Powder Works a novel idea

February 14, 2019

Pipeline Road overlook, with Santa Cruz in the distance.


Once upon a ride, May 28, 2006, on a fine spring Sunday, Jobst Brandt led us onto a trail deep in the redwoods alongside the San Lorenzo River. It took us from Graham Hill Road over to Highway 9 and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

So-named Pipeline Road headed down, paved at times, past an overlook where we stopped to drink in the view of the blue Pacific and Santa Cruz shimmering in the distance. It was a magical moment.

Little did I realize that only a short distance away, California Powder Works made gunpowder in the late 19th century. The company supplied the transcontinental railroad (Summit Tunnel and other tunnels), and just about every other public works project out West.

At one point they installed some heavy-caliber naval artillery to test the powder. That must have been quite a boom coming from the canyon. Heard for miles around no doubt.

Everything from those times is gone — the tunnel, the flume, and the dam to supply water vital for the manufacturing process. One historic artifact still standing is a covered bridge spanning the San Lorenzo River.

Most workers lived in company housing, in what is now Paradise Park.

We exited onto Hwy 9, bypassing the narrow parts of the road leading out of Santa Cruz.

It’s history worthy of a novel, Powder Works. In the “works” right now.

East Palo Alto creek path reopens

February 11, 2019

The Bay Trail at San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto has reopened.


A key path linking Palo Alto to Dumbarton Bridge opened last December, which is good news for cyclists who like to visit the East Bay parks.

The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority invested $76 million widening the creek, repaving the path that connects to Geng Road and adding a new Friendship bridge. The path that was replaced is only a half-mile long.

While you may think it a waste of money, it’s one of those public works projects that will pay for itself after the first flood. The normally placid creek occasionally spills over its banks and wreaks havoc. The wall and widening will help contain the floodwater.

Once over the bridge, the old path wasn’t repaved into East Palo Alto. Landscaping will probably be done later this year.

Friendship Bridge leading into East Palo Alto has been repositioned and lengthened.

Road map uncovers the way things were

February 7, 2019

Skyline Boulevard in snow, late December 1990. 25° F when photo taken. Brian Cox, right, and Roman Dial. (Jobst Brandt photo)


If only I could have been around for bike riding when the NAC map — previous posting — was published in 1939 (it mentions the Golden Gate International Exposition). No traffic, except on heavily traveled roads like Hwy 17.

A closer inspection of the map reveals some interesting features:

Hwy 35, Skyline Boulevard was Hwy 5. The number changed in 1964 when California renumbered all its roads.

Portola Redwoods State Park did not exist. The parkland was owned by the Masonic Lodge, which sold it to the state in 1945 to create the park.

Bear Gulch Road between Woodside and Hwy 84 is not shown.

Pomponio Road is shown extending to Pescadero Creek Road. It could be ridden today, but it’s private property and well protected against intruders.

Moody Road is shown, but not named. The road that extends to the west from Moody goes through Foothills Park and connects to Los Trancos Road. There was a quarry there back in the 1940s or so. I rode it once or twice back in 1979.

I’m not sure about the roads going through Los Altos Hills. There isn’t a road that goes through to the east of Arastradero Road off Page Mill Road. Maybe one of those is Elena Road.

No reservoir is shown at Stevens Creek. It was built in 1935.

Skyline Boulevard is shown as under construction south of Hwy 9, although it was widened by 1932 so maybe this map dates that far back. Here’s a good history of Skyline Boulevard. Money ran out and there was no agreement on where to extend Skyline south of Black Road.

Tracks of the South Pacific Coast Railroad (later Southern Pacific) are shown extending south from Los Gatos.

Montebello Road and Stevens Canyon Road are depicted, although Stevens Canyon Road is not shown going to Page Mill.

Soda Springs Road is shown going to Mt. Umunhum, but the mountain is not named. Loma Prieta Road is not shown, although it existed in the 1930s.

Highland Way continues down Redwood Canyon Road, which does not exist today. That looks like Ormsby Cutoff connecting to Grizzly Flat Road, or some variation.

Castle Rock State Park is not shown. It wasn’t declared a state park until 1968.

Highway 236 is not named. It’s part of Hwy 9. I don’t know when the name changed, but the route was paved around 1928, along with Hwy 9. There was a strong desire for a better road for access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

NSGW Park is shown off Tunitas Creek Road. That was Native Sons of the Golden West park and campground. The fraternal organization’s property was private, as far as I know, and no longer in operation today. We used to ride our bikes on Native Sons Cutoff to reach Star Hill Road. The area has changed a lot over the past several decades, so the roads I knew are not the same today.

