Saturday, November 19, 2011


I normally ride my bike in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. This week I looked at a map and realized that I very rarely ride on the other side of Silicon Valley, in the Diablo range. In fact, I think Mount Hamilton is the only ride I've done over there. So yesterday I decided to explore over on that side of the valley a little.

View Metcalf in a larger map

The plan was to head up Metcalf Road, a notorious climb, and explore whatever was on the other side of the hill. Looking at the map, I thought there might be a few interesting roads back there, but then looking closer it became clear that at least some of the roads were private and blocked. It's a shame, because I'm sure the hills back there are lovely.

I started at about 9 AM under a crystal clear sky punctuated with puffy clouds. Metcalf is roughly west of my house, so I took Santa Teresa Boulevard over to Bernal, and then down Monterey Highway a bit to the intersection with Metcalf.

Metcalf Road snaking up the hills, from across 101
These foothills of the Diablo Range are utterly barren. The contrast with the Santa Cruz range's lush redwoods couldn't be more stark. I don't know whether that's a hangover from old logging or something about the geology, but in any case it doesn't make for much shade. On a hotter day I would have baked on this road.

On the east side of Metcalf
Metcalf Road is not especially long, but it sure is steep. It climbs 1000 feet in about 2.1 miles, for an average of 9%. And worse yet, from the bottom you can see it snake its way all the way up the hill. There's no shoulder on the road, and while it doesn't have a lot of traffic, virtually all of it is trucks with trailers, heading for the motorcycle park at the top of the hill.

Those cycles are fantastic. From the road you can see them popping into the air, one after another. Such amazing torque.

An old barn on Metcalf Road
The other side of Metcalf heads down a bit, through more of the same terrain. It passes by something called the Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion Test Facility, which sounds intimidating. They pull rockets up these tiny roads?

Further down, the road passes by houses and finally enters some thicker woods with much more shade. Metcalf ends at an intersection with San Felipe Road. Heading west, San Felipe drops down into Suburbia, forming the other side of a popular Metcalf loop.

I went the other way, heading east on San Felipe into the hills. This is where the maps show lots of spindly little isolated roads, perfect for exploring on a bike. But the more I looked at it, the clearer it became that these roads weren't accessible. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards San Felipe meets Las Animas Road, and enters something called the San Felipe Ranch. End of the road.

Las Animas Road
I continued on Las Animas Road. Again, on the map, this looks like it makes a loop that comes back to Metcalf. I had already seen that the other side of that loop was blocked, and about a mile down Las Animas I came to another gate. This one had signs indicating its the United Technologies Chemical Systems Division. Something tells me these hills are superfund sites in the making.

My little exploration of these hills didn't go very far. I sat at the bottom of Las Animas, eating a Clif bar and considering where to go next. If I went down the other side of San Felipe I'd be back in town, with no destination in mind. I decided to head further south, which meant heading back down Metcalf.

Looking down Metcalf
At the bottom of Metcalf I took Malech Road, which runs right next to Highway 101 for about a mile until it meets Bailey. I took that over to the Coyote Trail, and then took that south into Morgan Hill. I don't normally like taking trails, since I think fast bikes can spoil an otherwise relaxed experience for other folks. But virtually no one was on the trail yesterday, which made for a quiet and pleasant run next to the creek.

Morgan Hill, from Anderson Dam

At the end of the trail I took Cochrane, heading southeast. At one point there's a sign for Anderson Dam, so I took a look. After a remarkably steep little hill, I got a good view of the valley, on one side, and the reservoir on the other.

Anderson Lake, from the dam
El Toro, from De Witt
It was about time to think about heading home, so as a start I headed across the valley on Main Avenue, into the charming little downtown area in Morgan Hill, and then down Dunne, De Witt and Edmunson, all heading around El Toro.

I took Oak Glen around the Chesbro Reservoir, where a couple of turkey vultures patiently waited for me to pass before they dug into some roadkill. I continued to Uvas, then headed north toward home on McKean and Camden.

In all it was just over 62 miles, including a couple of unnecessary turns near the end to ensure I covered at least 100 km (a small accomplishment, but an accomplishment anyway). It was just 2700 feet of climbing, although it seemed like more.

Wandering around the hills on roads completely unknown to me was great, and it's a shame there aren't more miles to ride over there. It looks like Coyote Lake, a little farther south, might have more miles in hills, but that's stretching my range quite a bit. Maybe next time.
Elevation profile for Metcalf and Uvas

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