Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Hicks Road slides out

February 26, 2019

Hicks Road slide has a temporary fix. A half-mile south of Shannon Road.


Anyone who has ridden up this road knows why I call it “Horrible Hicks,” besides the simple alliteration.

The road suffered a slump in recent rains, bad enough that the county had to put up a mobile LED warning sign.

The road is open.

By the way, if anyone is missing a hubcap, there’s a whole bunch of them next to this slide on what appears to be another slide. Maybe the caps were on someone’s property higher up and they slid down the hill.

The slide is about a half-mile south of Shannon Road.

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.

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.

Flow Trail – like an amusement park ride

September 19, 2018

Flow Trail, a ribbon of single-track through Demonstration Forest.


Thanks to Soquel Demonstration Forest rangers and Santa Cruz mountain bikers for collaborating to create one of the most enjoyable off-road single-track trails in Northern California. And it’s legal.

The name Flow Trail evokes images of a smooth path with endless downhill, whoop de doos, and banked turns. I read about it online, so I had to find out for myself. Dream come true or fake news?

I headed off on the kind of day that makes Northern California weather nervana: Clear skies, temps in the 60s, a gentle breeze. My ride started six miles away so I could become accustomed to the wider tires, 26 x 2.0 nobby monsters. Talk about sluggish steering.

Riding on Highland Way is never a sure thing. In one place the road has caved, narrowing it to one lane. I’ve clambered over a huge slide on a vertical slope. But views sublime: The forest across from Soquel Canyon looks so three-dimensional.

Sulphur Springs Road, logging site and helicopter pad.


I arrived at the Demonstration Forest entrance on Highland Way and saw four parked cars. It’s a zoo on weekends.

Having ridden here since 1980, I knew the routine. I headed up Highland Way to Buzzard Lagoon Road and hoped for hard-packed dirt. It was so-so, plenty of dust. The grind up Buzzard Lagoon with eight to 12 percent grades tested my legs.

Not much has changed since 1980. The road is graded from time to time, which is a good thing because otherwise we’d be riding through a boulder field.

I turned right onto West Ridge Trail with fear and loathing. This ride conjures up the best and worst of off-road riding. Worst: the trail is Rut City with rocky sections that even a pro would find challenging. As for me, I’m not proud. I walked in places.

Tribute to a mountain bike trail builder.


I remembered little from my last trip here in 2007, just that it’s gnarly. My rides always took me down the oh-so-tame Aptos Creek Fire Road. However, I remembered the helicopter landing site cleared by loggers in the early 2000s or so. It’s also where Sulphur Springs Road heads downhill.

I continued on past more trailheads — Braille, Tractor Road, destined for Flow Trail. Sadly, or maybe blessedly, Sawpit Trail at the west end of the forest is closed for logging operations. This is still an actively logged forest, thus the name Demonstration Forest. I heard chainsaws in the distance.

In just over two miles I arrived at Flow Trail. Orange netting blocked the way to Sawpit Trail.

Start of Flow Trail. Sawpit Trail access cut off.


Did the videos lie? Would Flow Trail be manageable for an aging tenderfoot like me? My fears evaporated in a flash. I found myself gliding effortlessly on the well-designed trail. Many turns are banked.

Some steep drops of 35-40 percent left me screaming for joy, and fear. The trail has held up well since opening in 2015.

As for uphill, there isn’t any. The short segments of uphill were put there for your enjoyment, easily ridden with momentum coming off the steep stuff.

The trail is signed Segment 1 through 6, mostly at intersections with Tractor Road and other logging roads, not that you’d ever become lost since Flow Trail is all single-track.

Start of the long grind up Hihn’s Mill Road.


I arrived at Hihn’s Mill Road after 3.6 miles and headed back to the entrance. I had forgotten how steep it was, or maybe I was much stronger back then. It’s a grind, with grades of 8-12 percent. A few flat spots let you catch your breath.

I must confess I’ve ridden a few other trails that rival Flow Trail, but they shall remain nameless. Flow Trail is legal.

I measured the route using a pre-calibrated CatEye wireless bike computer. Note that GPS fails miserably on this route. Canyons and trees degrade the satellite signal. My Garmin Edge 500 clocked in 1.3 miles short.