Congress Springs is named on Hwy 9. There was a nice hotel and mineral spring starting in 1866. An electrified light rail ran up the canyon from Saratoga to the hotel. The hotel burned down in 1903 and the Peninsular Railway was abandoned. I tried to find the mineral spring, without success.

Speaking of Hwy 9, this road was built to Saratoga Gap summit in 1865, called the Saratoga and Pescadero Turnpike. It was completed down into San Lorenzo River valley in 1871. Parts of the original road are still usable for hikers on “Toll Road” trail paralleling Hwy 9 on the east (Castle Rock) side. Santa Clara County bought the road in 1880 and called it Congress Springs Road.

You don’t know what you’re missing until you know what you’re missing. Alpine Road, December 30, 1990. See it and weep.

Old Cañada Road is shown on the map, extending to hwy 92.

Upper Montebello Road with snow in 1994.

Historic USGS maps added to online archive

February 6, 2019

National Automobile Club map from circa 1937.


Thanks for jamesRides for pointing out some interesting history of Montebello Road, which has become a popular cycling route.

Not all roads are county, city, or state owned/managed/right of ways. Montebello Road and parts of Stevens Canyon Road were always on private property. I’m not sure when Santa Clara County took over maintenance and established a right of way on these two roads.

However, just because a road isn’t government maintained, etc., doesn’t mean it is not a public road. The way a road becomes “public” is through a pattern of use established over time.

The original owners of Montebello Road and Stevens Canyon Road probably saw no need to barricade their roads back in the day. The population was small and their neighbors were farmers and ranchers.

Things changed with the rapid growth of industry starting in the 1930s. By the 1950s, people had free time. The more adventuresome took up off-road motorcycling. Those abandoned iron gates, still visible in Stevens Canyon, were the result.

There’s more history of the Black Mountain area in Wikipedia.

Even better, a company called ArcGIS has made available most, if not all, USGS historic maps online. It’s easy to use and lightning fast to load maps, which can be downloaded.

My contribution above is a National Automobile Club map from circa 1937. There’s no date on the map other than 61237 in small numbers. It could be 1937, although Stevens Creek Reservoir is not shown, built in 1935.

Rain washout closes Skyline Boulevard

February 5, 2019

Snowy mountains sparkle in the sun on a clear day in Santa Clara Valley.


Once again, Skyline Boulevard has been closed due to a road washout caused by rain, 1.5 miles south of Page Mill Road. It doesn’t look serious, so the road should be open soon.

Old La Honda Road (west) is also closed due to a washout.

I decided to check out the snow that got deposited on the foothills behind where I live. I rode up Montebello Road and got a first-hand view of nature’s wondrous ways.

While I’m no fan of heavy snow, a light dusting in the hills once in a while is welcome.

Montebello Road holds up well in heavy rains. I didn’t see anything of concern.

I need to check my inclinometer, but it seems like the road has gotten way steeper over the past 40 years of riding on it. I guess it’s one of those geological phenomenons we’ll never fully understand.

This isn’t as heavy a snowfall as we had in February 2011. I rode to Skyline to check that one out, south of Hwy 9. I didn’t post it here, mainly because I didn’t want to encourage people going up there.

It was a zoo, and none too safe for riding.

Heavy snow covered the hills along Skyline Boulevard back in February 2011.

Old Santa Cruz Hwy’s concrete nears 100

January 26, 2019

Old Santa Cruz Hwy’s ancient concrete can be ridden for two miles between Summit Road and Hwy 17.


Today I checked out Old Santa Cruz Hwy between Summit Road and Hwy 17 for old time’s sake.

While Old Santa Cruz Hwy is still all concrete, it has been covered with a thick layer of pavement, except south of Summit Road.

The original road from San Jose to Santa Cruz dates back to 1856. It followed present day San Jose-Soquel Road from the summit. Mountain Charley’s toll road was used later on as well. Richard Beal has all the details in his book Highway 17.

The road was improved along the current Old Santa Cruz Hwy and Glenwood Drive/Highway alignment to state standards in stages starting in 1915. Concrete was laid in 1921-22, so the pavement is nearly a century old. The concrete is cracked in many places, but it’s still in daily use, with paved patches here and there.

The road’s longevity bear’s witness to the durability of concrete. Nothing compares. Asphalt lasts a long time, but concrete is the clear winner.

