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Today’s Bay Area Treasure – Joseph D. Grant County Park

When I booked a campsite at Joseph D. Grant County Park, the largest of Santa Clara County’s regional parks, there was no rain in the forecast. But as the weeks went by and the trip approached, so did the first atmospheric river of the season. I kept checking the forecast, but it kept showing the same thing—rain for all three days of our trip. Edie and I are intrepid campers, and are not afraid of being out there in all weather conditions. In fact, sometimes dramatic weather makes for the most memorable trips. Plus, we have a comfy campervan to sleep in, so it’s not like we’d be hunkering down in a leaky tent. But still, this was to be our first trip to this park, and it would be more enjoyable to experience it in better weather. I was picturing tracking mud into our van, not being able to cook outside, dealing with wet clothing, and worrying about being struck by lightning while hiking in the hills below Mt. Hamilton.

Alameda Post - a grassy, hilly hiking trail at Joseph D. Grant County Park
Hiking up the Yerba Buena Trail, on an 8-mile loop that would take us up to the Canada de Pala Trail across the ridgetop, then over to the Los Huecos Trail back down. Hikers and equestrians have access to an extensive 51-mile trail system. Mountain bikes are permitted on over 75% of the park’s trails as designated. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - the park sign for Joseph D. Grant County Park
Entrance to Joseph D. Grant County Park, a beautiful land of rolling oak woodlands that was once the domain of the Werwersen Ohlone Indians, before being taken by the Mexican Land Grant system in 1839. Later, those grants were sold to Americans such as Frank Hubbard and Adam Grant, father of Joseph D. Grant. In 1975, the land was purchased by the Santa County Regional Parks for all the public to enjoy. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - a small sign or trail market that says Mt Hamilton Road, 1876, W2
Along the route of the old Mt. Hamilton Road, which once ran through Halls Valley, site of the historic Grant Ranch, are nine historical markers, each of which corresponds to a number on a “Step into the Past” handout available in the park. Once a stop for travelers on horseback and stagecoach on their way up to Mt. Hamilton, the road eventually bypassed Halls Valley, leaving only remnants of the past. One sign marks the presence of an old gate to a long-gone house, another marks the original entrance off the main road, while this one marks some old grafted walnut trees (California black walnut rootstock and commercial English walnut). As automobile traffic started to get heavier in the 1930s, Grant had the Mt. Hamilton Road moved away from his ranch, bypassing Halls Valley. Photo Steve Gorman.

Dithering leads to decision

By the time I made the decision to look into moving the trip to December, it was too late. Santa Clara County Parks have a pretty strict cancellation policy, and since we were within four days of arrival, there were no refunds available for changes or cancellations. Well, that settled it. I may not be all that big on going camping in the rain, but I’m also not big on wasting money. Admittedly, the campsite was only $26 per night, but still. We paid for this trip, so let’s make the best of it.

Alameda Post - wild pics and smaller piglets
Even more common than coyote sightings are wild pig sightings. At times, we saw groups of as many as 17 of these feral pigs—including youngsters—running single file along the hillsides and valleys. The city of Morgan Hill explains the presence of these animals: “Feral or wild pigs inhabit areas throughout California including Santa Clara County. These feral pigs are descendants of wild boar introduced by European settlers for sporting purposes that bred with escaped domesticated pigs. Their habitat is wooded areas, particularly oak tree dominated ecosystems, but they can also be found in chaparral and grasslands. Although they are not native to California, they have had a predominant presence in our corner of Santa Clara County for over 185 years.” Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - a deer
At dusk, deer gather in the meadows near the campground, among grasses and plants known as curly dock. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - a coyote
A number of coyotes were sighted on the trails and in the campground. These animals are among the 39 species of mammals that find a home here in this preserve. This one crossed the trail right in front of us, then ran along a barbed wire fence to get away from us as quickly as possible. Photo Steve Gorman.

Let’s go

Once we made the decision to go, we started getting excited. What’s a little rain, anyway? We hadn’t been camping since September, so we didn’t want to let yet another month go by without a trip. And, the weather forecast was starting to look a little better. Still rainy, but not as constant.



