Grass, Water, and Diablo Dust

September 2018 Hiking


  • Location: Joseph D. Grant Ranch County Park
  • Date: 16 Sept. 2018
  • Distance: 6 Miles
  • Info: The Hiking Project, All Trails
  • Fee: $6 per vehicle
  • Other: Other fun factoid

The tale

I took a wrong turn that turned out alright.

The entrance to Grant Ranch County Park is well-marked: driving east from San Jose, make a right next to the sign off of highway 130. But the trailheads were another tenth of a mile ahead, and on the left.

With more than 9500 acres, Grant Ranch is the largest of Santa Clara’s county parks, but just a quarter the size of Henry Coe State Park to the south. It’s also part of the Diablo Mountain Range (but 50 miles south of Mt. Diablo itself), and east of the Valley, not south or west, which was a first for my 2018 explorations.

There’s another unique feature I wasn’t prepared for. The route took me through downtown San Jose, so I hit more stoplights than I cared to. Outside of the city, the road made a series of hairpin switchbacks, narrowed to one lane, and took me out of cell phone range before I finally saw the large sign, 40 minutes later.

I should mention that I was also testing brand new boots: a pair of Keens, having retired my six-or—more-years-old Merrells that had finally started cracking.

Around 8:30am I paid the entrance fee to an automated teller, collected a paper topo map, found parking, and discovered my mistake. I was parked next to a famous rose garden that I’d never heard of. There weren’t many roses at this time of year, and the historic ranch house museum was locked up. Luckily a side trail lead me back to the highway, and a short walk later I reached the (real) trailhead.

Grant Ranch is known for its artificial ponds, which have reportedly been suffering from the ongoing drought. But Grant Lake didn’t look like it was missing out. Reeds choked the shore, and a few fishermen casted their lines here and there.

I put the pond behind me and walked east, up into the hills, along the Hallis Valley Trail. It was almost 10am, and I paused to take off my long-sleeve shirt as the temperature climbed.

The trail was dusty, and the breeze picked up as I ascended above the trees. I saw no redwoods or pines here; this was oak country. Before long even the oaks fell away, with only small groves or individual trees punctuating the wide expanse of flaxen grass.

Towards the end of Hallis, I saw dark patches in the distance. As far as I could tell, that was where recent fires had scorched the land. I also spotted UC’s Lick Observatory atop Mt. Hamilton, another valley or two away.

Los Huecos Trail took me back, west and downhill. This was a test both for my new boots and trekking poles — all of which did well, especially when the dusty trail pitched almost 45° down for a few dozen paces.

Not quite four hours after I arrived, I was back at the car peeling off my boots and socks. What looked like tan lines around my ankles turned out to be dust.


Historic ranch house
The historic Hubbard Ranch House, currently closed.

Before it was the Grant Ranch House, and way before it was the McCreery Ranch House, this was the Hubbard Ranch House, built in 1881 and resold/refurbished over the decades.

Flaxen grass, cerulean sky
Flaxen grass, cerulean sky is typical of the terrain.
Grant Lake
Questionable fishing at Grant Lake.
Island in Grant Lake
Grant Lake had one lonely island.
Grant Lake didn’t look short of water
The lake didn’t look short of water.
Landscape views from the Hallis Valley Trail
Landscape view along the Hallis Valley Trail.
Burned hills in the distance
Burned hills in the distance.
View of Grant Lake from Los Huecos Trail
View of Grant Lake from Los Huecos Trail.

For next time