I can’t say the same for the land around the road. Several slides threaten the road, and trees have fallen in numerous places. Winter rains do that to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Here’s the best ride to Santa Cruz and back

January 21, 2019

Ride to Santa Cruz from Los Gatos, and return. It’s about 5,200 feet altitude gain.


After gathering everyone’s input, I decided to share a map of the best route from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz and back.

It builds on the ride I profiled in Bay Area Bike Rides, editions two and three.

The ride has much to see as it literally covers historic ground that is the stuff of legends. You’ll ride by Mountain Charlie McKiernan’s house where, nearby, he battled a grizzly bear.

You’ll look down on the waters of Lexington Reservoir where there were two communities (Lexington, Alma) and tracks of the South Pacific Coast Railroad, swallowed up in 1952 with the dam.

There’s Holy City where a cultist tried to build a utopian society. Today it’s one shop (closed) on Old Santa Cruz Hwy at the entrance to Redwood Estates.

You’ll speed down San Jose-Soquel Road, one of the best descents in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and then turn right onto the less traveled Laurel Glen Road. Casalegno Store has been at this location since the 1920s.

On Branciforte Drive, watch your electronic devices go haywire as you pass the Mystery Spot. It’s a must visit to appreciate the lure of gullibility and sight tricks.

Avoid all the traffic by taking the scenic San Lorenzo River path, but watch out for needles.

Of course, once you’re at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, nothing beats a ride along West Cliff Drive to soak in the festive beach atmosphere, along with watching surfer dudes and dudettes ride the waves.

The return ride will test your legs on Mountain Charlie Road, but I much prefer the climb over the descent. On the ride up you’re alone with your thoughts on a quiet road. Seeing the bright blue grain silo (converted into a house) makes the climb worth the effort.

Once you’re done, you’ll join me in launching a GoFundMe campaign to bring back the South Pacific Coast Railroad right of way as a world class bike path. We’ll only need 800 million dollars or so to tear out Lexington Reservoir, open the tunnels, rebuild some creek bridges, and buy some of San Jose Water Company’s land. Enjoy your ride.

(P.S. The climb total with tunnels would be 600 feet going south, 900 feet going north, average grade 1-2 percent.)

Mileage Log > Start at E. Main Street and ride south on Los Gatos Creek Trail, next to Hwy 17, keeping Los Gatos Creek on your left. 1.3 Steep section. 1.77 Alma Bridge Rd. 5.95 Keep right on Aldercroft Heights Rd. 6.46 Left onto Old Santa Cruz Hwy at stop sign. 9.11 Mountain Charlie Rd. 10.14 Left onto Summit Rd. at stop sign. 11.5 Morrill Cutoff. Cuts over to San Jose-Soquel Rd. No traffic but steep and bumpy. 12.65 Summit store. 12.84 Right onto San Jose-Soquel Rd. 14.8 Redwood Lodge Rd. 20.77 Right onto Laurel Glen Rd. at Casalegno store. 23.0 Becomes Mountain View Rd. 23.9 Left onto Branciforte Dr. at stop sign. 26.9 Granite Creek Rd. 27.36 Mystery spot. 28.6 Glen Canyon Rd. 29.22 Becomes Market St. 30.05 Right onto Water St. at traffic light. 30.43 Right onto path to circle under bridge over San Lorenzo River. Take path south. 31.8 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on right past parking lot. Return on river path: 33.53 Right, crossing bridge, then jog left to begin Felker St. 33.78 Right onto Ocean St. at stop sign. Cross Ocean St. to begin Plymouth St., keeping left after crossing. 33.9 Keep right on Plymouth at on-ramp to Hwy 17. 34.13 Becomes Fernside St. 34.27 Left onto Emeline Ave. at stop sign, crossing under Hwy 1. 34.49 Keep left on Emeline at junction. 34.58 Left at parking driveway to Plymouth St. 34.64 Right onto Plymouth St. at stop sign. 35.1 Becomes El Rancho Dr. 35.75 Keep right at junction for La Madrona Dr. 37.72 Left onto Hwy 17 flyover at stop sign. Becomes Mt. Hermon Rd. 38.44 Right onto Scotts Valley Dr. at traffic light. 38.54 Left onto Bean Creek Rd. at traffic light. 42.19 Left onto Glenwood Dr. at stop sign. 43.15 Left onto Mountain Charlie Rd. 44.9 Steep section. 45.45 Steep section. 48.22 Right/straight onto Summit Rd. at stop sign, crossing Hwy 17. 48.41 Left at stop sign onto Summit Road, followed by immediate left onto Mountain Charlie Rd. 49.91 Left onto Old Santa Cruz Hwy at stop sign. 51.83 Right onto Aldercroft Heights Rd. Alternate route is stay on Old Santa Cruz Hwy, Hwy 17 on ramp, exit onto Alma Bridge Road in half mile. 52.34 Left onto Alma Bridge Rd. 56.52 Right onto Los Gatos Creek Tr. at Lexington Reservoir dam. 58.28 End ride on E. Main St.

