'Challenge' just a walk in the park for locals

Photo courtesy of Dinesh Desai
Ron Perkins and and Dinesh Desai enjoy Mount Madonna Park. Perkins, Desai and Frank Crossman hiked seven county parks covering more than 25 miles in two days. 

Dinesh Desai loves a challenge, particularly when it comes to hiking. So when the Santa Clara County Parks Department offered its annual hiking challenge for 2019, the longtime Los Altos resident and a few of his fit companions were up for it.

Desai, 79, and fellow Los Altos resident Ron Perkins, 79, and Frank Crossman, 75, of Palo Alto were the first finishers in this year’s #PixInParks challenge, which runs throughout the year. The challenge involves hiking seven county parks in two days. Desai, who has been hiking regularly since 1986, accomplished the same feat in just one day last year, but he did it in May, when the days were longer and the parks had extended hours.

Desai has participated in the challenge all three years it’s been offered. The event involves taking selfies or group photos in designated areas at each park, and either posting with hashtags (example: #PixInParks_#MartialCottle) on Instagram or bringing the photos on camera or phone to county parks headquarters. The event is dubbed the “Magnificent 7 Challenge,” highlighting seven of the county’s 28 parks.

“A group of us finished the first PixInParks challenge in 2017 in two days,” Desai said. “In 2018, we decided to do better than the previous year by finishing the challenge in one day. And we did finish the challenge in one day. … The question for 2019 was, how can we make it interesting but still different from last year? So we decided to become the first to finish the challenge.”

“Dinesh has a way with setting unusual goals,” said Perkins, who has hiked with Desai as part of a regular hiking group for more than 20 years.

The parks featured in this year’s challenge were Coyote Creek Parkway, Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear, Martial Cottle, Calero, Joseph D. Grant, Mount Madonna and Upper Stevens Creek. The group had to travel to some far-flung reaches of the county – Grant Park is located near Mount Hamilton in the hills above San Jose, and Mount Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains 10 miles west of Gilroy.

Perkins estimated they drove “a couple hundred miles” over four hours to get to all seven parks.

Overcoming obstacles

The trio covered four parks the first day and three the second, hiking more than 25 miles. Along the way, they encountered one particularly muddy trail and some rain.

“Such obstacles make the challenge worthwhile,” Desai said.

“We were very lucky with the weather,” Perkins said.

One highlight this time around for Desai was the visit to Martial Cottle on Snell Road in San Jose.

“It is a 300-acre oasis of farmland with a paved trail network in the middle of residential and commercial south San Jose,” he said.

Both Desai and Perkins recommended participating in the county’s parks challenge.

“This program is a wonderful way to introduce people to the parks,” Perkins said.

Event participants were due to receive T-shirts or bandanas after completing the challenge, but Desai and his friends finished so quickly that county staffers didn’t have the T-shirts ready for them. They were promised both shirts and bandanas would be mailed to them.

Participation in the challenge left Desai inspired and in awe of the environmental splendor each of the parks had to offer.

“Some trails I’ve never been on before,” he said. “You feel like you’re 100,000 miles from the Bay Area. … There’s still so much open space. You don’t have to drive two hours to get away from all the hustle and bustle.”

Desai encouraged others to get moving and discover some pleasant surprises along the way.

“You cannot buy health,” he said. “I’m retired, so this is my job now – to keep my body healthy.”

The county park department’s “#PixInParks – Seven Magnificent Adventures 2019” is offered through Dec. 1.

For more information, visit and type “#pixinparks” in the search bar.


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