Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quicksilver

Riding through Almaden Quicksilver Park is my normal "go out and get exercise" ride, so I wouldn't normally bother to write about it except that a) it's been a while since I've written about any rides, and b) it's been many months since I've ridden Quicksilver, so I could perhaps see it with fresh eyes.

Unfortunately I would also see it through the awful lens of my iPhone, since my normal camera had no charge.  I figured I might try some of the photography-related applications I have, since I obviously wouldn't be getting any decent pictures.

For me, riding through Quicksilver means first riding to Quicksilver -- specifically the Hacienda entrance in New Almaden.  For reasons I don't quite understand, this ride always drains me.  Maybe it's just the fact that it's several miles on a mountain bike, or that it rises a little.  In any case, I always start the Quicksilver ride with legs completely drained of life.

New Almaden's Casa Grande
This ride yesterday was my first ride through Quicksilver since last fall.  The trail is closed to bicycles after rain, and a particularly shaded part of the trail is closed entirely for pretty much the entire rainy season.  This was, therefore, the first time I've seen the newly-renovated Casa Grande (the old mining office and residence) open.  It seems like it's been in rehab since I moved here.

The flags are out in New Almaden
New Almaden was decked out in American flags.  I'm not sure why, exactly -- maybe leftovers from Memorial Day?  In any case it's a festive look.

Patrick Tillman memorial in New Almaden
On the theme of seeing things with new eyes, for the first time I noticed a memorial very near the Hacienda entrance, and went over to take a look.  It turns out to be for Patrick Tillman, who grew up in New Almaden. Who knew? There were lots of flowers, at least some of which were probably from Memorial Day, but the wildflowers surrounding the memorial give it a permanently fresh look.

Enough tourism: it was time to get riding.  If you start at the Hacienda entrance, Quicksilver is a sort of lollipop: you ride up the Mine Hill trail to a junction at 1000 feet elevation, and then take one of a couple of loops.  No options on the first section, but then lots of options.

At the junction you can take something called the Capehorn Pass trail, which apparently heads down toward the Mockingbird entrance.  I guess that's not really a lollipop.  I've been here dozens of times, but I know nothing of that route.  You can also take the Randol trail, which heads down toward the reservoir and forms one leg of a roughly 10 mile loop with the Mine Hill trail.  Lastly, you can continue climbing Mine Hill to the high point of the park.

Looking East from the Mine Hill junction

My first photographic experiment was to take a 360-degree panorama of the junction area using Microsoft's Photosynth application. These panorama apps amaze me, the way they detect motion and stitch images on the fly. Unfortunately they are more effective in the act than in the result, which doesn't really bear much scrutiny. In this case, the Capehorn Pass trail (which is probably where I started) is quite muddled, as is a small area near the downhill section of Mine Hill trail. I tried several of these on the ride, and this was the best result.



Panorama viewer at Photosynth.net

Still, it's a free app, it's nearly perfect, and it's composed mostly of magic, so to complain would be ungrateful. If you have Silverlight installed (like, say, if you use Netflix with this browser), click through to the viewer to get a much better experience.

Taking pictures is a good excuse to catch one's breath, but then it's time to ride again. My preferred route is up Mine Hill and then around to the Randol trail, because I like to get the big climbs out of the way. This section of the Mine Hill trail is slightly less steep in aggregate, with several short flat sections. Partway up you get another choice: you can head up the Castillero trail through English Town and around the peak of Mine Hill, or just continue up the Mine Hill trail to the junction where the Castillero meets up again. The Castillero trail adds about a half mile and reaches a slightly higher elevation. I took the Mine Hill trail this time.

Another experiment I tried in this section was the Smithsonian's Leafsnap application. In theory, you take a picture of a leaf and it tells you what kind of tree it is. A miracle. The main problem with it, from my point view, is that it only really works on the East Coast -- they don't have California trees in the database yet. If they've got the pattern matching logic in place, it seems the data could be crowdsourced. The other problem with it is that it requires network access -- the analysis takes place on the servers, not the phone. That's reasonable, but in my experience the most interesting trees have poor cell phone coverage. If the upload fails the app doesn't save the image, and you can't later upload photos you've taken while out of range. So we either need to move all the trees closer to cell phone towers, or possibly change that behavior. Whichever is easier.

Eventually the Mine Hill tail meets up with Castillero again at about 1550 feet, which is the high point for this ride. At this junction is a couple of picnic tables with an absolutely beautiful view, a great reward for the effort of climbing. The ground immediately before you drops away into a valley, across which you see Loma Prieta, Mount Umunhum and the ridge between them. You can see Hicks Road snaking up toward its high point, and then Mount Umunhum Road heading up from there.

