Vista Grande NN
Flag Hill NN
Peak 1,423ft P300

Thu, Nov 7, 2013
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On the last of four consecutive days hiking local area peaks, I chose something that was somewhat a combination of the last three days. Like the previous day, it was in the Sunol region of Alameda County. Like the second day, I would ride my bike from home to the trailhead. And related to the first day, I was in full swing of a poison oak outbreak on both legs that was making it hard to sleep at night. My wife thought the bike and hike outing would only exacerbate the itching, but I thought it would help take my mind off it. Really, I just wanted to go out for another hike.

The Sunol Regional Park is tucked away near the southern border of Alameda County, just north of Calaveras Reservoir. It is far from any freeway so one gets the feeling of isolation and wilderness that I didn't get at Pleasanton Ridge the previous day. Calaveras Rd leads from Milpitas through the hills and along the reservoir and the park before connecting to Interstate 680 further north. The main entrance to the regional park is side trip on Geary Rd. Just north of Geary Road is Welch Creek Road that provides access to the northern part of the park as well as some exclusive ranch homes several miles east up the road. I had been to Welch Creek Road once before for a hike to Maguire Peaks, but today I was interested in some lesser summits on the south side of the road.

The ride to the start was 25 miles in length, taking me across North San Jose and Milpitas before climbing into the hills and the scenic ride on Calaveras Rd with the reservoir off to one side. The road is generally lightly used, making it ideal for cyclists, but traffic has picked up in recent years as the City of San Francisco is in the middle of a major construction project to rebuild the dam at the reservoir. The road can be dusty at times and the trucks very large. I spent over two hours riding to the trailhead off Welch Creek Road. I locked my bike to the gate found there and started up the old ranch road leading higher into the park. The trailhead and junction signs are an elaborate arrangement of rock and wood, both sturdy and hard to miss. I followed the road through the thick shade of oaks growing on the south side of the creek canyon, up to the more open grassy slopes in about half a mile. A junction here indicates Vista Grande to the east in another mile with Flag Hill a slightly shorter distance to the west. I hiked east up a road that follows the ridgeline up to Vista Grande, reaching the viewpoint in about half an hour. There is a lone oak with a park bench under it located here, with a view looking southwest over the park with the reservoir in the background. There are few signs of civilization from this vantage. I hiked another quarter mile up the hill to a higher point that provides a somewhat better view. Here one can see east to a dozen or so homes tucked among the hill slopes at the end of Welch Creek Road. To the southeast are a few even higher summits, though these too are minor points along ridges descending from Rose Peak further east. To the northwest can be seen Maguire Peaks and further to Sunol Peak and Pleasanton Ridge where I'd spent the previous day. Looking west, the high ridge upon which sits Mt. Allison and Mission Peak are prominent.

I descended back down to the junction and then hiked west up to Flag Hill, which is not shown on the 7.5' topo, but is depicted on the park map. Flag Hill overlooks the park headquarters which can be seen below to the south. The hike to the summit is only about 15 minutes from the junction. I expected to find a flag pole with an American flag, but saw neither. About two thirds of a mile northwest of Flag Hill is the highpoint of this minor ridge, unnamed Peak 1,423ft. About ten minutes additional hiking along road and cow trail brought me to its somewhat rocky summit. I took some pictures of the surrounding views (N - E - S - W) before starting down. Rather than follow the road back through the junction, I found a series of cow paths dropping down off the northeast side of the ridge for a steeper, but much shorter return route. A couple of calves and their mother did not appreciate finding me on their trail, nor did some additional cows that I found back at the start.

I had to clean the thistles and debris from my shoes before getting back on the bike and riding another 25 miles to get home. The rough estimate of 6hrs that I thought the outing would take turned out to be about 6.5hrs - not a bad guess. I was home with time to spare before I had to pick up my daughter from school. A most enjoyable day, to be sure.

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