A Lindley blazing star blooms along the Sierra Vista OSP.
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A couple columns ago, I wrote about the Aquila Loop Trail, a short loop near the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve parking area. In that column, I promised to return to walk the longer loop that reaches deeper into the preserve.
I am a man of my word.
Sierra Vista OSP is shaped like a big reverse letter C that curls around the Penitencia Creek drainage high above Alum Rock Park. The Sierra Vista/Upper Calaveras Fault Trail route my friend and I hiked is best described using another shape: a balloon on a string. We walked up the one-mile string, around the 2.5-mile balloon and back down the string—a 4.5-mile loop in all.
When I first glanced at the preserve trail map, the balloon-shaped loop looked to be a fairly level traverse across the slope. I was half right and half very wrong.
Even from the parking lot at Sierra Vista OSP, the views are stunning. We stepped from the car and peeked over the edge of a slope that dropped
a dizzying 1,300 steep feet down to Alum Rock Park. To our right, through the gash in the Diablo Range cut by Penitencia Creek, we looked across the huge grid of roadways
that crisscross the communities of the Santa Clara Valley.
The first quarter mile of the Sierra Vista Trail dropped down the slope before turning up the valley. This portion of the trail—the string of the balloon—was indeed a very pleasant traverse across the slope with little elevation change. Here and there, the trail swung out onto a little promontory. From those exposed and spacious spots high above the creek, it was difficult to resist the urge to open our arms and take flight.
Along this stretch of trail, I met a native plant that was new to me. A robust cluster of Lindley blazing-star plants, a small loosely-branched shrub with showy yellow flowers, decorated a short section of trail. I grabbed a branch bobbing in the wind and looked down at five bright yellow petals with an orange-red base that was somewhat obscured by an explosion of many dozen stamens leaping from the throat of the flower. A surprising floral display so late in the season.
Where the string ties to the balloon, we turned right, and quickly my “level traverse across the slope” characterization of this trail fell apart. Down, down we went until we reached an old boarded-up ranch house not far above the road that leads to private properties farther up the canyon.
From our low point at the ranch house, we turned up the Upper Calaveras Fault Trail. For the next 1.5 miles and 700 vertical feet, gravity was not our friend. As with many trails that were former ranch roads, the gradient was steep. Steer clear of this south-facing slope on a hot summer afternoon.
At a bench halfway up the slope, we had a bite of lunch and enjoyed the view that was just reappearing after our descent into the valley. Refreshed, we turned toward home. Soon, we were at the top of the slope, and the hard work was done. On the gentle walk back down the balloon string,
as if to reward us for our effort, a golden eagle slid past us riding the canyon winds.
Sierra Vista OSP is a winner. It is a short drive away, and every trail looks out on a grand and spacious view. I want to return sometime and see those views in the soft light at the approach of dusk.
Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at [email protected].

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Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at [email protected].


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