On a clear day you can see Sunnyvale. The operative question being: why would you want to?

Sunday was one of the clearest, see-all-the-way-to-San Francisco days in recent memory (which, in my case, goes back to about last Thursday, though, to tell the truth, I can’t remember anything I did Thursday), which made it a good day to be out in the hills overlooking Silicon Valley. In theory anyway. Truth is there’s really not much to see from up there, though it’s undeniable that the behemoth hangars at Moffett Field are easier on the eyes from several miles away.

Mind you I had no idea this would be an almost perfect day to visit Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, which has vistas out the yingyang; I just figured it was someplace nearby that’d be easy to write about in my Mercury News column (easy write-ups equal easy money — my favorite kind).

What I knew about Windy Hill before this outing was that the parking lot on Skyline Boulevard was an excellent pit stop (meaning: pit toilets) for Santa Cruz Mountains road trips. All you can see from there are the valley overlook and a few mostly treeless knobs. It doesn’t exactly scream “hike here,” the main reason this park was low on my must-check-out list. A few hours of actual hiking, though, moved it up a few notches.

My quest for easy money required a few minutes of advance research, during which I learned there was another entrance to the park from Portola Road in Portola Valley (home of more zillionaires per capita than anyplace this side of, well, Woodside, the next town over). It’s really the best trailhead at Windy Hill because you can get the climb out of the way on fresh legs, then cruise downhill all the way back.

Couple nice things near the trailhead: Sausal Pond and Betsy Crowder Trail — my rule is always check out the trails with somebody’s full name: parks would never honor somebody with a bad trail, right?

Guess we might as well look at some pictures:


Tree tunnel

Here’s a bit of tree tunnel on the Spring Ridge Trail, which goes all the way to Skyline Boulevard over a mostly open expanse of hillside. It’s an old ranch road, which in the grand Henry Coe tradition means it wasn’t precisely designed for human-powered travel. But it’s only a couple miles with about 1,400 feet of climb — a great for getting some actual exercise. Incidentally, I passed these bikers near the top of the trail; apparently they were rookies. Usually the only time I pass a biker uphill is when he’s got a flat tire or a broken chain. I take my triumphs where I can get ‘em.

Windy Hill

A good look at the route up to the top of the hill. Looks like this place’ll be mud central when the rains come, but also wildflower central next spring.


Gone to seed

I know thistles are pain-in-the-ass invasive weeds, but they do dry and and die in a picturesque manner. That’s Mount Diablo way, way off in the distance.

Top o' the hill

Another view from the top of Spring Ridge Trail at Skyline Boulevard. OK, so it’s a pretty nice view from up here.


Looking west

This is an exceedingly rare view: no fog/clouds blocking the view westward toward the Pacific Ocean.

Big rock

Nice chunk of rock on the Anniversary Trail.


Anniversary Trail

The sign at the Anniversary Trail is among the first things you see from the main Skyline Boulevard parking area, which also has aforementioned pit toilets and a few picnic tables. People also fly kites and gliders from around here when the wind’s right. Winds were calm Saturday but there’s nothing up there to block the Pacific breezes, which can be fierce. Hence the park’s name.

Lost Trail

The Lost Trail also leaves the Skyline Boulevard trailhead. It’s the nicest section of the park — pretty much all flat and thickly forested. From Lost Trail you can return either via the Hamms Gulch Trail or the more adventurously named Razorback Ridge Trail. I took the latter.


Spring, horse trough

A spring brings fresh water for thirsty horses near the intersection with the Razorback Ridge Trail, which meanders back down the hillside till it intersects with Alpine Road. From there it’s just a matter of finding the Eagle Trail (down the road a bit) and following the signs back to the trailhead.

Cattails at Sausal Pond

Sausal Pond is a pleasant stop along the way.

Bottom line: there’s enough here to pick up some easy money from the paper. The single-track trails through the woods are quite nice, with plenty of switchbacks; the shadeless slog up Spring Ridge Trail is good exercise with with good views, if your idea of a good view is looking down on civilization.

Wunderlich Park just down the road is nicer, but Windy Hill is a good fallback if you can’t find any parking there.