Alameda Post - a white ranch house, Grant Ranch, at Joseph D. Grant County Park
A view of the cookhouse (left), tank house (center), and ranch house (right) at the historic Grant Ranch, which was first developed on this site in 1861. The original farmhouse was a much simpler structure, reflecting a more rustic ranching life of the time. In 1927, original owner Frank Hubbard sold the ranch to Joseph D. Grant, who commenced a nine-year renovation that resulted in the much more formal and elaborate home that you see today. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - the backside of Grant Ranch and its tank house
Left: A rear view of the Grant ranch house, with its adjacent tank house peeking out from behind it. A filled-in swimming pool can be seen in the foreground. This more opulent and comfortable ranch, complete with heated swimming pool, reflected wealthy businessman Joseph Grant’s use of this home as more of a place of relaxation and entertainment than as a working ranch, at least for himself and his family and friends. Among the important figures of the time that visited here were Leland Stanford and Herbert Hoover. Former president Hoover spent a month here after his loss to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Right: Tank houses were essential parts of farms, ranches and homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using a windmill to pump well water up into a redwood tank, where it would be distributed by pipes for use by the family. While thousands of these sturdy tank houses once existed across the state, today only a handful survive. While this one is missing its windmill, it’s good to see it preserved in such good condition, including its redwood tank, a component often missing in surviving examples. Photos Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - a sign that says "The Ranch House" with photos and descriptions of former residents
An interpretive sign in front of the historic Grant ranch house describes the different eras here, starting with Frank Hubbard in 1861 and continuing all the way up to 1972 when Josephine Grant McCreery died, leaving instructions in her will to donate the property for preservation. Today, the historic Grant ranch buildings are being rehabilitated and preserved, in part, with grants from Proposition 68, the 2018 State of California Parks and Water Bond. Photo Steve Gorman.

A nice, close getaway

Joseph D. Grant Park is only about 52 miles from Alameda, so this would be a nice, short trip for a change. Arriving at our campsite by about 12:30 p.m., we decided to go for a hike and get the lay of the land. We had picked up a trail map at the entrance station, and headed off on our first walk.

The park has 10,882 acres of open space, and was once the ranch of J. D. Grant, a businessman who used the land for ranching, sport, and relaxation. It had previously been inhabited by the Werwersen Ohlone, before being taken by Jose de Jesus Bernal as a Mexican land grant in 1839. After Joseph D. Grant died in 1942, his daughter Josephine became a full-time resident of the ranch until her death in 1972. Her will deeded half the property to the Save The Redwoods League and half to the Menninger Foundation. Santa Clara County Parks purchased the land in 1975, to be preserved as a park. All of these owners and caretakers of this beautiful, hilly oak-woodland landscape have preserved it for future generations to enjoy as open space for wildlife, camping, hiking, and just enjoying the great outdoors.

Alameda Post - mountain peaks including Mt. Hamilton
A zoomed-in shot of the peak of Mt. Hamilton, elevation 4,265 feet above sea level. The location is the site of the world’s first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. The observatory was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick, for whom it was named. The James Lick Observatory is owned and operated by the University of California, and has been credited with many important astronomical discoveries. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - a red-tailed hawk
A red-tailed hawk flies overhead. This is the most common hawk in North America, and perches in trees or circles overhead looking for its prey of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, large insects, and occasionally fish. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - four people stand around a camp stove and smile
On our last morning, a couple of nearby campers came by and were interested in our campervan. After giving them a tour, we were invited over to their campsite for cups of piping-hot authentic Indian Chai and lively conversation. At left is my wife Edie, along with fellow campers Jeddy, Jazzie, and Johnny. Photo Steve Gorman.

Perfect, after all

We ended up experiencing only a little rainy weather, along with dramatic clouds, sun, wind, lots of fresh air, and numerous wildlife sightings. We took some nice, long hikes, explored the history of the old ranch house, and went to sleep each night with the soothing sound of light rain on the roof. We even met an Indian-American family at the campground, and enjoyed cups of piping-hot Chai at their campsite. I’m so glad we didn’t postpone this trip, and instead decided to just take a chance and go. Perhaps the best way to get a sense of this beautiful park is through this selection of photos that capture some of the highlights of visiting there.

Alameda Post - a camper parked at Joseph D. Grant County Park
Campsite 18 at Halls Valley Campground at Joseph D. Grant Park, with the author enjoying a morning cup of tea. The sites at this campground are fairly well spaced out and private, and are shaded by numerous oak trees. Many have views of the hills surrounding Halls Valley, including views of Mt. Hamilton (elevation 4,265 feet). Photo Edie O’Hara.
Alameda Post - an acorn woodpecker in a tree
An acorn woodpecker is seen on a branch. These birds take advantage of the large numbers of acorns in this oak woodland. They peck holes in trees and store numerous acorns there for future use. The adult male acorn woodpecker has a red cap starting at the forehead, whereas females have black area between the forehead and the cap. This one is probably a male. Photo Steve Gorman.
Alameda Post - an oak tree on a grassy hillside
Typical views on the trails of Joseph D. Grant County Park include rolling hills, golden grasslands, and majestic oaks. We hardly saw a soul on the trails, and had them virtually all to ourselves. This oak woodland covers over 10,000 acres and provides a habitat for over 32 species of birds and 39 species of mammals. Photo Edie O’Hara.

If you go to Joseph D. Grant County Park
Address: 18405 Mt. Hamilton Road, Mt. Hamilton, California.
Phone: 408-274-6121
Hours: Daily, 8 a.m. to sunset
Vehicle entry fee: $6 (waived if you have camping reservations)
Website
Campground reservations

Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.

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