Tumey Hills North
Tumey Hills HP
Ciervo Mountain P750

Mon, Mar 10, 2014
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile

On the east side of the Diablo Range, south of Pacheco Pass, are three BLM desert ranges that get little attention. The Panoche, Tumey and Griswold Hills have historically been used for grazing cattle, but there are few years when this is profitable due to the little rain that falls here. In the broad Panoche Valley between them, the grazing is better but still weak. Only a few hardy ranchers manage to make a living at it on these forsaken lands. But what might not be good for grazing can make for some fine hiking and biking. With very little rain this year, the hills were about as green as they might get, the grass only a few inches high. The green wouldn't last long, which is why I chose to visit them at this time. I had visited the Panoche and Griswold Hills on separate occasions in the past, but today was the first time I had come to the Tumey Hills, the lowest of the three ranges. Uncharacteristically, I had brought a bike rather than my usual travels on foot because I had a high mileage day planned. To the south beyond the Tumey Hills lie the Ciervo Hills whose highpoint, Ciervo Mountain, I had eyed for several years as one of the few named summits in the area. All of the Ciervo Hills lie on private ranchlands but I figured if I approached from the Tumey Hills, essentially the backside, I'd have little chance of encountering a rancher. The total distance would exceed 30 miles and these days I have little appetite for that many on foot.

Because the distance from San Jose is about a two hour drive, I made three separate visits to the area during the week rather than stay overnight. The plan was pretty much the same for all three days - leave San Jose by 7a, start hiking or biking by 9a, return in time for dinner. Today I was over Panoche Pass by 8:30a and at one of the two trailheads for the Tumey Hills along Panche Road by 9a. Before Apr 15 and the start of fire season, the gates are open for vehicles to drive the dirt roads found in the Tumey and Panoche Hills. Most of those in the Tumey Hills are suitable for high clearance and in some cases, 4WD vehicles. As I had planned to do a looping route, there was little incentive for me to drive any distance from Panoche Rd, so I found the first good starting point inside the gate near a fire ring and headed off.

The hills here are steep, the roads no less so as they go straight up the ridgelines in most cases. There were very few hills I could actually ride up so I spent much time and toil pushing it up. The flats and downhills by contrast were a joy. The first summit, Tumey Hills North, took most of two hours, covering only 4 miles but climbing 1,800ft. The views opened up as I took in sights ranging from the Diablo Range highpoint at San Benito to the flats of the Central Valley. Nearer, I saw ridge after rolling ridge of the surrounding Panoche and Griswold Hills, eyeing minor summits and roads I could use to visit them. Even closer underfoot (or rather, underwheel), all along the road at various locations one can find ample collections of crystal pieces, a seemingly odd mix in these characteristically non-rocky hills. Even odder was the 35 cents I spotted on the road - who comes out here to lose their pocket change?

From Tumey Hills North I continued south along the connecting roads for another 45 minutes to the Tummey Hills HP. It's not much higher than the first summit and the views are much the same, though there is a better view to the southwest to Vallecitos, the valley between the Griswold Hills and San Benito Mtn. I backtracked a short distance before dropping 1,200ft down into Tumey Gulch, the dividing canyon between the Tumey and Ciervo Hills. Old watering troughs can be found along the route, but there were no cattle to be seen within the Tumey Hills today. As I climbed back out on the SE side of Tumey Gulch I had a bigger climb of more than 2,000ft to Ciervo Mtn. Along the way I passed by a benchmark labeled SILVER found on a sub-hill. Less than ten minutes past this I reached the boundary fence marking my entry onto private property. Ciervo Mtn was still nearly an hour past this point. I found a few small herds of cattle along the way but no trucks, people or other signs to worry about. The only ranch building I saw was more than a mile in the distance to the east. Other than the cattle, the Ciervo Hills are nearly identical to the Tumey Hills. Only at the very highest elevation as I approached Ciervo Mtn was there any significant vegetation, and this was just waist-high brush. I stuck to the roads which was not hard to do - they seem to go up most ridgelines and down the main valleys. At the summit of Ciervo Mtn I found a collection of old and new water tanks. Just below to the east was a granite statue, a memorial marker to "Elgorriaga 2012". An online search came up with a chocolate manufacturer and a Spanish town, but little else.

It was now 1p and I had traveled 15 miles over the past 4.5hrs (not that much faster than on foot, it turns out, but the return would take only 2.5hrs). Roads continue on for miles to the south and east, but it was time to head back. I enjoyed the ride back to Tumey Gulch a good deal, some of it down steep slopes that had me riding hard on both brakes, a balancing act in maintaining control of the bike. In less than an hour I was back in the gulch and then starting one last big climb back out. I chose a different route back through the Tumey Hills, following the route signed for TU1, the main BLM road through the hills. I paused at a very large water tank that looked to have been designed as a train car, and climbed the ladder attached to its side for the fun of it. A stopped again a short time later where the road bypasses a hill labeled as Tumey BM. I parked the bike and hiked up the hill to visit the benchmark. It doesn't have enough prominence to qualify as a separate summit, but I thought I'd take a photo of the benchmark while I was nearby. Though I didn't manage to locate the benchmark, I did find two reference marks that pointed to the BM location under a large shrub found there. Maybe it's still there, but it wasn't obvious from a cursory search.

Back on the bike, I continued for another 25 minutes of mostly downhill travel to the van near Silver Creek and Panoche Rd, returning shortly after 3:30p. It had been such a fine day that I immediately made plans to return in a few days. So much land needed more than a single day to explore in such nice conditions...


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