Place: Almaden Quicksilver County Park, San Jose, California
Coordinates: 37.173951, -121.825087
Length: about 4.1 miles
A long time ago Papa Quail visited a hi tech company in San Jose. He then told me that there is a nice park nearby where wild turkeys roam free. Years after when we moved to the Bay Area I remembered that somewhere in Almaden there is a nice park and made myself a mental note to check it out.
Almaden Quicksilver is a nice park. A very nice park. It has beautiful landscape, fascinating wildlife, gorgeous spring show of wildflowers and miles upon miles of trails for hiking and biking.
But Almaden Quicksilver is more than all that. It is IMHO one of very few Bay Area parks where the history of human activity is so fascinating that it adds to the attraction of the place despite the disturbance to its Nature.
There are several trailheads around the park and I selected the Mine Hill trailhead, leading to English Town, and returning by the steep Deep Gulch Trail.
|My hike at Almaden Quicksilver CP as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS, with Mine Hill Rd shortcut added in brown.|
|Imagine this flat as a bustling mercury recuction factory.|
|Mercury mining and reduction display|
My first visit there was in January. The rains have stopped prematurely in December and the temperatures were on the rise. Springtime begun way too early for 2015. It was evident from the plants that were budding all over the place.
|A springtime ephemeral: Milkmaids (Cardamine californica)|
|Budding California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)|
|Poison Oak (Toxicodendon diversilobum)|
|Padre's Shootingstar (Dodecatheon clevelandii)|
|Golden Eagle (photo by Papa Quail)|
Or the delicate flowers of another spring ephemeral, the pacific hound's tongue.
|Pacific Hound's Tongue (Cynoglossum Grande)|
|Valley of Santa Clara (a.k.a. Silicon Valley)|
|Bluewitch (Solanum umbelliferum)|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)|
Day Tunnel is named after Sherman Day, the mine's engineer in the late 1880, who advised digging that tunnel. At the time of the mine's peak operation the majority of the mined cinnabar was taken through this tunnel.
Nowadays water seeps through, creating a small, shallow pond that collects into a tiny trickle down the gulch.
|The Day Tunnel pond|
And there were many, many newts at that pond at the end of January. In fact, it was the most dense group of newts I have ever seen.
|California Newt, female|
|A pair of California Newts in action|
From there I took the steeper Day Tunnel Trail and Great Eastern Trail up to meet Mine Hill Trail once more. That trail is narrow, steep and shaded with majestic old laurels and coastal live oaks.
By the end of February the laurels were blooming too:
|California Laurel (Umbellularia californica)|
Back on MIne Hill Trail again I turned left toward English Town.
The presence of the reddish rock was known to the Native Americans in the area and the local rancheros, but it was the Mexican cavalry captain Andres Castillero in 1845 that identified it as cinnabar and recognized its value. At that time the biggest and most profitable mercury mine was in Almaden, Spain, so in a very original fashion, the place was named New Almaden.
Three years later the U.S.A. has conquered California but other than one attempt to nationalize the mine during the civil war, the government pretty much left the mine in private hands. Most of the time - in the hand of Almaden Quicksilver Mining Company.
There were two mining towns up Almaden Quicksilver where the mine workers lived. My trail took me through English Town.
Today both towns are ghost towns.
|Church site at English Town|
Tens of thousands of people flocked to California to look for gold during the gold rush. Many sifted gold from the rivers but most of the gold was excavated from the rocks and had to be separated from the ore. And the only way to do so efficiently that was known in that time was through a process called amalgamation. A process that necessitates mercury. The same process was used to purify silver too.
Mercury binds gold, or diver, creating a compound called amalgam. As the gold miners mixed the ore with the mercury an amalgam would form and, being lighter than amalgam, the rock waste would float and separated. Then the amalgam would be cooked to boil the mercury away, leaving pure gold (or silver) behind. The mercury vapor would then be trapped and cooled back to a liquid for reuse.
|Mushroom clouds 'sprouting' from the hilltop|
And then, in the early 20th century, a new method for purifying gold and silver was found. The price of mercury plummeted and eventually the mine closed.
After a good rest I continued on Mine Hill Trail over the hill and down. Pretty oaks decorate the hill that towers over the trail. one of them was dead and fallen.
|The Gripping Hand|
Yellow-rumped Warbler (photo by Papa Quail)
|Descending into Deep Gulch|
|Checker Lily (Fritillaria affinis)|
|The fritillary, held for the photo by a friend|
Further down Deep Gulch Trail the trees were less dense and patches of sunshine lit other beautiful flowers. Closer to the end of February there were quite a few violets in the sunny spots.
|Golden Violet (Viola douglasii)|
|Zigzag Larkspur (Delphinium patens)|
New Almaden is big. The loop I hiked is just the tip of what this magnificent park has to offer. The trails are well maintained and well marked and hiking there is an absolutely lovely experience of both Nature and history. I totally recommend to visit this park.
Santa Clara County Parks website.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society and the naturalists of Santa Clara County Parks for their help in identifying the fritillary!