Now and again I have to remind myself there’s actual hiking with hills and woods available within the San Jose city limits. The city has a few trails for walking, jogging and biking, but the vibe’s more suburban than backcountry (one trail was thoughtfully placed beneath an airport flight path; naturalists are counting the days till the call of the local mockingbirds becomes uncannily similar to a Boeing 737 on final approach.)

Out on the eastern edge of the city limits, though, is Alum Rock Park, tucked into a canyon with rocky walls and a gurgling stream. There’s one interesting route up the canyon side — the South Rim Trail — of about four miles, and a bunch of shorter ones tracking the Penitencia Creek. North Rim Trail on the other side of the canyon passes a jagged stone formation called Eagle Rock, which has a scenic overlook of Silicon Valley.

The park has a storied history as a tourist trap and locus of medical quackery. Mineral springs were thought to have curative powers back in the days before medical knowledge actually knew anything. People thought bathing in warm, sulfurous springs that smelled like rotten eggs made certain ailments go away. Well, perhaps breathing the repugnant fumes kicked people’s immune responses into overdrive, though I suspect people got better in spite of the waters, rather than because of them.

After the 1950s, the parks department redirected its attention to making the park seem more like its natural self. It’s still a city park, but it has a wild edge — thanks to the mountain lions that occasionally stray in from the nearby hills. There must be a higher-than-usual cougar count, because the park has more caution signs and they seem to have more urgency. I do recall seeing a picture somebody took of a mountain lion hiding in the brush at Alum Rock, and a couple years back a big cat had to be tracked and killed after it ate a nearby farmer’s goats.

You’re far more likely to see deer, squirrels and wild turkeys at Alum Rock, though.

Enough gab, let’s look at some pix from Sunday’s walk.

A grotto

A grotto among the many built around the natural springs at the park. This one shrouds one of the sulfur springs; it stank to high heaven.

Penintencia Creek

A pretty riparian corridor continues beyond the area with the old mineral springs. The South Rim Trail starts not far from here, zigzagging up the side of the canyon. The climb’s only about 700 feet, max, and the whole loop back to this point is only about four miles.

On a clear day ...

We had high winds in the morning, which meant mostly clear skies. This is downtown San Jose, taken with my camera’s maximum zoom setting.

Scraggly tree

I’m not sure what kind of weed/tree/bush/shrub this is, but the pods going to seed looked pretty cool.

Creek closeup

After I finished the South Rim Trail I checked out more of the mineral site and took a closer look at the Penitencia Creek. Looks like the waters flow all year.

And another great bridge

Several stone bridges of another era cross the creek.

One of many excellent bridges

Another cool bridge.

Bit o' green returning

Next up, I headed up toward some Santa Clara Open Space District Land accessible from the North Rim Trail. The grass is greening up again from the rain we had last week.

Big hill

That peak in the distance is a wider shot of the Open Space District, which has a three-mile loop trail to the top of the peak. It’s 1,100 feet in a little over a mile to the top — good way to get the heart racing. (Steve of the Wildebeat takes training hikes up this way).

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is an impressive collection of stone. There’s a scenic overlook if you feel like huffing it up there.

Afternoon sun

Required trees-and-sky picture.

Canyon wall

Stony canyon wall along the Creek Trail, a reminder that there really is a canyon back here.

All in all, Alum Rock has decent hiking with nice views of the country/cityside once you climb up the hills. Don’t know if I’d drive 40 mile to hike there, but it’s worth a look if you live in San Jose.

Here’s an interesting link with tons of details on the history of Alum Rock (notable fact: there’s no actual alum rock in the park).