Friday, April 15, 2011

Uvas Road

Last month I rode to Mt. Madonna. I had planned to come back along Uvas Road, but I ran out of time (not to mention energy), and ended up getting a ride back from Morgan Hill. So last Sunday I decided to see what I had missed.

Open space, and likely to stay that way.
I took my road bike out on a cool, sunny morning, heading south on McKean. Along the way I saw what I thought was a depressing sign advertising a new housing development on the west side of the road. If the economy is picking up, I suppose we'll start seeing new developments like that. But I was wrong. This sign was just the opposite — it advertised the fact that the Pennisula Open Space Trust had, in fact, protected the property.

McKean bends around the Calero Reservoir, the first of three reservoirs I visited. The parking lot at the reservoir was full of trucks with empty boat trailers, but none of them appeared to be on the water. Odd.

Calero Reservoir, looking north.
On that earlier ride to Mt. Madonna I had stopped near the top of Mt. Chual and saw a dirt road snake down the mountain. That road eventually meets up with Casa Loma, which empties onto Uvas Road. So on Sunday, when I came across Casa Loma, I decided to explore up the road from this end.

A wavy barn on Casa Loma Road
The gate on Casa Loma Road
Coming from Uvas, Casa Loma is a short road to the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve. Past a first parking lot, the road turns into a rough dirt path to a second parking lot and the inevitable gate. On the map it appears that the road runs another half mile or so through open space, so it's a shame that not even bikes can continue.

The open space maps imply that the trails around here are open to bikes, so this should be worth a return trip on fatter tires. This isn't exactly an easy place to get to, but the parking lot had plenty of cars.

I headed back to McKean, which at this intersection turns into Uvas Road and runs through a sort of valley along Llagas Creek. The little whitewashed bridges that cross the creek from time to time are all dated 1923. I found myself thinking that there probably wasn't much around in those days, but then again there's really nothing much along this road now, either. And that's just fine.

At one point along this section I was passed by two new Corvettes, and then three sixties-era Corvettes. No idea where they were going, and needless to say I couldn't keep up.

A very full Chesbro Reservoir
Shortly afterward was the turn-off for Oak Glen Avenue, which runs by the Chesbro Reservoir. The reservoir seemed quite full — I assume that the bases of these trees are not normally flooded. I guess I'll have to take another trip down here this fall to figure out what "normal" looks like.

Oak Glen Avenue continues past the dam into Morgan Hill, but since I wanted to continue exploring Uvas Road, I turned around at the dam.

Chesbro Reservoir, with Loma Prieta in the background
About a mile further south on Uvas you reach Croy Road, and again I went exploring up the road. On that Mt. Madonna trip I had also seen the other end of this road, in a sense. Croy Road heads up to Uvas Canyon County Park, which has a trail that heads up to Knibbs Knob and on to Summit Road, where I saw its other end. There was also a report that our recent heavy rains had caused a mudslide across Croy Road, rendering it impassable and briefly trapping some residents. Well, that's worth a look.

Cows lounging next to Croy Road
So far the ride was basically flat, with some rolling bits. Croy Road isn't steep by any means, but has some mean little ramps and ends up climbing to about 1100 feet at the park. My legs were starting to get heavy, and since I wasn't sure what the road further down looked like I was a little worried about wearing myself out. It was on this section that I really started to feel tired.

The area of the mudslide, now cleared

The entrance of Sveadal
Croy Road follows Uvas Creek up into Uvas Canyon. The road ends at the park, but the canyon continues right up to the slopes of Loma Prieta (the Mt. Madonna post has a good shot of the canyon from Loma Prieta). Just before you get to the park, you run into something called Sveadal, a little resort run by a coalition of Swedish groups. The woods here are tall and thick, and the road narrows to one lane. Immediately after the resort is the entrance to the park, which is predictably lovely and once again absolutely packed, considering how difficult it is to get to.

According to the park brochure "uva" is spanish for grape, and all the things named Uvas around here (the canyon, the creek, and by extension the reservoir and road) were named for wild grapes that were once abundant.

After a little rest and a quick snack, it was time to head back down to Uvas Road, and then south to the reservoir.

Uvas Reservoir
Apparently that's Twin Peaks in the middle. Where's the other one?
By the time I was passing the reservoir I was pretty beat. When I got to the intersection of Uvas and Watsonville Road, I thought about where to go next. I could go south to Watsonville, which would likely mean that I'd need a car ride home. Or I could go north to Morgan Hill, and home from there. A quick check of the map confirmed that going to Watsonville meant riding over the mountains on 152, which seemed doubly unpleasant. So it was on to Morgan Hill.

Llamas! Llamas on Watsonville Road
The last time I came to Morgan Hill it was dark, so I didn't get a chance to look around. The part of the town I had seen was the generic suburb, in which every store must be a national brand surrounded by a huge parking lot. Heading up Monterey Road, by contrast, takes you through a nice little downtown sort of area that actually seemed pretty quirky and livable.

Marginally interesting factoid: the town isn't named after a hill. According to the Wikipedia entry, it's named after a person called Hiram Morgan Hill. Who knew?

A water tower in Morgan Hill
I left town on Hale Boulevard, which evolves into Santa Teresa Boulevard. Before it makes that transformation it runs through many acres of nothing whatsoever. Actually, nothing but wind, wind blowing with gusto the wrong way.

But that cruel wind wasn't blowing air, or at least not entirely. It was stinky, which it turns out was probably because I was passing the Monterey Mushroom farm and the nearby "spent compost" heaps. Ripe stuff.

A whole lot of nothing north of Morgan Hill.
Nothing but wind, anyway.
Once you get through the endless nothing, the road turns northwest and heads through the suburbs. About that, the less said the better.

In the end it was about 64 miles, just over a metric century. The Garmin recorded about 1900 feet of climbing overall, which is mostly over the rolling hills. I was pretty spent when got back home, but it was a day well spent.


  1. that gate on Casa Loma Rd opens automatically if you get close enough to it (there's a sensor)...and Casa Loma is passable all the way through, as I've passed through it completely where it comes out onto Loma Chiquita which becomes Summit/Mt. Madonna. No one has ever given me trouble, though Casa Loma is populated with houses and trailers right along the entire length of the rd...

  2. at the beginning, you can see my buddy and I passing through that gate on Casa Loma..