What’s the best way to Santa Cruz?

January 18, 2019

Ride begins on Los Gatos Creek Trail. There’s a steep section right before climb up the Lexington Reservoir dam.


A long time ago I posted the best route to Santa Cruz from Los Gatos.

It deserves a more thorough review. I wouldn’t say any one route is the best. They all have good and bad points.

Following are some routes for your consideration. I’ve ridden all of them multiple times and with many variations.

Least Climbing

That’s easy, but the route, while legal, is NEVER recommended. Not even Christmas day. That’s because it takes Hwy 17 for a half mile and involves a left-hand turn.

Los Gatos Main Street; Los Gatos Creek Trail; Alma Bridge Road; Aldercroft Heights Road; Old Santa Cruz Hwy; Hwy 17, Glenwood Drive; Granite Creek Road Overpass; S. Navarra Road/Green Hills Road; Glen Canyon Road; Branciforte Drive; Market Street; Water Street; San Lorenzo River path.

There’s a plan to build a wildlife underpass near that half-mile stretch of Hwy 17. Wish they’d make it accessible for people.

My Favorite (and variations)

When I was riding to Santa Cruz I liked this route the most, although I often rode a 105-mile Hwy 1 loop, which was my real favorite. Los Gatos Main Street; Los Gatos Creek Trail; Alma Bridge Road; Aldercroft Heights Road; Old Santa Cruz Hwy; Mountain Charlie Road; Glenwood Drive; Scotts Valley Drive; Mount Herman Road; Hwy 17 flyover to El Rancho Drive; Plymouth Street; Emeline Street; Fernside Street; Plymouth Street; Felker Street; San Lorenzo River path.

The problem with this route is the flyover. It’s not an easy maneuver. Drivers will wonder what you’re up to. It’s a better return route because the flyover isn’t a problem going that direction.

There are two alternatives. First, take Glen Canyon Road off Mount Herman Road, then Branciforte. I’m not crazy about Glen Canyon Road because some drivers like to speed here, and it’s a two-lane road. Second, take La Madrona Drive, which parallels Hwy 17 until an underpass back to El Rancho. Unfortunately, La Madrona has a lot of traffic, it’s narrow and people speed.

There’s another route from Scotts Valley that I haven’t taken — Lockewood Lane to Graham Hill Road, which goes to Santa Cruz. I haven’t done it because I’ve ridden Graham Hill enough times to know there’s no pleasure in it. Traffic is heavy and moving fast on Graham Hill, which is narrow in places.

South Pacific Coast Railroad right of way at Aldercroft Heights Road.


Another alternative in Scotts Valley is to take Granite Creek Road (Hwy 17 overpass is easy) to Branciforte. It’s a nice descent and not much traffic.

Mountain Charlie Road

This route calls for branching off onto Mountain Charlie Road off Old Santa Cruz Highway and climbing to the Hwy 17 overpass at Summit Road. It’s a steep climb on Mountain Charlie.

Descend Mountain Charlie Road. Keep your speed down because there’s an occasional car going up and the road is narrow.

The stagecoach used Mountain Charlie Road. Must have been quite a ride.


Take Glenwood Drive or Bean Hollow Road into Scotts Valley. Bean Hollow Road doesn’t have many cars, it’s scenic, and not too steep except the last quarter mile when going north.

Returning via Mountain Charlie Road is the best way home for avoiding cars. It’s real steep in several places, but they’re short stretches.

San Jose-Soquel Road

This is a great way to go (but not from Santa Cruz) if you like long, fast descents. However, it means riding on Summit Road in traffic. You’re not going to Soquel, so take Laurel Glen Road/Mountain View Road, Branciforte. There’s a climb on Laurel Glen, but much less traffic compared to Soquel, then Soquel Avenue.

Hate speech on San Jose-Soquel Road.


I don’t recommend riding up San Jose-Soquel Road because there’s a lot of traffic. There’s much less traffic on San Jose-Soquel going south in the morning.

