Penitencia Creek Trail

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Penitencia Creek Trail goes through and connects a corridor of neighborhood parks in the Alum Rock area of San Jose, CA.  Penitencia Creek County Park is described as a “linear park and regional trail” that nearly connects Alum Rock Regional Park to the Penitencia Creek confluence with Coyote Creek.  The currently developed section of trail is a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The day of my hike was the last clear and relatively warm day in a February dry spell, and the 7-mile walk (out and back) was quite pleasant for a relatively urban “green” corridor.  Even though the trail is never far from a street, there are views from the open areas both to the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and to the Hamilton Range to the east.  Other hike highlights included a few flowering hints of spring and several interesting bird species.

The eastern trailhead is on Noble Ave just off Penitencia Creek Rd, perhaps a half mile short of the Alum Rock Park entrance parking area; between these trailheads trail users must use the road shoulder.  The western trailhead is at King Rd near Commodore Dr, about 0.75 mile from the confluence with Coyote Creek.  Although there is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment along the Coyote Creek Parkway, the nearest portion is another 5+ miles away.

GPS track

GPS track

A little over 2 miles of the trail is a paved multi-use trail, the kind with a yellow dotted line down the center.  However, it is worth noting that the sections first encountered at Noble Ave and King Rd are unpaved.

The trail generally follows Penitencia Creek, though the two diverge in a few places.  Here the trail makes a slight jog and crosses the creek at the Piedmont Rd crossing.

image of Penitencia Creek

Penitencia Creek

A few different types of trees were already, in mid-February, starting to flower.

photo of pretty flowering tree along the creek

Pretty flowering tree along the creek

The trail passes Penitencia Creek Park, a San Jose City park, where there is a regional Wildlife Center.  A bit farther along, in a more open area where the trail is separated from the creek, there was a field of mustard grass.

picture of field of mustard grass

Field of mustard grass

From this open area the Santa Cruz Mountains were visible ahead, including distinctive Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum, to the left and right, respectively, of the trees in the foreground of this picture.

image of Santa Cruz Mountain skyline including Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum

Santa Cruz Mountain skyline including Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum

At Capitol Ave there is a light rail station, and a bit of trail-finding helps to pick up the trail after crossing the street at a crosswalk.  The trail passes under I-680 and continues to cross Jackson Rd.  It then passes through Penitencia Creek Gardens, a park operated by Santa Clara County, past a pretty pond.  After going along the sidewalk of Mabury Rd for about 0.3 mile, the trail again follows the creek to King Rd.  This last section shows a few signs of being an urban trail, including some colorful graffiti on a maintenance structure that crosses the creek.

photo of graffiti signaling an urban trail?

Graffiti signaling an urban trail?

Along the last section of trail, again unpaved, I was surprised to note some active bird life – surprised because, although this is a greenbelt, it’s pretty narrow and in the middle of a good-sized city and metropolitan area.  I saw a few of these little guys: it was a challenge to get a photo since they didn’t stay perched for long at any one time.  I think it’s a black phoebe.

photo of black phoebe perched temporarily between bursts of flitting around

Black phoebe perched temporarily between bursts of flitting around

Another small bird observed in the same area is more difficult to identify.  The white eye ring suggests that it may be a vireo, but the yellow spots make it a mystery.

picture of mystery bird!

Mystery bird!

When I passed the Penitencia Creek Gardens pond on my return trip, I noticed a common egret and a snowy egret feeding near each other, in peaceful coexistence.  The common egret is the bigger one on the left and characteristically feeds with its neck stretched out into an eager-looking posture, as in the picture.  The snowy egret looks more relaxed as it forages in the water.

photo of common (left) and snowy (right) egrets in the Penitencia Creek Gardens pond

Common (left) and snowy (right) egrets in the Penitencia Creek Gardens pond

At another location along the edge of the pond I saw a few individuals of a most unusual-appearing goose-like bird mingling with some Canada geese.  The wattle under the throat and the knob above the bill were prominent characteristics.  The specimen in the picture may have been doing a feeding maneuver, since the position looks awkward and out-of-balance.  However, the white rump seemed to be quite high in the air frequently while it was swimming around.  There were also a few pure white individuals without wattles and with bright orange beaks and knobs.  I’d never seen anything like them before, but after some research I believe they are forms of African goose.  This is actually a domestic goose descended from the (wild) swan goose, which has a natural breeding range in inland Asia (Mongolia, north China, and southeast Russia).  Who knew?!?!

image of unusual-looking African goose

Unusual-looking African goose

Returning through the open area noted above, between Capitol Ave and the Wildlife Center, I was treated to a clear view of Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve and Alum Rock Park, where I had recently hiked another Ridge Trail segment.   The more prominent hill is the one at the top end of the Boccardo Trail.

picture of Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

To the south Lick Observatory was visible on Mt Hamilton, and to the north the radio towers atop Mt Allison and Monument Peak (location of yet another Ridge Trail segment) were visible.

image of Mt Allison, Monument Peak, and radio towers

Mt Allison, Monument Peak, and radio towers

All in all, I quite enjoyed this urban greenbelt walk.

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