Lick Observatory sits on top of Mount Hamilton, and on a clear day (which is most days) you can see its white dome glinting in the sunlight from nearly anywhere in the Santa Clara Valley. It often seems closer than it is but after a hour long, hair-raising (and for some stomach churning) drive you finally get to the top. The views of the Bay Area are stupendous. The observatory has a tour of the telescope and is a great spot to simply dander around. Check out the fabulous photographs of the observatory on snowy days in their picture gallery.
We've been up to the observatory a few times now. In fact, before we even moved here, we visited whilst on holiday, and the views were one of the things that made me want to come live here. The absolute vastness of the landscape from up there made my spirit soar. And yet, it is so close to civilization and Starbucks. (Actually, I much prefer Peets!)
On each occasion, as we turned to go back down the mountain to San Jose, I would eye up the road that continued on over the mountain. What was it like over there? On the other side of the Hamilton range? In the depths of the Central Valley?
On Monday we decided to find out. Here is the map of our route - taken from Google Maps and amended by me.
On our way up the tortourusly twisty turns, a strange bird ran across the road in from of us. It had long thin legs, stood about a foot tall, with a distinct crest on it's head. It sprinted with it's head forward, and I recognised it immediately.
Meep meep! It was the Road Runner. All we needed now was Wiley coyote, some TNT and a dab of Acme glue. My husband took a bit of convincing that there were actually such birds outside of the cartoons. I showed him pictures on the internet when we got home. I didn't get any photos - the road runner was too fast.
However, we weren't so fast. The road spiraling up the mountainside soon saw to that- this road sign is echoed in the road behind it.
Because it was a road trip, a lot of the pictures were taken from the car as we drove along. It was simply too hot to get out...and I was feeling too lazy. But I still got some nice shots of the view and the steepness of the drop away at the side of the road.
We only stopped for a moment at the top, eager to be on the descent into new terrain. The steep roads plateaued out into high valleys. Sweeping swaths of grassland were dotted by huge oak trees in a gold and dark green color scheme, complemented by the blue sky. See for yourself -
I'm not sure why this farmer felt the need for a road here... right beside the public road.
We hoped that the numbers on the road counted us down to the palce where we had decided to stop for lunch -The Junction, a Restuarant located where the Highway 130 meets the road that comes down from Livermore. We'd seen a piece about it on the TV show, Eye On the Bay (two guys travel around the Bay Area and report back on cool things to do - I'm so jealous of their job...I reckon they need a nice Irish girl helping them to present their show - don't you? Actually forget the presenting - I'd happily get paid to do the research!)
But this is what greeted us last MONDAY.
As we continued, hastily, on our way - if you can call winding down a mountain at 20MPH hasty - I couldn't help but notice how the trees, so abundant on the western side of the range, had given way to sparse scrub and thin grassland as we journeyed eastwards. There really must be very little rainfall on this side of the hills.
Eventually there were no more trees, and the grass was like a skim of velvet on the hills, rubbed bare in places like molting antlers on a young buck. What on earth were those poor cows eating?
Anyway - if I were a geologist, I might be able to explain these strange lines of scrub on the hills. My guess is that the underlying rocks are dictating what grows above it, and they are laid down in layers, buckled and turned on their side, thus I surmise that the vegetation is following the pattern of the underlying rock formations. Am I smart or what? (Well, as a biologist I probably should know that - who'm I kidding?)
However, it seemed like a slap in the face after driving so far in pristine Old California scenery. We slid down into the Central Valley, quickly grabbed a Subway sandwich in Patterson then hit route 33 southbound. The Central valley was flat - as far as the eye could see...
After about half an hours drive through the monotonous Central Valle,y we turned right onto highway152 to take us back over the mountains to the Santa Clara Valley. This road is a four lane highway and much faster that the meandering Highway 130. It was impossible to stop to take pictures, and only a few were worth posting such as the one below of how effective the fire break was in stalling the progress of this grass fire into the hills.
San Luis Reservoir. This is worth a day trip of it's own...watch this space! A swifter pace now, the scenery sped past like a fast rewind of our trip over the mountains earlier. We came into Gilroy, noses twitching at the smell of garlic that clings (in a quite nice way) to this town. It reminded me of how the smell of turf smoke signals your arrival into county Donegal, back home...ummm...oh for a whiff of turf smoke!
The smell of garlic got our digestive juices flowing nicely for our arrival at Huntington Station Resturant and Sports Pub in Morgan Hill. They have the best outdoor area I have seen here yet. In fact, it reminds me of places I've visited on tropical holidays. I love the food here, the holiday type ambiance, and the staff are amazing. It was a lovely way to round off a pretty cool road trip.
Total time on the road - five hours.
And as it is GBBD today over at May Dreams Garden, I thoughtI'd leave you with a picture of the first of my bird of paradise that bloomed this week.