Santa Teresa Hills
Tulare Hill
Peak 450ft

Tue, Nov 5, 2013
Tulare Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2

A year ago when I updated my California peak database to include all summits listed in Lists of John (LOJ), it more than doubled the size of the database to over 14,500 summits, eerily close to the height of Mt. Whitney in feet. Of course that's mere coincidence and I'm not much of believer in such things as divine convergence or whatever you might call it. But I am a believer in summits and I wondered how California could crop up with so many more summits in only a few years since I first put together the database. It turns out that prominence has a lot to do with it. Both LOJ and my own included all the named summits. But the unnamed summits require some sort of delineation, otherwise every small bump in the state would be indentified. I had used 500ft of prominence originally, the same used by the California Mountain Altas, whereas LOJ uses 250ft or thereabouts. Now one of these isn't more "official" than the other as they were both created by enthusiastic peakbaggers, but the LOJ list is the superset of all other California peak lists near as I can tell. It also gives me a whole lot more mountains to climb in the state, so there's no chance of me running out of summits to visit before I die. These additional peaks are a particular advantage in my home county where I'm always looking for a new place to visit when I have some free hours to spend.

The day before I had spent some hours hacking a trail to a chaparral-covered summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos. Today I decided to combine road biking with some easy peakbagging in the South San Jose area. I had been to Coyote Peak a few years earlier, itself a minor peak, but today I had three even lesser peaks in mind that I could tag with some short hiking. The basic idea was to ride my bike to the trailhead, lock it to a post or sign and hope no one would mess with it, hike to the summit and back, rinse and repeat. The highest of these was Santa Teresa Hills, topping out at just over 1,000ft with 446ft of prominence. About five miles in length and stretching NW to SE, the hills separate Almaden Valley from South San Jose. The Almaden Valley side of the hills have been largely developed with suburban homes sandwiched between a golf course at one end and an IBM research facility on the other. The NE side of the hills are largely undeveloped with the SE end of the small range incorporated into the Santa Teresa County Park. Coyote Peak is the highpoint of the park while just to the northwest is the lower unnamed summit dubbed Santa Teresa Hills here (and in LOJ).

A 13-mile ride brought me to the county park. I locked my bike to a fencepost and started on one of the trails. There are a number of plaques in the lower reaches describing the history of the area and the various ranches that occupied the land over the past several hundred years. A year-round spring captured in a small pond allowed the ranches to flourish for many years, today one of the park's historical features. Most of the buildings were razed long ago and the flat areas have been covered in suburban development. There are some barns, chickencoops and a few other structures that are either really well-maintained originals or, more likely, historical recreations of what the area might have looked like (the concrete slabs don't look all that original). There's some deteriorating, but definitely authentic ranch equipment found up the trail a short ways. Not from the 1800's, but probably at least 50yrs old which makes them antiques. No idea why these aren't made part of the educational display at the bottom, but perhaps they were too dirty and rusty to look good for the school children that visit. But I digress.

I was after the highpoint above, a little more than a mile of hiking. The trail network is comprised of the old ranch roads, the terrain mostly grassy slopes dotted with oaks. Grazing still takes place on the adjacent properties, but not in the park itself, it would seem. The trails are well-marked and easy to follow. There are nice views of the Santa Clara Valley along most of the trails as one gains altitude. Coyote Peak rises prominently to the south. The park boundary ends before the top of the hill, so it was necessary to either encroach on the IBM property or the adjacent private property. Or both, as it turned out. The IBM property has a high tower near the summit, but the highpoint appears to be one of several competing rocks found on the other side of a fence. Some fine oaks block views to some degree, but it's a pleasant enough hill. With good air quality today, I could see Mt. Tamalpais and San Francisco to the north, usually impossible from the South Bay. To the south and west rise the Santa Cruz Mountains topped by Loma Prieta and Mt. Umunhum. Across San Jose to the east are Mts. Hamilton and Isabel in the Diablo Range. As I was crossing back over the park boundary, I was impressed with the simple No Trespassing signs. They didn't use high-falutin' words like "Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law", but instead said simply, "Avoid Arrest". Very succinct. In all I spent a bit over an hour on the hike.

Back on the bike, I rode an additional three miles to the edge of South San Jose where Santa Teresa Blvd goes over a small rise before dropping down and continuing south to Morgan Hill. Right at the rise is a gate to a dirt road that leads to the top of Tulare Hill. This small mound just over 600ft in elevation is all private property. It has the dubious honor of being the footstool for no less than three sets of power transmission lines that run across it. There are only a handful of trees found in a few gullies, while most of the hill is grassy fodder for the cows that mow it in season. I locked my bike to an isolated road sign, hoping it wouldn't attract much attention. It might look like easy pickings to a would-be thief or something worth investigating to law enforcement. I passed through a gap in the barbed-wire fencing and made my way up the road to the top in about ten minutes. The highpoint is found in a small crop of rocks a short distance south of the towers. One has a low view looking south to Morgan Hill and north into San Jose. Not all that exciting, as one might expect. I was back down in even less time, and soon back on my bike.

My last stop was to unnamed Peak 450ft, the fourth lowest summit in Santa Clara County. Located just off SR87, it is the closest summit to downtown San Jose, about three miles to the south. There are about a dozen homes along Carol Drive which rises to the summit from the northwest. The top is the communications center of Santa Clara County, surrounded by a formidable fence. I rode my bike to the end of the road where I was stopped by the fence and a gate. A keypad provides entry, as might pushing the red button to speak to an operator. I might have given that a try but I couldn't think of a likely excuse as to why someone on a bicycle should be allowed entry. Perhaps I should have just asked if I could come and look around. Instead, I went through a hole in the fence of an adjacent property where there was some discarded furniture, the remains of an old Volvo, and a nice view of downtown San Jose. From this lot I could walk up to the fence surrounding the tall communications tower, but there was no easy way to get inside the fence, topped as it was with razor wire. Hmmm. Perhaps another day. I have little doubt the site could be breached without too much trouble, but during the day with a dozen or more employees inside was not the time...

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Nathan comments on 11/09/13:
What a fantastically clear day to be able to see Mt. Tam with such resolution.
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