Guadalupe River Park signIf you live in San Jose you’ve no doubt heard about the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens downtown. The city has cleaned up the Guadalupe River to control flooding and create a pleasant place to jog, stroll or ride bikes through the center of town. If your hikes must have majestic peaks and mountain streams, you’re apt to be horrified by a stroll down the Guadalupe, but I’ve always had a weakness for those so-gross-they’re-funny “Evil Dead” movies, so I can deal with the scattered horrors of the Guadalupe River Trail.

It’s actually not as ghastly as you might suspect. Yeah, it indicts the messy, wasteful, destructive sides of our species, yet it also offers a few reminders of what makes it cool to be us.

So, on to Sunday’s walk: With gas north of three bucks a gallon again, I got to thinking about that transit map for hikers I linked to awhile back and an idea popped into my head: What about taking the San Jose light rail downtown to the Guadalupe River Park and walking back home? All it would cost is $1.75 for a one-way fare. This morning “you get what you pay for” springs to mind, but hey, I walked over seven miles and took all these pictures, so I have to post something (file under “do something even if it’s wrong”).

When I stepped off the light rail across from the San Jose convention center, the first thing I heard was the distant rumble of loud bass drums from a couple blocks away. Wow, a concert, I thought, and moved toward the music. The closer I got, the more apparent it became that it was Rod Stewart croaking “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” (no, Rod, you’ve stunk the place up with everything after “Maggie May”). Sane people walk right back to the light rail, return home, get very drunk and make up lame excuses for their blog audience; as you know, I am not one of those people. I actually walked further in the direction of the music and discovered local pop music stations had some kind of live music event at Discovery Meadow (note: the Discovery Museum light rail stop is a good place to get off if you’d like to walk the Guadalupe River Trail.)

Though I could have fled toward the trail, I knew the Children’s Discovery Museum would have a slightly menacing inflatable cartoon character lashed to the roof, which always produces interesting imagery.

Inflatable Curious George

Curious George did not disappoint (his smile reminds me of the diabolical marshmallow man in “Ghost Busters”). I’ll get to the trail in a second here.

Bridge over the river

The bridge over the Guadalupe River here is quite level, actually. This is a great place to cross and pay a visit to San Jose’s downtown war memorial.

War memorial

The memorial has a glass wall depicting a bunch of soldiers and words drawn from their accounts of warfare. Frankly you could just read this stuff and go back home, hug your loved ones and thank Providence no wars are happening on your street, then call it a day. I walked on, of course.

Santa Clara Street Bridge

One of the more scenic spots is right here under Santa Clara Street.

Waterfowl along the way

Various shorebirds show up — many more in the winter, when they pause in these parts after migrating from colder climes. Speaking of winter: the water can be much higher during the rainy season, which is why the trails are so remote from the water: to keep morons from falling into raging waters.

Dead tree, power lines, light pole

Even the dead-tree pictures have power lines and light poles. Then again, with the flights coming into San Jose’s airport every 10 minutes right over your head, all scenes without jet blast are an improvement.

About as good as the view gets

Have to admit this scene isn’t so bad, considering it’s in the middle of a city with almost a million residents. Other cities certainly have prettier riverwalks, but San Jose is trying to let the river return to some semblance of its wild state — weeds and all.

Obey the sign, please

If you get to this sign, just do as you’re told. I found that enterprising homeless people had knocked down the fence nearby and allowed passage beyond, but the next thing I learned is they had done this for their purposes — an encampment along the river — and not for the convenience of passing urban hikers. Eventually you hit a dead end and have to turn back, wondering what you’ll do if you encounter any actual homeless people. Like I said, better to obey the sign.

What happens when you plant a highway?

I wondered what happens when you plant a highway. Does proper watering and fertilization nurture it into a state of full-flowering gridlock?

Speaking of flowers, the best excuse for walking the Guadalupe River Trail is to check out the nearby San Jose Municipal Heritage Rose Garden. A couple years back it was a monument to the city’s errant previous mayor, who could introduce appalling City Hall structures to stroke his ego but could not prevent the once-glorious rose garden from declining into an embarrassing state of disrepair. The good news is it’s great now — a riot of pure rosy loveliness, even with blooms fading a bit with summer’s approach. Here’s one highlight:

Rose Garden is an explosion of color

They really are growing like mad these days.

One of said roses

The colors are impressive.

From the garden I headed back to the trail, and continued northward to the edge of the River Park at Interstate 880.

Nearing the River Park's norther border

Something amazing happens under the 880 overpass: it gets so quiet (a foot of concrete provides excellent soundproofing) you can actually hear the water running over rocks in the river. It’s shady and cool — all you have to do is forget the drivers overhead and hope an earthquake doesn’t bring it crashing down on your head. (The odds of this happening are zillions-to-one against but I still hate pausing under bridges in California.)

View from the I-880 overpass

Another not-so-bad part just north of I-880. However, the rest of the trail parallels San Jose’s airport for over a mile.

San Jose's airport

Not much to look at, I admit, but it brought back memories of my childhood. I grew up about a mile from Peoria’s airport and spent many hours of shiftless wandering around the parts of the airport’s grounds that were accessible to no-account kids. As I walked along I noticed one jet pointing toward me nose-first and it occurred to me: for all our failings as a species, airplanes demonstrate the promise of our kind. Sure, birds fly, but only because a million generations of evolution provided them wings and user instructions coded into their DNA.

Nothing in our evolution suggested we would find those loopholes in the laws of gravity that allow mechanically powered flight (though flying in airplanes is the epitome of messy, wasteful and destructive). A bear can be taught to ride a bicycle, but he will never build a bridge.

Duck going about its business

A duck goes about its business north of the airport.

Another natural setting

This stretch between Trimble Road and the Montague Expressway comes perhaps the closest to feeling wild.

Rust-colored bridge

This bridge over the river tells me I’m just about home.

So that’s it, congrats for making it all the way down here.