If you took Driver’s Ed in Saratoga or Los Gatos, you were probably made to park on the steepest hill around – Nicholson Avenue with its 23 degree grade. Positively frightening! But local bicycle enthusiasts take on Nicholson not with motor vehicles, but on their bikes in a race that has become a Los Gatos classic – the Cat’s Hill Classic bicycle race, which runs through the Almond Grove, Glenridge and Bachman Park neighborhoods of Los Gatos Saturday, March 21, 2020. There’s even a kid set too.
Please get the full scoop here on the organization’s website.
In my house, if you ask the question “do you want to take a walk?” outloud, you’d better be prepared to make a quick exit, leash in hand.
Our family dog, Bella, will begin to jump and run to convey her response: “yes! yes! yes, I want to go on a walk and I want to go right now!” So like with small children and words like “candy”, in our home, sometimes we have to spell out the word or use code to see if other non-dogs under the roof want to come along. “Do you have time for a ‘W’?” usually works, although I suspect that Bella is catching on – just like kids who learn to spell “candy” before anything else.
The main attraction is Belgatos Park (330 Belgatos Lane, Los Gatos), which offers a few entrances, including one on our street just about 3 blocks from our front door. Like most parks, Belgatos has a playground, picnic areas, large grassy areas for frisbee throwing and other games, and benches. It also has a public restroom and a parking lot. Beyond the useful spots at the main entrance that are fairly common to most parks, though, there lie many many forested and grassy trails stretching up the hill – a full 17 acres plus connections to huge open space preserves and trails as well (those being the Heinz Open Space Preserve, reached off Regent Drive, and the Santa Rosa Open Space Preserve, accessed from either the top of Harwood Road or off Santa Rosa Drive or Madera along the ridge of the hill). I can’t tell where the park ends and the open space begins – but the combined acreage is enormous and it’s a delight to explore.
Belgatos Park is where nature meets suburbia. The base looks like any city park but with a backdrop (the rising hill and winding paths) that beckons: come and see what you can find.
And it also seems to work the other way, too. The park is a bit of a conduit for nature to find its way into east Los Gatos too. You don’t always need to go far to find it.
In a tall eucalyptus tree in the parking lot (as you enter the park, it’s on your left side), there’s a large hawk’s nest. Depending on the time of day, and perhaps the bird’s mood or appetite, you may hear repeated screetches coming from this tree or another nearby. The hawk is lovely to watch and it will be fun when the little ones hatch.
Late in the afternoons or early in the mornings, particularly in winter, deer are seen nibbling on the bright green grass close to the same small parking lot too. There’s a little cluster of trees and bushes down by a neighbor’s fence, perhaps 15 feet from the pavement, and you sometimes find an entire family of deer enjoying pre-prandials.
Not wild, but fun for kids, are the goats which belong to the homeowner living to the right of Belgatos Park. Walk up the hill on the asphalt path and you will hear them, and then, most likely, you will smell them. They are cute! You can’t touch the two goats, but it’s always a delight to see something so unusual a stone’s throw from a regular neighborhood.
Continue up the hill on the paved path and you will see the usual assortment of small creatures – squirrels, birds, lizards, and possibly more. Possum and racoons abound. My husband, who hikes there frequently, saw a bobcat close to the playground on the trail there. We’ve seen deer many, many times. Jim has seen coyotes as well. Watch for poison oak, rattle snakes, ticks and black widow spiders: these are a part of nature you want to know about, but not encounter first-hand. Ditto that for the mountain lions who inhabit this land and have been known to walk down past Belwood and into Cambrian Park too. Pay attention.
As you climb, the views become increasingly more lovely with knotted oak and manzanita trees shading the trails, sometimes redwoods too, grassy spots emerging from time to time around bends, and glimpses of the valley below peeking through the openings in the skyline. Most days, the sky is a bright blue with only a few clouds dotting the horizon for interest’s sake. Some days, though, we have a “heat inversion” and there’s a lid of air sitting atop our valley, holding in what would normally blow off with breezes from the San Francisco Bay each afternoon at around 4pm. That lid keeps the heat – and the poor air – trapped. When that happens, the sky turns a disgusting shade of brown or taupe. When you see it, you don’t need to hear the advisory that it is a “spare the air” day. Luckily, the air has gotten cleaned up considerably since I was a teenager here in the 70’s. In any event, the view won’t lie. You’ll know, when you get a little elevation, how the environment is doing that day. No need to read about it online or in print. Take a hike, and you’ll see for yourself.
Where will you go? Depending on which path you choose, you may end up at the top of Harwood Road or you could be on Santa Rosa Drive. As mentioned, Belgatos Park also connects with the Heinz Open Space Preserve and The Santa Rosa Open Space Preserve so there are a myriad of possibilities. No matter which path you take, it will be scenic. You may run into mountain bikers or folks on horseback. Or you may get up close and personal with some wildlife. I do suggest long pants and shoes, not flip flops – just last week, our daughter came home from a hike with a tick who decided to hitch a ride. Since Belgatos Park touches the suburbs, it’s easy to ignore the fact that it is basically untamed land and, as my buddy (a Realtor and fellow blogger) Steve Leung points out, we are then encroaching on their space. So realize where you are and pay attention. I happen to think the park is a very photogenic place, so my other suggestion is bring a camera along too.