall while some Canada Geese watched.

And there were a few people hanging around who might possibly be "Nogoodniks".

And there were a few people hanging around who might possibly be “Nogoodniks”.


Nope, don't think I'll be running down here.

Nope, don’t think I’ll be running down here.

I continued on a little way down The Alameda, just past the HP Pavilion and BAM! Some Old San Jose!

The Peralta Adobe, the last vestige of the original Pueblo. The adobe was built by an Apache, who must have been a long way from home, but named after a famous Spanish family that bought it.

The Peralta Adobe, the last vestige of the original Pueblo. The adobe was built by an Apache, who must have been a long way from home, but named after a famous Spanish family that bought it.

Next to the Peralta Adobe was one of the earliest Victorian houses in San Jose, the home of early settler, Thomas Fallon. His wife, Carmelita Fallon, is given additional commemoration with a nearby plaque that listed her as an “early resident and entrepreneur”. Tell me more! A quick check on the InterWebs showed that in that very house after 26 years of marriage, Carmelita found her husband in a compromising position with a housemaid. She divorced him and walked away with a huge settlement which she invested wisely in real estate. In fact, the Victorian part of San Francisco’s LBGT Community Center on Market Street is housed in one of her properties. I’m really hoping Carmelita drove her carriage out Bascom Avenue to visit Anna Maria Bascom. I think those two tough old ladies should have been the best of friends.

So, mixed results today, but I’m giving San Jose the benefit of the doubt. I only sampled a small part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail and the Guadalupe River Walk. Since they are both extremely popular and heavily used, they must have their charms. As for The Alameda, I’m assuming it’s on its way up and I’m looking forward to exploring it further. But what I’m really liking is the spirit of San Jose as personified by the people who lived here. I think some of that spirit still exists as I’m getting a “Howdy Pard’ner” friendly Western vibe from people I encounter on the street.

Nope, San Jose. I’m not giving up on you. I’m going to keep exploring — on surface roads that avoid freeways and expressways. And I’m going to find your walkable places. And more of your eccentric past.

Note: The picture at the top is Babe the Giant Muffler Man. You can find him on the Alameda. And it’s still a working muffler shop.