The Santa Clara County Parks department recently launched a “Healthy Trails” program with a list of trails to hike in the local parks. Since I love taking my children outdoors, I was all over that, and in a lull between working and shredding papers on Sunday afternoon, we all decided to take one of the easy hikes on Wood Trail Road in nearby Almaden Quicksilver Park.
It started off uneventfully enough, as Peter and the children posed for the camera:
A little further down the path however, Neil noticed that some of the trees were a very odd color
and that the mountains of the nearby Sierra Azul reserve to the southeast, separated from us by a steep ravine, looked unnatural, like a painted backdrop. I haven’t fiddled with the colors of the tree above at all: it was truly that white and purple.
I told the rest of the family that we were in view of legendary Mount Umunhum, which is supposedly sacred to the local Indians. I don’t know why sacred or how sacred, though, and frankly, whenever I meet Indians they seem kind of fuzzy on that too, like it’s sacred when you want it to be, whatever. I did know however, that the road that leads up to Mount Umunhum is locked because Neil and Kelly and I accidentally wandered in that direction on a hike a few years ago, and that it’s so forbidden to go there that you can get arrested if caught on the mountain top. A fellow hiker I encountered, on the correct trail we made our way to, told me he’d snuck up on the site from another direction, and that he’d found it to be horribly contaminated with chemicals left behind there by the military. Less direct rumors tell of crazy albino hermits (aliens?) living up there. At that moment, Mount Umunhum was shrouded in clouds, but we had enough weirdness yet to run across on Wood Trail Road. I was mesmerized by the eerie greenness of some trees to our left, when Neil spotted a tree with multiple gnarls that looked like various faces. Here Neil, Kelly and Peter are examining the tree:
But by far the eeriest thing we saw came about half-way towards the destination of our hike. On a hillside, we saw a bathtub, at least half a football field away from the trail:
Where could that bathtub possibly have come from? Almaden Quicksilver Park includes the ruins of several 19th-century mercury mining communities, but the nearest of these, English Camp, is more than a mile away as the crow flies from this bathtub, and furthermore, it was wholly abandoned for the last time in the 1930s. And since we were also at least a mile from the trail head, on a dirt trail, at this point it seems unlikely someone would go to that much effort just to dump garbage.
Now, across the ravine in the Sierra Azul Mountains, we saw the form of a rabbit seemingly etched into the side of one of the mountains:
That’s even more inaccessible territory than we were on, so we had to wonder who cleared the trees for that bunny figure. Neil pointed out that the bunny was facing Mount Umunhum.
As we got closer to Mine Hill and Hidalgo Cemetary Road, where our hike would turn around, we were all surprised to find land alongside the trail churned up as if by a plow (Pete: or tracked military vehicle!) We went in to investigate further, and I immediately noticed that the churned ground was eerily warm, even in this chilly late December weather:
Meanwhile, Neil and Kelly had wandered further in and called over to me. Behind and embedded in a large furrow, we found a large flat piece of strange papery metal bent nearly double. Peter took this picture of us there, and oddly enough, it’s the only picture that turned out blurry in my autofocus camera:
By this time, we’d started joking about Men in Black coming to erase our memories of all these mysterious sights. A few minutes later, on this path, where we’d previously encountered no one else, a young man wearing a black hoodie, wearing black sunglasses (despite the foggy sky), and listening to his iPod, suddenly appeared. We were snickering too much at the coincidence, but even so, I didn’t dare ask if I could take his picture.
At last, we reached the destination of our hike. We’d seen it coming, and like our other weird finds, it’s marked and signed within the park: an abandoned and decrepit old mercury furnance:
What was most intriguing about the mine was that it had been working and theoretically solvent, up until 1976, when the county bought the land it was on, and caused it to be closed down. Why would you buy parkland that still has businesses on it, and still-valued mineral assets? Could it have anything to do with any of the mysteries we’d found on our way in, or the nearby Sierra Azul range and the abandoned–or perhaps not so abandoned–Air Force equipment in it?
Our hike back took us along the same path, and we didn’t really notice anything new. However, the clouds cleared from the top of Mount Umunhum, and I was able to take a picture of it, complete with the odd boxy building the military built atop it:
At the top of one spiking-off path we’d laughed about because it’s marked with a big sign saying “THIS IS NOT A PATH” we saw a newt.
It looked like most of the other newts around here, well, except for the strange eyes, that is. It was Kelly’s favorite part of the hike, especially when the newt skedaddled away from us after I took its picture.
At the end of the hike, we saw a message scribbled into the dirt: PIE. We took it as a message to buy some pie at Baker’s Square on the way home, and we did.