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Erskine: Looking across the Bay Area from El Toro

A group of hikers begin the trek to the peak of El Toro just outside Morgan HIll. At the top of the peak on a clear day, people can view the San Francisco skyline and the Monterey Bay. 

For 30 years, Renée and I have lived on the west side of Morgan Hill right underneath El Toro mountain. The deer eat nearly everything we plant, and though it has been quite awhile, we have watched the mountain burn twice. In winter, the sun drops behind the mountain at 2:30 in the afternoon, dimming the already short days.

Despite these inconveniences, I have always loved our setting here. We are close to town, yet we feel like we are in the country. Oaks, buckeyes, wildflowers and a host of critters are close by. All in all, El Toro mountain is a great neighbor.

Over the years, as I come and go, I have kept a close eye on the mountain, looking up for hikers along the two routes to the top. In the 80s and 90s, when I walked to the top, I rarely saw anyone else. I knew I was the only visitor that day, that week, probably that month.

But that has changed. Any day of the week, any time of day, I see people climbing the mountain. When I go, I am rarely alone. People of all shapes, sizes and ages now chug and puff up the too-steep slope. They say that a hiker must cross private property in order to reach the top.

Morgan Hill Historical Society’s annual spring hike up El Toro will not take place again this year due to the unresolved liability concerns of property owners. Nevertheless, it is clear that the genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back in. I, for one, applaud this discovery of El Toro. Folks are surprised when I tell them that on a clear day up there, one can see Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco’s skyline, Oakland and Stanford’s Hoover Tower. I can even distinguish the Transamerica Pyramid and the Bank of America building.

In 1850, Bayard Taylor walked from San Francisco to California’s constitutional convention in Monterey. On the way, after dinner at Martin Murphy’s ranch, the two rode to the top of El Toro. When I read Taylor’s grand and flowery description of the view that evening, I sometimes think it is a little over the top, until I go up again and realize that he got it just right. It is spectacular. People should see that view.

There is one sad aspect to El Toro’s new popularity. People leave behind a surprising amount of trash. I have started to bring a plastic grocery bag when I go up the mountain, and it is usually not big enough. Empty water bottles, candy wrappers, Kleenex, toilet tissue and more quickly fill my bag. I just cannot compute the I-don’t-need-this-anymore-so-I’ll-just-drop-it-here thinking at the root of this, especially from people wise enough to climb a mountain instead of going to the mall.

So, El Toro hikers, as you walk the mountain, please respect the mountain. If you can carry a full water bottle up, you can surely carry an empty one down. Stuff the used hanky in your pocket until you reach a trash bin. Better yet, take a plastic grocery bag up with you and pick up what less thoughtful hikers have left behind. Leave the mountain cleaner than you found it. That way, the mountain will not only strengthen your legs and lungs, but your spirit as well.

Part of the practice of travel in nature is respect for nature, even if that nature is just at the edge of town. It requires no heavy lifting, just common sense. No one drops trash in the woods without knowing they shouldn’t.