Floating on the Wind

April 2019 Hiking Photo & Video


Ed Levin County Park doesn’t have many trees. In turn, it has great views of the South Bay — and the sky. Both were good news when I visited in early April.

Glancing at the sky, the ranger who took my $6 entry fee told me the weather wasn’t favorable for paragliders. When he asked, he gave me a paper map, explaining that due to a map shortage they only gave to those who asked. He was wrong twice; not only did I see paragliders, but I also saw plenty of paper maps at the trailhead’s notice board.

Unfamiliar with the area, I parked on the far side of Sandy Wool Lake from the trailhead, but didn’t mind taking in the view.

At 9am, the shore was packed with photographers wielding arm-length telephoto lenses. I talked to one, who explained they were waiting patiently to catch storks or pelicans diving after fish.

Sure enough, I saw plenty of wildlife: ducks, storks, pelicans, fishermen, frogs, more ducks, more photographers …. The lake rim was crowded.

Green hills seen from the trailhead
Near the trailhead, wildflowers and green grass set the mood.

The road lead north, around the lake. There I walked past a wide grassy area on the other side of a wooden fence. As I looked for the trailhead, a paraglider landed with a brisk run on the other side of the fence. It was a good sign.

Through the tall grass I glimpsed the long ears of a jackrabbit.

The wide Tularcitos Trail steadily climbed a treeless hill to the first of three paraglider take-off sites. The trail was dry, but rough — even churned. The closer I got to the lowest take-off site, the fewer dogs and dog-walkers I met.

Exposed igneus rock on a hill
The hills grew more rugged the higher I went.

The local microclimate traded wind for humidity. The late-March air got warm quickly. And still, the trail climbed on.

The lowest take-off site had a sign warning hikers to move on. I ventured in a little, since no one else was present — but there was nothing to see. A dirt road ended near a steep cliff with low grass. I hiked up and found the Agua Caliente Trail.

Far below, I watched another jackrabbit scamper across the lonely dirt road.

The trail narrowed at token creek creek. This was cattle country, or so the deep hoof prints and whiffs of dung told me. The trail junction was poorly marked, and I walked the correct way for a few minutes before doubling back to make sure.

At a great distance, I saw something like a feral cat — maybe a bobcat. The animal disappeared behind a fold in the hill before I could get a good look.

Steep hillside trail
The trail took switchbacks along steep hills.

The trails were generally exposed — except for one section around a tree-encrusted creek. I hadn’t seen anyone for at least an hour.

By then I’d come to expect great views of the South Bay, and Monument Road didn’t let me down. The road climbed steadily higher hills with a series of easy switchbacks, and I had plenty of time to see downtown San Jose, Levi’s Stadium, the ring of Apple Campus 2, the tent-like NASA Ames. Skyscrapers of San Francisco rose above the distant haze. If I had turned back there, I’d have counted the hike a success. But I went on … blissfully oblivious to my growing sun-on-skin problem.

On this hike, I’d brought an older pair of wired earbuds that included a microphone on the cord. I hoped that the mic, when placed closer to my face, would make my spoken comments easier to ear than my iPhone’s built-in mic. It didn’t work. But it did tend to hit “play,” which turned on music while I wasn’t wearing said earbuds, draining my battery while I climbed uphill, oblivious to that problem too.

South Bay view
The higher hills offered great views of the South Bay area.

Just before noon, I reached the Sierra Trail junction. The highest glider launch point was only a third of a mile east, next to an aging antenna complex and a few low piled-stone walls that I read were (probably) built by an 19th-century Amish farmer.

While I was at the top, two people with intent to sail the breeze arrived and began to set up. With permission to record, I captured some video of their takeoff.

Paragliders checking equipment
Veterans check their equipment before setting off.
Paraglider and city backdrop
A paraglider cruises the sky near Milpitas.

It was hard to top that. Conscious of the time I returned the way I came, steadily downhill and still still unaware of my growing exposure problem.

Hovering paraglider
This paraglider managed to stay stationary for almost a minute.

On the way downhill, I saw up to five paragliders in the sky at once. There was no traffic control. No pattern. No plan. These daring gliders rode the wind … look, I know that sounds like a cheap cliché. But that didn’t detract from the spectacle I enjoyed on this unusual hike.

Three paragliders in a blue sky
Look closely, and you’ll see the third.
High-flying paraglider
Updrafts seemed easy to catch.


The next day I awoke with the unpleasant tingle of sunburn on my hands — where my trekking pokes hadn’t covered — and a little on the front of my neck. Aloe Vera became my close friend.

The day after that, the sunburn on my legs made itself aware. Sunscreen topped “new pants” on my hiking wishlist.

Worth it.

For next time

  • Make sure you start at the Sandy Wool Lake entrance.
  • Drive around the lake to the dog park. Plenty of parking, and much closer to the trails.
  • Bring plenty of water.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen.