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Other Voices: Hidden treasures right outside our front doors

My stupid New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to run every trail in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s preserves – all 260 miles of them. I have been a trail runner ever since I accidentally discovered Rancho San Antonio was only a quarter-mile from my house when I moved to south Los Altos 29 years ago. When we moved to Los Altos Hills 11 years ago, I got very familiar with the town’s pathways.

My stupid New Year’s resolution got put on hold when I got injured running in the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve in March 2019. As a result, my plan changed to finish in 2020. I only have about 11 miles left before I complete the project.

If you drop a pin at Rancho Shopping Center and draw a semi-circle starting 18 miles north-northwest, you will encompass all 260 miles of the Midpen’s preserves. The easiest to reach and most crowded preserve is Rancho San Antonio. Fortunately, Midpen recently created one-way trails for singletrack paths in the popular preserve, where without it social distancing would be impossible.

The most uncrowded preserves I found are La Honda Creek and Sierra Azul. These preserves are mostly fire roads with plenty of space.

Running every trail on the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a great way to learn the geography of the area. It becomes obvious that the Pacific tectonic plate is diving under the North American plate because the terrain on the west side of Highway 35 is much steeper than the east side. One can physically see the San Andreas Fault when running in the Stevens Creek area of Montebello, Los Trancos and Coal Creek open space preserves. The long valleys and marshy ponds give it away.

My recommendation for recreating during these difficult times is to be contrarian. Go visit one of these preserves during the weekday. If you and your family are able go at least 1 mile from the trailhead, I have found that beyond that limit the trails are usually empty. To really get away, hike or run down a trail that has a dead end. Trail runners call these “out-and-back” sections. I also find that the farther one drives, the less crowded it is. Driving up twisty Page Mill Road or Highway 84 cuts the crowd. However, many of the parking lots in the remote areas are closed to prevent overcrowding. There are a few small parking lots that are relatively unknown – for example, the Grabville area off Tunitas Creek Road that gets you into Purisima Creek.

A side hobby of running all the trails was to learn the history of the area. Learning that Grabville got its name from all the squatters in town was a find. Also discovering that Page Mill Road continued on the west side in Skyline Open Space Preserve made sense. The Page Mill site can be found in Portola Redwoods State Park.

Continuing the far-from-the-trailhead recommendation, dropping 3 miles down the multiple trails in El Corte de Madera yields some fantastic singletrack redwood hikes and runs that are relatively flat. Just remember you must climb back up the 3 miles to complete the activity.

We all know it is incredibly special to live in this area. The pioneers who preserved the mountain spaces primarily through the Peninsula Open Space Trust deserve our heartfelt thanks. Knowing that I can walk out my front door and run 50 miles to the ocean on 49 miles of dirt trails through open meadows and multiple redwood groves is hard to fathom given the population density of the Bay Area. I am profoundly grateful for these wide open spaces.

In these changing and challenging times, I want to share the secret of these spaces with all the area readers – even if it means more people on what I consider my private public trails.

Joe Mitchell has lived in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills for nearly 30 years.

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