Any walk through the woods beats a day at the office. I know because I worked six days last week — I had lot to compare this week’s hike to.

I worked till about midnight Saturday, then woke up at my usual time Sunday. Wasn’t feeling especially ambitious, so I decided to try out a trail I had stumbled across last summer but didn’t get a chance to hike.

The trailhead was in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve — one of a string of such preserves along the Santa Cruz Mountains range on the west side of Silicon Valley. Many of these preserves make fine homes for snails, slugs and singing birds, but the trails tend to be old ranch or fire roads and the sights tend to look pretty much like every other patch of open space in these hills. So, there’s a definite "been there, done that" vibe about this hike. Don’t get me wrong, the views overlooking the ridges and valleys are gorgeous, they aren’t all that surprising when you’ve seen two dozen more just like ‘em.

The Sierra Azul preserve is pretty massive — 17,000 acres just west of Almaden Quicksilver County Park south of San Jose. I set out on the Woods Trail from the Hicks Road parking lot, hiked out about 3.5 miles and turned back. The trailhead is very open and exposed, giving you the impression you’ll be hiking in the sun all day — but once you get on the trail, it’s nearly all in the shade. It’s hilly and heavily wooded — you’ll definitely get that realization after you’ve gone downhill for a long way that you’re gonna have to save some strength for coming back up the same way.

The trail I walked on was all fire road — much better suited to biking or horseback riding. On foot, you don’t need a 12-foot wide lane. It was definitely a nice workout — it’s all either up or down; there probably isn’t 12 feet of flat ground anywhere along the way.

OK, time for some pictures.

I saw this big shrub with these fuzzy blooms… turns out the sun made it look like it had a coating of fresh snow on it.

Lots of interesting cloud patterns provide pretty backdrops.

Wild holly berries, in honor of the holiday season.

Woo-Hoo! Dead Tree!

Those are my favorite shots of the hike. There’s a lot more to Sierra Azul, which is accessible from a few other trailheads. This place definitely is on my list if I ever get around to taking up mountain biking.