Back Woods

Mt. Umunhum is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains just a few miles south of San Jose. It’s tippy top stands about 3500 vertical feet above sea level, which is really something considering San Jose’s elevation is 82 feet. That’s a lot of elevation.

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, part of the Ohlone Native American Tribe, occupied this area for thousands of years prior to white encroachment and settling. They visited the peak for ceremonial reasons and considered it to be sacred land.

The mountain hosted Almaden Air Force Station from 1958 until 1980 where, along with a population of 120 airmen and their families, a huge FPS-24 radar was built on top of an 85 foot tall cement tower. The base closed in 1980, but the tower remains. I watched that radar slowly spin when I was a kid growing up in San Jose, and I can still see the tower today when I look up to the peak. 

The tower – it’s a long way down.

The mountain top was closed to the public for decades, but was opened up in 2017 after a huge cleanup effort. Now you can ride, hike, and drive to the top and the views are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see as far north as Napa, and as far east as the Sierra Nevada. As part of the restoration, the Minpeninsula Regional Open Space District built a prayer circle, added for the displaced Native Americans to use. 

Mount Umunhum is a local landmark and the second tallest peak in the South San Francisco Bay Area. The trails leading to it are challenging and steep, and it is definitely worth the effort to get to the top – if for no other reason than to ride back down.

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