Other Roads

Bear Creek Road. It’s better to ride down than up. The road is steep and has a lot of traffic. You can take the lane on the descent and keep with traffic, except for the occasional speeder.

Redwood Estates. I’ve never been up that direction, and only down a few times. It’s a very twisty route with lots of driveways. I’m not a fan.

Glenwood Cutoff

It used to be an option when returning from Santa Cruz, but Hwy 17, even though it’s only 0.36 miles to Laurel Road, is a nightmare today. Turning left is extremely dangerous.

Highway 9

This should be the go-to route into Santa Cruz from the Bay Area, but the ride from Boulder Creek into Santa Cruz has some narrow sections and traffic is heavy, always. It’s too bad because this is the most scenic canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains with the San Lorenzo River.

I’d like to see the Roaring Camp Railroad right of way turned into a recreation path, should they ever close up shop. Not that I’m for that. I love the railroad.

I’ve never ridden to Santa Cruz on a weekday, and I’m not about to. Many drivers commute from Santa Cruz to the South Bay and you can be sure they don’t all take Hwy 17. They’re in a hurry.

Ride early on a Sunday morning and it’s not too bad. Keep to the San Lorenzo River path to avoid traffic during beach weather.

Why we ride to Santa Cruz. The beach.

Have you had a self-driving car encounter?

January 13, 2019

Waymo car driving east on Fremont Avenue in Los Altos.


I typically ride through Los Altos and the nearby hills on the weekend, and invariably I’ll see a self-driving Waymo car on the road. Should I be worried?

I’m worried, given what I know now. However, five years ago when I wrote “Skidders,” a rather short novel about autonomous cars being hijacked, I was all-in for autonomous cars.

I’ve had only one interaction with a Waymo vehicle. It was on a Sunday on Purissima Road in Los Altos Hills at a stop sign for Viscaino Road. The Waymo was on my right. We came to the intersection at the same time. Technically, I was supposed to yield (car on your right rule).

I slowed to a near stop, but noticed the Waymo car wasn’t moving. As I started pedaling, I detected the slightest of jerks, as though the car was starting to move and immediately stopped.

In a driver-controlled car, eye contact will settle who is going to go first, or a wave of the hand. But with an autonomous car that kind of communication is lost.

I figure the driver behind the wheel on this occasion was waiting to see what the car would do on its own.

As I rode away I wondered if I should have stopped and put my foot down. What would the Waymo car do?

Farther along, the Waymo car turned right onto Arastradero Road where there was a flag man controlling traffic. I wondered what would happen if the flag man took down his stop sign for a moment, for whatever reason? What would the autonomous car do?

I have heard that the Waymo cars are extremely cautious, to the point that they irritate some motorists.

I looked around and found one interesting article about autonomous cars and bikes. It was written in December 2016 by Brian Wiedenmeier. He was invited to ride along in a self-driving Uber car.

What he saw bothered him. The car made right-hand turns that would have threatened a cyclist’s safety. Read his article for the details.

The early days of self-driving cars using the streets, without humans inside, are upon us. They’re being used, driverless, by Waymo in Arizona on a very limited basis.

We know what happened with the Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Phoenix. Unfortunately, there will be more similar fatalities. A video on YouTube offers opinions by experts as to why it happened.

Of course, the driver wasn’t paying attention, which didn’t help matters.

All that said, I’m still optimistic that autonomous cars will make our roads safer, but it’s going to take a while. There will be problems, but they can be overcome.

I’d much rather see autonomous cars on the road than distracted or drunk drivers at the wheel.

My biggest concern is that all cars will have to be in autonomous mode for there to be really safe driving, like the airline industry.

If you’ve had encounters with autonomous cars while cycling, let me know here. Do you think the future is bright for autonomous cars and bicycles mixing it up?

New Bay Trail extension looking good

January 7, 2019

It looks like the improved stretch of Bay Trail has dried out and can withstand rain without getting muddy.


Today, after an inch of rain, I checked out the improved Bay Trail that begins near Baylands Park in Sunnyvale.

I complained about the muddy conditions after last month’s rains, but it looks like the trail has dried out enough that it’s solid even after rain.

I saw only one minor puddle, and the road is firm.

I’m thinking that the rest of the trail to Mountain View, which runs behind the Sunnyvale water treatment plant, could easily be fixed.

They just need to scrape off the gravel and roll it flat. This road is already hard-packed, unlike some of the levee roads in the South Bay that become a quagmire after rain or heavy fog.