CatEye Mileage:

Start ride at entrance to Demonstration Forest on Highland Way.
1.93 Right onto Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.47 Open gate
2.87 Keep right at junction, continuing climb on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.16 Gate.
5.08 Right onto West Ridge Trail at post. Kiosk visible from fire road.
5.7 Corral Trail
6.64 Sulphur Springs Road
7.15 Braille Trail
7.25 Right onto Flow Trail
9.3 Segment 4.
9.37 Logs across trail
9.62 Segment 5
10.11 Segment 6
10.88 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
11.1 Keep left at junction with Tractor Road.
11.4 Braille Trail
12.34 Sulphur Springs Road.
14.63 Gate and toilet.
14.81 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

Garmin GPS mileage:

1.88 Right onto unpaved Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.78 Keep right at junction, continuing uphill on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.91 Right onto West Ridge Trail at tall post. Kiosk behind bushes.
5.45 Corral Trail.
6.28 Sulphur Springs Road.
6.74 Braille Trail.
6.81 Flow Trail.
9.74 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
9.92 Keep left on Hihn’s Mill Road at Tractor Road junction.
10.31 Braille Trail.
11.18 Sulphur Springs Road.
13.49 Gate and toilet.
13.51 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

Cheating old age

July 29, 2018

Bean Creek Road has it all for remote country roads. Cool and refreshing in the morning.


Yes, I took a bus to Scotts Valley this morning so I could enjoy my ride. That means fewer miles.

In the days of yore, we’d ride from Palo Alto over to the coast, then back up Mountain Charlie Road, Summit Road, Skyline. It was a long day. Jobst Brandt led the way and kept things interesting.

Taking the Highway 17 Express from Diridon Station was a close thing. It carries three bikes. I was bike number three. A fourth rider wasn’t allowed to bring on his bike. Rules are rules.

I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable it is riding up steep roads with fresh legs. I could enjoy the climbs without suffering.

Silo house on Mountain Charlie Road.


After the Mountain Charlie Road climb, I can say with certainty that the hardest part is the section before the blue silo house. The Old Japanese Road section is not as difficult.

Summit Road has some stiff climbs, but they’re a shade easier than Mountain Charlie, topping out at 15 percent. The first 0.4 miles after leaving the Bear Creek Road junction have been paved, long sections of guardrail added and hillsides reinforced.

One of the reasons I like this ride is the lack of car traffic. It’s sparse, but I’m seeing more cars than I did 30 years ago.

The real problem with cars in the Santa Cruz Mountains is Highway 9, which has become a gateway road where all the traffic goes. Castle Rock State Park is the biggest magnet. Parking lots keep expanding along Skyline.

I headed down Hwy 9, but if you’re planning on turning left onto Redwood Gulch Road or Pierce Road, hope for a break in traffic. It’s bad enough now that there’s no guarantee you can make a safe turn.

A grim reminder that Mountain Charlie Road needs ongoing maintenance.


All of this reminds me of Marin County and Panoramic Highway. If you want to see the future on Hwy 9, this is it. Panoramic Hwy is lined with cars for miles, everyone trying to get to Muir Woods.

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean and a layer of brown haze reminded me of how lucky we are here. Forest fires are a rarity in the Santa Cruz Mountains, thanks to the fog. Let’s hope it stays that way.

You’re gonna need a bigger parking lot

July 21, 2018

Skyline Boulevard road repair south of Castle Rock State Park. Looks nice.


On what is becoming an increasingly rare occasion, I made it up to Skyline Boulevard to check out the road. This being a Saturday, I didn’t have much hope for minimal traffic, and I was right.

Weekend traffic is becoming so bad on Hwy 9 that the break in car platoons is becoming less and less frequent. So where are these people driving to and who are they? They’re hikers and cyclists going to recreate in our mountain parks.

If I had my way, I’d ban cars in the Santa Cruz Mountains, except for local residents, and make everyone headed to a park take a shuttle bus.

Which leads me to the new visitor center under construction at Castle Rock State Park. Not that I’m against it, but they’re gonna need a bigger parking lot. Visitors are already unable to find parking on weekends. It’s only going to get worse.

Castle Rock State Park’s new parking lot and visitor center under construction.


I headed to see the Skyline Boulevard public works project a mile or so beyond the park. It’s a masterpiece of road repair where a year and a half ago heavy rains washed away the road. I’m sure a culvert was involved. They always are. It looks like it was designed against such a catastrophe. There are actually two repairs, a smaller one close to Las Cumbres.

I heard there was also some public works going on at McKenzie Reservoir, so I headed down that way on Black Road. Sure enough, the road has been smoothed out from lots of heavy truck traffic. San Jose Water is doing something to improve the reservoir’s outlet. The water level is low, although I’ve seen it even lower.

McKenzie Reservoir is undergoing maintenance to improve outlet structures that meet dam safety standards.


Finally, the last public works project was a couple of slides fixed on Sanborn Road.

Road repairs continue from the previous winter’s storms. Schulties Road, I’m told, is being fixed, but I haven’t heard about Redwood Lodge Road’s slide. Cyclists can still walk through, but cars can’t make it.

I’ve only mentioned a few roads that took a hit in the El Niño storms two winters ago. Santa Cruz County has pics of all the damaged roads in a PDF file.