Thursday, December 2, 2010

English Camp Trail, Almaden Quicksilver County Park

Looking down on the Map Room, English Camp.

For some reason hiking on holidays is one of my favorite times to hit the trail. Maybe its the crisp chill in the air, the reduced background noise of traffic, the generally cheerful people on the trails. I don't know what it is, but it's in a word, lovely. Hiking on Thanksgiving does mean missing the morning ritual of the Lions game and getting your stomach nice and ready with copious appetizers in preparation of the onslaught of food to come (why is overeating a tradition?).

Manzanita Berrys near the trailhead.

Regardless after taking a little time to myself in the morning and cheerfully sipping down my morning coffee I hit the road around 10am for the short drive over to Almaden-Quicksilver County Park, driving into the Hacienda entrance on the outskirts of historic New Almaden. I essentially grew up hiking these trails on the back side of Quicksilver and Thanksgiving being a family holiday I could think of no better time to revisit them.

Lichen in a dead limb.

One clear main trail ascends out of the parking lot past a large heritage oak. The trailhead was empty with a scattering of cars when I started out. I passed several families headed back to their cars on the Mine Hill trail which ambles up a slow incline for about a half mile, gently switching back and forth before its junction with the English Camp trail.

Small Oak Tree along the English Camp Trail.

My memory of the trail is essentially shaped by the steep incline up for the next mile and change. The trail roars up the rest of the ridge across a relatively open chaparall covered gulch with direct mid-afternoon sunlight beating down on it. Hiking this in the summer is not an option, but with winters chill setting in at the end of November its a fin trail to hit.

Remains of the Map Room, English Camp.

At the top of the ridge sits English Camp, which is comprised of 3 or 4 decaying buildings and a large flag pole. It is the historic headquarters of the mining operation here and a highlight of the park. The map room in particular (the tin/concrete building above everything else) always seems to catch my interest. I explored english camp and the forest around it a bit before deciding to move on. At about this point I realized that not only had I lost my map, but left my phone/watch in the car, along with my water bottle. Instead of heading deeper into the park I decided to turn around.

Ancient Oak above English Camp.

The English Camp Trail continues back down for a short stretch before I made a right at the junction with the Deep Gulch Trail, a more shaded route down the mountain. I ended up pulling out my down jacket in a small hollow which still held frost around 11:30pm when I arrived. After photographing the small pocket of frost I continued on, into the forest canopy.

A single leaf dropped after the frost.

Frost crystals forming on the back of a small maple leaf.

The trail descended quickly and my legs got tired in a hurry from the heavy steps I was taking down hill. After roughly a mile the trail evens out briefly before dumping out into a small field with large boulders and mining equipment. From here the Lick Observatory of Mt. Hamilton is visible down the deep cut valley, and perhaps just as importantly, so is the parking lot. After a short able back to my car, I drove off and on to Thanksgiving Dinner.

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