Montgomery Hill

Nov 10, 2016
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX

Montgomery Hill lies in the Diablo foothills on the east side of San Jose. It was named for John J. Montgomery, the father of gliders who made a number of important advances in the development of heavier-than-air crafts. The hill was officially named for him in the 1960s, the site of more than 50 successful flights of his latest glider, the Evergreen, in October of 1911. His life was cut short by an accident on that last day in October when a wind gust upended the glider, resulting in his death at the age of 56. I had been eyeing this minor summit for a number of years, noting the official BGN site is on private property. Having done more looking at ways to reach it, I decided to ride my bike out that way and check it out.

There is a very nice memorial called the Montgomery Plaza located at the corner of San Felipe and Yerba Buena roads. The 30-foot-tall steel structure is a model of a glider wing, with several plaques located at the site. Montgomery Hill is about 3/4mi further east of the site. I rode up Yerba Buena Rd to Villa Vista Rd, marked with a No Outlet sign. After the first 100yds, the road is signed for private property as it passes between Montgomery Hill to the east, with housing and a golf course to the west. The old paved road ends at a locked gate that opens onto Rancho Yerba Buena property, a ranching concern that owns a great deal of valuable property on the east side of San Jose. Montgomery Hill is actually owned my a much smaller concern, El Rancho Jasmin, with facilities on the north side of the hill, so it seemed prudent to try and reach the top from the south side, out of view. It looked like the private road sees little traffic which I judged to be a good place to start the short 1/10mi hike to Montgomery Hill. Between the road and the hill is a short drop to Yerba Buena Creek, dry at this time of year. The climb up from the creek was steep, but good footing on grassy slopes overlooking the Villages Golf & Country Club to the south. The rounded top is marked with a large, 8-foot wooden cross. I walked up to the cross to take a few hurried pictures (east to the Diablo Range and west, overlooking San Jose) before retreating since the highpoint is open to view from the buildings on the north side. I went back down to the creek, recovered the bike I had stashed below the roadway and rode back out.

That should have been the end of it, but things are actually a little more confusing. On the north side of Yerba Buena Road and east of Evergreen Valley College is San Jose City's Montgomery Hill Park. The descriptions at Montgomery Plaza and in Wikipedia place the location of Montgomery Hill at this site, though the USGS topo map has it at the other. It seemed prudent to visit both sites. The park is very clean and neatly maintained. It consists of a small collection of rolling, grass hills with a few oaks, much like the Montgomery Hill on the south side of Yerba Buena Rd that I had just visited. This location seems more plausible for glider operations as the slopes facing west are gentler and more conducive to low level flights as I imagine they might be conducted. There are benches at various hilltops with additional plaques telling the story of Montgomery and his curious inventions. At the west end of the park, adjacent to the community college is the Montgomery Hill Observatory. I spent about 20min at a most casual pace making a circuit of the trails before returning again to the bike and riding home. The whole bike-n-hike outing came in at around 3hrs.

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