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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Journey to Umunhum

By Eric A. Carlson


"I will never be at a 'Star Wars' convention."

--Liam Neeson


LIAM NEESON BALKS at attending Star Wars conventions--yet starred in a Star Wars movie--The Phantom Menace. For shame. Liam is now living in Tibet, atoning for his sins. The Menace movie, a poorly made parody of Space Balls, was the lowlight of a weekend that included a spiritual journey to ominous Mt. Umunhum--via ominous Hicks Road--and a drive in the rain to a town gloriously stuck between Morgan Hill and Gilroy, which I did not think was possible, yet San Martin is there--pronounced "San Marteeeeeen." The town has its own airport (not named after a local politician) and an amazing aviation museum featuring model airplanes that once decorated The Flying Lady Ranch restaurant in Morgan Hill. How about that?

The road to Mt. Umunhum is twisting. On Camden Avenue I passed Bamboola, a holding tank for children described by a local gadfly as "a place for children to roar and thunder in a fascinating confined space while the parents wait or read and drink very old coffee at $2.00 a cup." Hicks Road is just around the corner; it winds up the mountain in tow with the Guadalupe Creek to the Guadalupe Reservoir--and beyond. A sign by the creek reads, "Contaminated Fish," and warns that poisonous mercury percolates in the water--on its way to San Jose and polluted San Francisco Bay. Soon after, Mt. Umunhum Road lurches toward the summit of Mt. Umunhum, and oddly enough so does Guadalupe Creek. In curious fact, the source of the Guadalupe River is within meters of the summit of Mt. Umunhum.

The old abandoned and contaminated Almaden Air Force Station deliquesces at leisure on top of the mountain, and is fenced in for your own protection. More ominous than asbestos are the myriad mountain-folk living in the hollers thereabouts. Much of the land on the mountain is owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Space District; so some mucking about is authorized. But veer too far from the beaten path and shame on ya. (Reports of albino enclaves are unsubstantiated.) Amazing views of Santa Clara Valley are to be had--even from halfway up the mountain. Aircraft waft into San Jose International Airport as if in a gauzy dream.

On the slopes of Mt. Umunhum I mused upon the latest evil perpetrated by the city of San Jose--attacking the Bay 101 card room on charges that criminal complaints have risen 50 percent in the last year--from two phone calls to four, or something along those lines. A San Jose police review has charged that Bay 101 has not been reporting all the crimes occurring on the premises, and that the owners should be dunked in the Alviso Slough to make sure they aren't witches. The politicos and their minions should be working on the downtown no-parking problem--not dictating to folks how they should recreate. The Bay 101 card room is probably the safest environment in San Jose--bar none.

Tom Collins is a volunteer at the Wings of History Air Museum in San Martin--nigh on to the South County Airport. I asked Tom how many people live in San Martin, "Well, I'm not sure, but the claim to fame here is that there are more horses than people." I did not see any horses, and no planes took off or landed at the airstrip, but there are some magnificent flying machines at the museum--including a replica of the Wright Flyer. And a large chunk of a plane donated by Ray Charles--a 1956 Vickers Viscount. Tom and Jerry Allen and Jerry's dog guided me around several hangars of vintage aircraft: a WW1 Nieuport, a 1930 Waco 10, all the models from the old, and closed, Flying Lady Ranch. And many more delights. Call (408) 683.2290 for information.

Tom Collins revealed that he is a deputy sheriff who once patrolled Mt. Umunhum, from 1989 to 1995. He told me that hard-core survivalists are tucked back in the green cold shadows, and property owners are known to make "citizens arrests" upon hikers unfortunate enough to trespass.

I am trying to envision the direction George Lucas gave Natalie Portman, in her role as Queen Amidalia. "No! No! No! More wooden, I want more wooden." And he got it. Her face never moved.

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From the December 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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