If only I had a decent camera on me. Still, I needed to kill some time to keep my heart from exploding, so some experimentation was in order. By this time it was about 3 PM, and Mount Umunhum off to the southwest was partly in silhouette and thus an indistinct grayish-green (in the morning it's breathtaking). The foreground was clearer and more colorful. HDR to the rescue!

I have two HDR apps on my iPhone: TrueHDR and Pro HDR. One of them works reasonably (given the iPhone's limitations) and the other poorly, but I don't know which is which. So it's time for an inconclusive bake-off, using the view from the picnic tables toward Umunhum.

TrueHDR
Pro HDR
TrueHDR image of the picnic table
with Umunhum in the distance
In each of these cases I used the app's automatic mode. I think the Pro HDR image looks about right, close to what my eyes were seeing. The sky in the TrueHDR looks quite stormy, whereas in reality the clouds were white. I don't like what TrueHDR did with the tree, but the wind kicked up just as I started, so I suppose I need to discount the tree since moving things are probably difficult for multiple-photo HDR apps.

Based on that single sample it looks like Pro HDR is much better, but I need more examples. I took a few more HDR pictures, but for reasons that escape me now I only used TrueHDR, and the results were roughly OK. This shot of Umunhum, for example, is not too bad, although the color of the dirt is unrealistic and Umunhum has an odd quality to it.

From this junction, Mine Hill heads generally downward toward the reservoir. Near the start of this section is one of my favorite views. The trail at one point follows the ridge of Mine Hill, and you can stand at one point and see Umunhum off to the left, and the Almaden Valley and the Santa Teresa hills (not to mention the Diablo Range) off to the right. It's glorious. Perfect for a 360-degree panorama. Which didn't turn out. Harrumph.

Since this section is downhill, I'm normally blowing through it pretty quickly. On the map there are a couple of intersecting trails, but I'd never even noticed the junctions before. So this time I stopped to take notice of where they were, but didn't explore much because bikes are generally forbidden. One of these days I need to explore some of these trails that are forbidden to bikes, but a very long hike from any of the entrances.

Eventually the trail rounds a corner and you get a view of the reservoir. This would have been another good scene for a bake-off, but for some reason I forgot to do it. Instead, let's look at True HDR versus a normal shot, 'cause that's all I've got.

True HDR
iPhone camera, lightened a little
In this case you can see how True HDR made the scene very atmospheric. Very Wuthering Heights. But not realistic.

From this point the trail winds down the hill and meets up with the Randol Trail at about 820 feet of elevation. The Randol trail climbs from here to about 1000 feet to back at the junction four miles away, and rolls a bit. It's largely shaded, which is why it's closed all winter. By the time I reach this point I'm always exhausted, but I just love this trail, leg-sapping pitches and all. Both the shade and the sense of isolation are welcome on hot summer days.

Returning to the junction, I've completed the candy part of the lollipop, and now retrace the stick, back toward New Almaden.

Almaden Quicksilver Park's Hacienda entrance.
From the ridge above, with New Almaden in the background
If you zoom into this shot you can see the memorial to Patrick Tillman next to the road. Roughly behind it is La Foret restaurant, which I haven't been to but is very well regarded. I was hungry when I passed by, but I suppose I wasn't dressed for it.

It's easy to get complacent about Quicksilver because its close and I ride it a lot. But it's really a treasure, and despite my "stop and smell the roses" approach to this ride, there's a lot there that I've never seen and is probably worth exploring. The Garmin tells me that I rode just over 26 miles with 1800 feet of climbing, same as always.

2 comments:

  1. Hi, thanks for sharing. I think Pro HDR gives a little bit sharper result, while TrueHDR more natural colors. But anyway I recommend you to use something like this http://besthdrsoftwaremac.com/ to have both features for the best picture.

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  2. Hi!

    I hope this message finds you well! My name is Erin Cataldi and I work in the Footage Acquisition department at NFL Films. We're currently in production on our "A Football Life" documentary series which will air on NFL Network later this Fall. This year, we're doing an episode on the life and legacy of Pat Tillman.

    One of our producers came across your blog, and is interested in using your picture of Pat's memorial within this film. If this is something you can help us out with, please email me back at Erin.Cataldi@nfl.com.

    Thanks so much, I look forward to hearing from you!

    Best,

    Erin Cataldi
    NFL Films/Footage and Photo Acquisitions
    erin.cataldi@nfl.com
    856-222-3500 ext 3805

    ReplyDelete