Quicksilver Under an Azure Sky

July 2018 Hiking


The tale

I can’t remember the last time I saw a bluer sky than the Sunday I rambled through Almaden Quicksilver County Park, half an hour south of San Jose.

All routes lead uphill from the dusty, shade-free parking lot. I picked up a paper map and checked the obligatory notice board. Unlike the usual mountain lion warning, here signs warned of ticks and rodents.

The trail was dusty and the mid-morning sun was hot. Even though the afternoon would only reach 85°F, climbing the hill felt that warm at 10am. I found myself attacking my water reservoir faster than expected.

Along the way I passed more cyclists than dogs and horses combined. That seemed unusual for the terrain, but it made more sense when the trail turned from loose dirt to something resembling pavement turned to gravel.

The sky was magnificent. Several times I stopped in the shade, took off my sunglasses, and just tried to drink it in.

In less than an hour, I found myself in English Camp, once a home to more than 1000 people, mostly CCC workers and their families. Today there are only a few buildings remaining: a chimney atop Church Hill, a crumbling foundation, a hollowed out barn with a sign cautioning against hantavirus.

At the top of the hill, I found more overgrown ruins. If one of them was the unusual powder house I’d read about, then I couldn’t tell.

Through it all, the sky was a gradient of perfect blues, from Byzantine at the zenith to azure at the horizon. For once, “photos don’t do it justice” isn’t just a cliché.

I stopped to evaluate my water, and was surprised to learn that I’d consumed more than half of my two liters. Time to head back — but by a different route. To explore further, I turned on to Dry Gulch Trail, and soon regretted it. The trail was a narrow, weed-choked path that ran through dense knots of trees. Luckily I found a connector between it and the wider, friendlier trail I’d used earlier.


Chimney that used to cause acid rain
Chimney that used to cause acid rain.
Abandoned building, age unknown
Abandoned building, age unknown.
Chimney ruin atop Church Hill
Chimney ruin atop Church Hill.
Lower Gulch Trail
Lower Gulch Trail.
Looking back towards the Valley
Looking back towards the Valley.

For next time

  • Near the park is a mining museum. Check that out next time — before you get tired and hot.
  • Pay more attention to my checklist, which includes “wear ample sunblock.”
  • Dedicate a full day to reach at least one of the abandoned mines.