Almaden Quicksilver County Park, San Jose
Mine Your own Business: Historical Hiking
at former Mercury Mine
By Kathy Chin Leong
"Wow! This is like Fenghorn Forest in Lord of the Rings," says hiker Gwen Leong of Sunnyvale. And indeed, the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, with its mysterious towering oaks, manzanitas and dense foliage, beckons hikers to stop and listen to the music of the branches. Located off of Amaden Expressway in the historic district known as New Almaden in San Jose, this county park features some 4,200 acres of lush foliage, a 35 miles of hiking paths. Exactly 23 miles are set aside as equestrian paths and another 13 as biking trails, says Bill Burr, senior park ranger.
In the 1860s, the area was home to some 1,800 miners and their families, and the region was mired in mercury. It was the most productive mine in California until its closing in the 1970s and considered the richest mercury mine in North America.
Although the mines are all sealed off today, the nearby Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum (off the Hacienda Road entrance) that tells the history of the area, complete with geology displays and information about mercury mining and native American Indians.
Seasonal exhibits will change so it’s worth coming to a second time. Call 323-1107 for more info. It is open Friday onlys from 12-4 p.m.from September until the end of June.
This hilly region of the approximate 6-mile New Almaden Trail is steep from the Mockingbird Lane entrance but offers plenty of shade thanks to the lichen and moss-covered oak and maple trees. A variety of the segments of this hike range from short to long. The 5.5-mile Hacienda Trail Head intersects New Almaden.
Pet lovers will be glad to know leashed dogs are permitted. Open from 8 a.m. to sunset, the vast park with its steep slopes will give leg calf muscles a strenuous workout. Accessible from three different parking lots, there is no charge for parking, and only the Mockingbird Hill Lane entrance has a flushable bathroom and water. It is best for hikers to carry their own from home to be on the safe side.
Home to spring wildflowers, the Almaden Quicksilver park will transport city slickers into nature lovers with the rigorous beauty of the maples and oaks, birds, and interesting insects such as the painted lady butterfly. Ranger Burr says that the maples and sycamores will typically put on a fall show of orange and yellow colors.
LIONS, BIRDS, SNAKES, MORE
Mountain lion warnings are posted here, and other hikers have noted snakes can also rear their heads. At least a dozen varieties of snakes inhabit the park, says Burr. But even with these warnings in mind, the park is an enjoyable escape, for the large cats are usually not sighted by the casual hiker, he says.
Hiking further up the mountain, visitors hear the rat-tat-tatting and cawing of small winged creatures. Vultures and hawks gliding the skies is a reminder that the planet is shared by all. At varying elevations, hikers can admire panoramic views of the Almaden valley with its replendent multi-million dollar homes out to Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill. On a clear day, says Burr, people can see as far as San Francisco and Oakland.
Directions : From San Jose, take Almaden Expressway heading south towards the hills. Veer right on Almaden Road and turn right on Mockingbird Lane. Call 268-3883 for more information.
Popular Trails: Hacienda Trail, 5.5 mi.; New Almaden Trail, 6 mi.
Level of difficulty: Medium to difficult
Terrain: Moderate to very steep; some trails shared with equestrians; oaks and chaparral throughout.
Shade rating: (Scale 1-5 being most shade) 3 on New Almaden Trail; 1 on the Mine Hill Trail from the Hacienda entrance.
Special features : Butterflies, birds, and madrone trees, views of the Almaden valley. Free parking. Saturday van tours given twice a month for $5. Great for seniors and those who don’t like to hike.
Take Note: Bathrooms only at Mockingbird entrance.
www.parkhere.org - Check out the Almaden Quicksilver County Park and many others. Photos included.
In her spare time, Kathy Chin Leong loves to hike in the Santa Clara Valley and explore new places. This was the first time she went to Almaden Quicksilver, and she's lived here for over 20 years.
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