When I first caught sight of them in the early evening light, I thought they were bushes or rocks-- that is, until they started moving. Believe me, when five or six nearby objects which you believed to be stationary turn out to be two-hundred-pound moving hulks, it gets your attention, no matter how bad the light is.
When the objects turn out to be lightening fast and ugly as sin, it can be downright intimidating. But it's all part of the experience of a late afternoon hike in Santa Clara County's Joseph Grant Park, home to hundreds of feral pigs and thousands of vignettes from a California most of us have never known.
The pigs turn out to be harmless, quite interesting to watch, and usually content to mind their own business. They share the ten-thousand-acre park with coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, deer, eagles, and hawks, all equally content to keep to themselves.
My venue of choice is the 2800-foot "high country" on the east side of the park where human visitors are limited to a few mountain bikers and hikers. I start on the Canada de Pala trail which quickly climbs into a world far removed from the hustle of Silicon Valley.
Here rustic fences, corrals, and shacks are linked by trails that seem better suited to stage coaches and wagon trains. My route stays high, on a broad ridge bounded on the right by a deep canyon and on the left by lakes, oak-studded ridges, and occasional views of San Francisco Bay.
The late afternoon sun makes the bay look like a massive golden pond, and when the city lights begin to come on a few minutes later, it's just lovely. But the park is not only a visual experience. The aroma of wild oats during the summer and fall is dry, clean, and invigorating. The voices of coyotes at sundown are somehow very soothing. The trails themselves are wide, well maintained, and easy to follow. Setting off from the Twin Gates Trailhead, my round-trip hiking time is three to four hours.
To preview the hikes, download a topographical map from the county park website (www.parkhere.org).