Villa Montalvo, a historic landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan (1861-1930). Phelan, a passionate Californian who had been a three-term progressive mayor of San Francisco, went on to become California’s first popularly-elected U.S. Senator.
Senator Phelan’s favorite home was Villa Montalvo, a center of artistic, political and social life in Northern California. Phelan invited leading writers and artists to Villa Montalvo to work on individual artistic projects in an environment rich in dialogue and fellowship. Jack London, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, and Edwin Markham were among Phelan’s many guests.
At his death, Senator Phelan was explicit in his bequest of Villa Montalvo. ”I would like the property at Saratoga, California, known as Villa Montalvo, to be maintained as a public park.”
Villa Montalvo is nestled in the beautiful foothills above Saratoga with 175 acres of hiking trails. After hiking in the hills we discovered gardens with rare and wonderful specimens of trees throughout the grounds. My favorite were the gardens showcasing a wide variety of exotic succulents with a combination of textures, shapes and colors.
This lushly wooded park of over 3,688 acres, is nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Saratoga and Skyline Boulevard.
I headed up the mountain trail early today ready for a chilly hike. I wore a hat, gloves and several layers under my jacket. I was ready for the wind, drizzle and nippy cold air. All I could hear was the redwood branches swishing and far below in the ravine the rumble of a flowing creek. I could not see the rushing water because of the dense trees and the massive moss covered boulders that blocked my view.
During the first hour I saw no one. It gave me the opportunity to dream with my eyes open. I was delighted to see a deer leaping up a steep trail in front of me; she was so graceful and agile. I faintly heard young voices down below. Three girls eventually passed me, all cheery with a “good morning!” I continued and took lots of photos while catching my breath as I climbed the steep trail.
I looked ahead and sprinting down the trail I could see a tall woman walking four beautiful dogs. She was being pulled swiftly by an Irish wolfhound, golden retriever, and two small terriers. The dogs had shinny groomed hair and seemed well mannered.
I decided to head back. I passed several men out of breath; they were hiking uphill as I was going down. As I rounded the path I could hear flute music in the distance. I could see a man in a T-shirt and sandals, playing a wooden flute. He looked like a character in a movie. He was almost dancing as he said loudly “lovely morning!” I smiled and agreed. He surprised me as he made his own path through the woods. He did not take the trail. He seemed happy. As I watched him I wondered if he was cold and where was he going?
My favorite hikes are walking where I rarely see anyone. All my concentration is focused on nature. Spring in northern California is exploding with vast clear skies. Fields of massive rugged live oak trees with twisted limbs in many shades of green. The hills are covered with color in a parade of delicate wildflowers. There is so much to breathe in and explore.
Daniel and I discovered a winery with immense acreage. It is set in the mountains with rolling hills available to climb. We started our mid afternoon hike in the crisp air and bright sun. The daunting dark California turkey vultures were hypnotic as they soared in a dance crossing the sky. As we climbed I quickly started removing a layer. I stuffed the hoodie in the backpack and opened a bottle of water.
I was impressed by the steep trail as it twisted through the hillside on the rocky path. The barn below looked small and distant. That made me happy knowing I must be burning some calories. We took turns teasing each other asking “how long have we been walking?”
We both loved hiking and I always scanned the hills searching for deer. Often we saw a herd grazing. It was special to see a family with a young fawn. We spotted cute, crazy, fast squirrels that were camouflaged in the brush. I was delighted but startled by the small jetting brown lizards and sometimes a baby snake racing across the path. I studied the large black, white and red butterflies feasting on the purple thistle bordering the trail.
I stopped to catch my breath as we started to head downhill. The path took a sharp curve and I looked up from the rocky trail. In the bright sunlight with only the sound of birds we came face to face with a large animal that looked like a wolf. My first thought was excitement and surprise. His healthy fur was shinning and raised. I think we startled the animal. His fixed eyes were in an intense stare. Then I realized this was his home not ours.
Daniel and I returned the intense stare and slowly backed up the trail. We raised our swinging arms and yelled. He turned around and slowly walked away. We stood in shock, thinking what just happened. We decided he was not hungry, he was large and muscular. Plus this area provided deer and plenty of small animals to hunt.
We continued downhill walking around the tight curve to the main trail. We could not see him anywhere. When we were half way down the path we turned and made a panoramic search behind us. Daniel looked up the steep rock path above our heads. There he was, watching our every move! We yelled again and he disappeared into the thick bushes.
Shaken by the whole event, we walked briskly downhill. We analyzed what just happened and came to the conclusion we invaded his space. We should have had walking sticks to wave to appear larger, taller and bolder.