Joseph D Grant

Probably someone’s last words: “At least there’s a guard rail.”

We seem to be visiting lots of peaky places lately. I have long avoided reserving this one, due to negative reviews, all involving the road getting there. I guess I figured, after doing Fremont Peak and Mt. Diablo, this would be easy peasy. While I would not say it did me in, I cannot say it was easy. Comparing the various roads, this one comes in at #1 in terms of road condition. It is a very nice, newly paved road the whole way to the campground. And as for narrowness, it is wider than Fremont Peak and probably wider than most places on Mt. Diablo. What makes this one the most brutal of the three is the relentlessness of the blind, deathy corners. Up to the campground, it’s 9 miles of twisty turns, mostly without guard rails, and mostly with huge dropoffs to your right. You never get a break or a chance to catch your breath until you are almost at the campground. And that’s the easy part of the road. I can’t imagine trying to tow a trailer up to the summit of Mt. Hamilton, but luckily, I didn’t have to. Also, EVERYONE notes that you should never ever go there via Quimby Road, even if your gps tells you to.

Just in the nick of time.

On a positive travel note, we have honed in on a really great way to completely avoid highways going to the south. I tried taking Niles Canyon Road this time, instead of hopping on 680, and it was really nice. Plus, I’m getting used to our Avoid Highways long-cut around San Jose and this was a huge benefit. It meant I was not hitting the mountain climb already burned out. One thing I somehow did not catch was that they close the gates to the park at sunset. We were just lucky to have gotten there right as the sun was going down. I’m sure it said something about this in the reservation confirmation, but I either didn’t catch it, or had forgotten. That would have been no fun. They said at the kiosk that we could have called ahead to say we’d be arriving after sunset, so if you know ahead of time, great. If you screw up, there is no cell service up there.

Why so curby?

We drove from the kiosk to the campground in fading light, and I missed the very sharp turn into the loop. No problem, I thought. I’ll just go through the back side of the loop. That did not work. The road is One Way and has very large curbs along the narrow one lane road. I knew that if I approached the site from the wrong direction, it would be very hard to back in. It took me a while to find a place I could turn around, and then I had to go all the way back out and make the sharp turn from the other direction. Moral of the story: don’t miss the turn.

Pretty nice site. View from site 1 is nicer.

Site 6 is suitable for a trailer. So is maybe site 1. But not so much most of the others. I can understand why this campground would not be super trailer friendly, given the approach, but at least our site was nicely distanced from others and had good solar. It was also pretty level. And since I’m not 100% sure I could back into site 1 without hitting those curbs, I think I’d stay with 6.

Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to ride a bicycle up to that?

Saturday was all about clouds. I knew that Richard was going to need to do the ride up to the top of Mt. Hamilton, so that was the plan for the day. I gave him an hour or so head start and began the drive to meet him at the observatory. What had seemed a challenging road to get to the campground was nothing compared to the 11 miles up up up to the summit. I was enjoying it for maybe five miles. Then it just started to become grueling. There were tons of bikies out, and really, this kind of road is meant for them. It would be a great thing if they closed the road to cars on certain days and just let the crazy fit people take over. It would be so much safer. Going around all of those blind corners, you never know if there will be oncoming traffic, whether another car or a bikie. You really can’t take the center of the lane too often, so you’re just on the edge of the abyss for the better part of eleven miles. I was happy to reach the top and find that Richard had just arrived.

Me being snarky: “Wow! What a view! So worth it!”

At the top of this road is a short turnoff to Lick Observatory. We were fully engulfed in a thick cloud, but I’ll bet the views on a clear day would be amazing. I would say I’ll try again some day, but I’m not sure even that view would be worth it. We both retreated from the cold into the, almost equally cold, visitor center and observatory. I will say, the huge old telescope, operational since 1888, is gorgeous. Apparently it is still functional, though all manually controlled. They stopped using it for scientific purposes in 1961, but they do still use it as a teaching tool, or as part of an exhibit or private group event. There are something like five other modern telescopes up on that peak which do all of the actual sciencing. I can definitely imagine it being cool to attend an astronomical viewing event there. Except then you’d have to drive down in the dark. Right. Never mind. Pictures are cool too.

Ok, but that’s pretty cool.

Coming down was somewhat better, because at least you get to mostly hug the high side of the mountain, instead of the precipice. We stopped for a little hike at Grant Lake before heading back to Dory. There are lots of trails in the park, but it was cold and drizzly, so we opted for heated indoor naps.

Whoa! They do not hibernate, I guess.

In the morning, we woke to an unexpected view of wild pigs, all scattered through the brush by our site. We’d seen signs about them, but Richard hypothesized that pigs hibernate in winter. Once I opened the curtains and saw them all surrounding us, we realized that pig hibernation is maybe not a thing. They were pretty fun to watch, all snorfelly in the grass. I can see now how they are able to cause so much damage to lawns and turf. They’re fast little buggers and their snouts never stop moving. Fun!

Cool observatory. Tough to drive there.

Our descent back down was all about the bikies. Unfortunately, Dory found herself in the middle of a peloton. It was extremely difficult to find any safe opportunities to pass, so we traveled a lot of the way down at 8-10 mph. I mean, that was ok. It’s not like I wanted to take those curves much faster. But yeah, that drive is a lot. Not sure I’m wanting to go back any time soon. But the pigs were cool!

Total miles: 74.2, 14.6 mpg, 3 hours 6 min with no highway driving. Site 6. Either get this one, or 1, but I’m not sure I could back into it without hitting a curb. No hookups. Good solar. NO Cell for either of us until we were a few miles up, or a few miles down, from the campground. Great dump.

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