Unlike the northern portion around Marin County, there are few hills adjacent to the South Bay shoreline. Most of the area is comprised of salt marshes, shallow water that has been used by people to harvest salt and by migrating birds as a stopover on their way north or south. The hills one sees are generally manmade, like the Leslie salt pile or the Milpitas garbage dump. But the Coyote Hills are actual hills, the 978-acre park encompassing most of the hills (the southernmost portion is a telecom site) and some of the surrounding wetlands. During the Cold War, Nike Missile site SF-37 was stationed atop the hills, but completely decommissioned in 1963 after seven years of service. In 1967 Coyote Hills was made into a park and has remained one ever since. There is an extensive network of trails for bikes, hikers and equestrians and it sees high usage year round. I had viewed the hills from I880 hundreds of times over the years but had never paid them a visit. Today seemed like a good day for a "bike and hike" adventure.

From my house in San Jose, it's about 25 miles to Coyote Hills and it took me about 2 hours to reach them at a leisurely pace. I took the Guadalupe River Trail past the San Jose Airport, followed by a series of bike paths on commericial streets through San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont and Newark. There is a good deal of construction in North San Jose, a testament to the robust economy in Silicon Valley. I rode past the new Seagate building along I880 - what used to be the Solyndra Fab 2 building when it was commissioned shortly before Solyndra went bankrupt in the consolidation of the Solar panel industry. Solyndra made national news for months because it had taken some $535 million of federal money down with it in 2011. Though lawsuits are still pending, so far no one has faced criminal charges or paid civil penalties.

When I reached the park shortly before noon, I found the place fairly quiet. A few school groups were taking tours through the wetlands or eating lunch at one of the picnic areas, but the Visitor Center was closed on Tuesday and I saw only a few others out on the trails. The hills are mostly grass slopes with some trees scattered about and more heavily found on the north sides and in gullies. Park maps are readily available at several locations, but they aren't all that necessary as the hills are somewhat small and easy to navigate around. Of the two summits I visited in the park, Red Hill is really just a benchmark off to the side facing the SF Bay, with perhaps 15ft of prominence. The highpoint is Red Hill Top, just under 300ft in height, about a quarter mile to the northeast of the other, with its own benchmark (the benchmark was actually missing, but I found one of the reference marks). Picnic tables are sprinkled around the hills offering wonderful lunch spots when the wind isn't blowing. The weather today was quite mild, no wind and hazy marine conditions - it was difficult to tell the horizon from the sky and the water, not the best day for photos.

About a mile north is Turk Island, a mere 116ft in height, found on the other side of the Coyote Hills Slough. Trails connect the two areas, but the nice pavement gives way to about three miles of gravel pathway along the north side of the slough - a bit rough on the road bike. Visitors aren't exactly welcome on Turk Island as the area is part of a wildlife sanctuary - various shorebirds with long legs and beaks probing the mud in the shallow waters for snacks. The summit of Turk Island has a small rock outcrop with its own benchmark. All of the summits provide fine views across the Bay and the surrounding communities, though today the visibility was particularly poor.

The return was uneventful until I got a screw in the front tire when passing one of the construction sites. The wood screw had been meant to hold a piece of plywood or sheetrock in place, but somehow found its way to the street and my tire. Drats. Luckily I was prepared with a spare tube and it proved only a minor inconvenience. I was back home just as the family was returning from their various schools, overall a nice way to spend the day...

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