Relax and enjoy the long route on this beautiful drive

Lisa Taggart

With skies their brightest blue, fields popping out all over inelectric greens, and that invigorating spring charge to the air,the time to get outside is now. But spring is never the time to goanywhere fast: This is the season of the journey, not thedestination.

Take in the best of spring's new growth on thisaway-from-everything drive from San Jose east across the top of Mt.Hamilton and then north to Livermore Valley in 65 curvaceous miles.You certainly will want to take your time: The route up Mt.Hamilton from San Jose reportedly has 365 turns, one for every dayof the year (we lost count sometime in March). On a clear day, theview can stretch east all the way to the Sierra. In closer, lookfor blue lupine, red Indian paintbrush, and gold Californiapoppies.

If you're taking to heart the take-your-time philosophy, stop atJoseph D. Grant County Park for a leg stretcher along Yerba BuenaTrail. It's an easy half-mile walk to little McCreery Lake. On aquiet spring morning, we saw goldfields, ducks, and a quick-movingcoyote along this path.

From Hamilton's top, Santa Clara Valley's office towers andapartment buildings disappear beneath trees and grassy ridge aftergrassy ridge. It's worth touring Lick Observatory, where Universityof California researchers study the stars.

Heading east and down the less- traveled side of the mountain,you will see slopes of gray pines giving way to live oak woodlands.Crossing into San Antonio Valley, you might spy herds of elk;you're not likely to spot many other people, though. The valleyoffers a rare opportunity to view uninterrupted stretches of oaks,just now leafing out to cover their clusters of wintermistletoe.

The Junction restaurant is a burger stand that's in the middleof nowhere, at the intersection of Del Puerto Canyon and MinesRoads (just as San Antonio Valley Road becomes Mines Road), about25 miles west of Patterson and I-5. It's perfectly placed midway onthe drive for the very moment when your craving for a burger and aCoke rumbles into a roar.

Continuing the drive north, the road leaves San Antonio Valleyand climbs and drops on a scenic roller coaster. The final 15 mileshug the hills in the narrow, steep Arroyo Mocho canyon. On the lastdescent, the view widens again as you enter the green valley ofLivermore's wine country.

Just at the edge of civilization, stop on Mines Road to toastspring at Murrieta's Well Winery, which dates from the 1870s. Fromthe back deck, you can gaze at the hills you just traveled andraise a glass to savoring the long route.

GETTING THERE

From its juncture with Alum Rock Ave. in east San Jose, Mt.Hamilton Rd. (State 130) climbs 19 miles up one of the Bay Area'shighest peaks (4,209 feet), which is crowned by Lick Observatory.From here, the road drops east, winding down the mountain's broadshoulders 47 miles to Livermore as it becomes San Antonio ValleyRd. and then Mines Rd. In Livermore, at road's end, take a right toremain on Mines Rd. (after 31/2 miles, you'll pass Murrieta's WellWinery on your left). To get to downtown Livermore and I-580 at itsnorth edge, take a left onto Tesla Rd. (which becomes LivermoreAve.) and follow it about 4 miles north.

WHERE TO EAT

The Junction French fries, burgers, and other grill food. $;closed Wed; 30 miles south of Livermore at 47300 Mines Rd.;408/897-3148.

WHAT TO DO

Joseph D. Grant County Park Mostly easy and moderate hikingaround small lakes and across oak woodlands. $5 per vehicle,campsites from $12; 8 miles east of Alum Rock Ave. on Mt. HamiltonRd.; 408/ 274-6121.

Lick Observatory Tours of the observatory include a 15-minute talk on the structure's history and a look at the 36-inchrefractor. The visitor center has astronomy-related gifts andbooks. The building also houses exhibits of local photographs andspace-inspired paintings. Top of Mt. Hamilton Rd./State 130; www.ucolick.org; 408/274-5061.

Murrieta's Well Winery Sample Livermore-grown Semillon,Tempranillo, and Zinfandel in French-, Spanish-, andPortuguese-inspired blends. $5 tasting; 11-4:30 Wed-Sun; 3005 MinesRd., Livermore; www.murrietaswell.com;925/456-2390.


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