Grand Tour.6- Alviso and the Slough

































Do not fear intrepid reader, the popular Grand Tour (Recession Edition) of San Francisco Bay  has continued unabated. The author has just been too busy to provide updated entries. To recap, we have made our way down the peninsula, and entry number 6 marks our southernmost point in the journey, a visit to the interesting little bayside enclave of Alviso, and the adjacent Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Getting here from San Francisco required a trip on CalTrain to Mountain View, and then transferring to the south bay’s VTA light rail system; which takes one from  Mountain View to Great America Amusement Park. Instead of walking into Great America, we walk the opposite way. The walk was about 10 miles round trip. Here’s the route:Alviso Map
This route begins in an area very typical of North San Jose, 6-lane arterial roads lined with office parks, bland multifamily housing, and the occasional amusement park.  Getting to Alviso from light rail requires a walk from Tasman Blvd.; either along an arterial, or  adjacent to the Guadalupe River, about as unpleasant a riverside walk as you could imagine. This was the view from the riverbank: some new condos with a nice view of a salvage yard. Junk

We stagger on, thinking what a bad idea this hike was, and then, everything changes. You reach the settlement of Alviso, and you are in another place, and time.

So a bit about its history. Its one of the oldest settlements in the Bay Area, incorporated in 1852. It was a busy port in its early days as a shipping point for produce from the Santa Clara Valley. But like Buffalo oddly enough, transportation changed, in this case, the railroad down both sides of the bay, and it declined. It remained an independent city until San Jose swallowed it , a small appetizer for that city that was on its way to devouring a good deal of the Santa Clara Valley.

Alviso feels like it belongs somewhere in the Central Valley, some great old California buildings, the railroad running through town, a strong latino vibe. There are a few restaurants, and some wonderful examples of turn of the century California bungalows and stick housing. I had a bit of an “East of Eden” moment walking through the town on a golden late afternoon- I half expected to see Cal come round the corner. Here are some photos:Tracks






The town is also a portal to the aforementioned Alviso Slough. So what exactly is a slough? I first thought it was a British spelling of a word that means the opposite of fast (bada-bing), but that’s not it.Pronounced sloo, it refers to a river delta , in this case the Guadalupe, that is flushed with salt tidal waters. The southern part of the Bay is a combination of these sloughs and salt ponds. The salt ponds, owned by private enterprises, are the brightly colored segments one sees when flying over the Bay.


The bright colors, particularly the reds, are all salt ponds, and colors vary depending on the degree of evaporation. So, I always wondered what this looked liked on the ground. Well, this saunter brings that home. Here are some photos.




Its a great hike, just yourself and 10,000  shorebirds.  Unlike others preceding it, this portion of the hike had  less immediate visual stimuli, its more reflective. This period has been alternatingly enlightening  and unbearably deflating, and being out in a dead flat place whipped with salt air and little else tends to bring these emotions up. A moment of clarity followed by  an eyeful of salty dust- where I am going, how did I get here? I spent a fair amount of time meditating on these thoughts. Then, out of nowhere, a train roared by, 10 feet way. It is mesmerizing to watch a train approach and pass in such a setting. The force, the sound, the gust of wind, the gradually building audio intrusion into what had been a place populated by only the squeaks of birds, and the wheels grinding in one’s head,  and then whooooosh, gone in an instant. It was the 4:15 to San Jose, and it was time to head home.


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