Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hidalgo Cemetery, Almaden-Quicksilver County Park


Rain pouring down on the slopes of Mt. Umunhum near Spanish Camp.

Summary


Difficulty - Easy to Moderate
Length - 5.1mi
Crowds - Quiet
Fees - None
Best Season(s) - Spring, Fall
Get Directions

After slogging up the first steep mile and a half of this hike you enter perhaps the nicest and most historic loop in the park and for a park filled with sweeping vistas and chocked full of mining history that’s saying something. This hike has long been one of my favorites in the early spring when the weather is cool and the wildflowers are starting to bloom.

Deep Gulch Trail

I’ve done this hike many times, it’s close to the house I grew up in and it’s always been a favorite of mine in the south bay. From the parking lot I headed out across the open field filled with large boulders and rusting mining equipment. The even ground of that first stretch though gives way slowly to a steep grade up the Deep Gulch Trail. The Deep Gulch Trail has no views but it is shady making it preferable for the climb up to English Camp over the more popular Mine Hill trail.

I found myself shedding layers, even though it was a cloudy day and the dark clouds overhead threatened to rain the temperature was actually quite warm, perhaps even in the 60’s. After getting most of the climbing out of the way the trail dumps out on to the more exposed main trail. I made a left uphill on the English Camp Trail continuing about a half a mile into English Camp.

Large Tin Building in English Camp
Large Tin Building in English Camp

English Camp is worth exploring for a first-time visitor (a hike up to Church Hill offers the best views of the ghost town) but as I’ve been many times I hiked right through it keeping left on to the Yellow Kid Trail. The Yellow Kid trail offers some of the first long views all the way out over the Coyote Valley and to the Diablo Range.

The Yellow Kid trail ends at Spanish Town which would be a disappointment compared to English Camp. Nothing of Spanish Town remains except one old crumbling building. Near its former heart though there are fantastic views of the chaparral covered east slopes of the Sierra Azul dominated by Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta (the mountain was the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake).

Spanish Camp
A Fence near the former site of Spanish Camp.

Spanish Camp Orchard
Orchard Trees near Spanish Camp.

From Spanish Camp I swung Left on to the Hidalgo Cemetery Trail on toward my eventual destination. The longer I spent on the ridge the more obvious it was to me that the storm clouds I had noticed previously would be doing more than threaten to rain. Within a few minutes I could no longer see the crest of the ridge and the long diagonal streaks of hard rain could be seen descending over the slopes. As the first drops fell on my head I stashed away my camera, flipped up my collar and tried to make good time towards the cemetery.

I hurried along the ridge passing some odd cactus growing near a large serpentine formation which was studded with some early wildflowers. As the trail bent around and continued to descend my favorite view of Almaden Reservoir camp into view. The freshly budding oaks on its bank and a sudden break in the rain (which allowed me to pull out my camera) framed the blue lake perfectly. After taking a few photos though the rain started up again.

Just a few hundred feet past the views of the lake I came upon the Hidalgo Cemetery. A rotting but remarkably boldly painted white picket fence runs around the site which is ornamented by towering Juniper trees (non-native). The rain had broken but through a gap in the trees I could see it sweeping back over the higher mountains again. After I took a few photos I got going so I could try and get off the ridge before a hard rain moved in.

Sierra Azul Rain
Rain coming down on the Sierra Azul.

Almaden Reservoir
Almaden Reservoir.

The going was slower on the way back because the Hidalgo Cemetery Trail has to climb back up a couple hundred feet to gain the top of the ridge. Since the rain was holding off for a time I decided not to head back down the Yellow Kid Trail though and keep to the left up the Castilero trail towards the Rotary Furnace.

Hidalgo Cemetery
The Juniper Row and crumbling white picket fence are all that is left off the cemetery.

The Rotary Furnace is pretty incredible, its the last hulking remain of the mining equipment left in the park. Visits to other mines in the park require some imagination to capture their scale, but not the Rotary Furnace. The huge rusting building is larger than any other in the park, and its location on the ridge surrounds it with some premier views. The perimeter of the building is surrounded by a large chain link fence because the area is littered with scraps of rusted metal, dangerous structures which could fail at any time, and rodents which carry disease. From the safe viewing distance of the trail though the structure is still impressive.

Rotary Furnace

chain link rotary furnace
The crumbling Rotary Furnace.

Once I was done at the furnace I decided to hook a right on a small side trail which lead back to the Castilero Trail and eventually back to English Camp. From English Camp I descended the main English-Camp Trail and then the Mine Hill trail enjoying some fantastic views. Having my camera tucked away and the rain slowly beat down on me was a blessing though. I really locked into the spirit of the hike and my brain was free to enjoy nature. I knew the trails well enough I didn’t need to referenced the map or worry about navigation.

I cracked a little grin as I rambled down the steep trail. Only in the last couple hundred feet was my walking meditation ended when the deep bass of a car blasting music in the parking lot cut through the silence. I was happy to be back at the car though and even though I was a little wet, very thirsty (I neglected to bring any water or a snack) and ravenously hungry I headed back home still with a smile on my face.

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