New Services

I recently became licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission. This will allow me to drive my visitors around the Bay area in my car. (My SUV can comfortably seat 5 persons.)

In  San Francisco, a car means driving down Lombard Street or up steep hills,  ogling the beautiful mansions of Seacliff, or venturing off the beaten path in Chinatown. (all these areas are inaccessible to buses)

In Silicon Valley, a car allows for greater flexibility to drive past historic garages (there are several), through a Palo Alto neighborhood  or up a winding hill to a viewpoint.

Let me know if you would like to plan a custom itinerary using this new service.



DSCN5661“The traveller in San Francisco, asking the question Englishmen invariably ask, What’s to be seen? would be thus answered. The Big Trees, Eusamity Valley, Napa and the Quicksilver Mines.”

—    Charles Dickens, All the Year Round, 424-28

Almaden Quicksilver Park is a county park, 16 miles south of San Jose in the Capitancillos Range of the Coastal Mountains. The 4,157 acre park includes hiking trails, remnants of the old mining camp, and Casa Grande, an 1854 Hacienda, now the Quicksilver mining museum.

Mercury (also called quicksilver) was “discovered” in the California Coastal Mountains in 1845. Andres Castillero, an observant Mexican soldier and mining engineer, noticed red paint on the bodies of the local Ohlone Indians and on the walls of the Santa Clara Mission. He inquired about the source of the paint and was guided to some cinnabar ore in a nearby cave. Cinnabar is a combination of mercury and sulfur in rock. Understanding the significance of this ore, Castillero made a claim on the property and began a small scale mining operation, the first in California.

The unique properties of mercury allow it to combine with most other metals to form an amalgam. The amalgamation process permits mercury to attract even small particles of metal and offers miners a way to collect metal efficiently. When the mercury is heated and vaporized, only the metal remains. Castillero had worked in the silver mines of Mexico where mercury was imported from the Almaden Mine in Spain, owned and controlled by a cartel of the Rothschild family

In 1847 Castillero, lacking capital to develop the mine and embroiled in title disputes, sold it to Barron & Forbes, a British trading company.

Barron & Forbes named the mine “Nuevo Almaden” (after its predecessor in Spain) and began the capital intensive work of hard rock mining. They hired skilled Mexican and Chilean miners (later English and Chinese as well). They developed the infrastructure to crush cinnabar, heat it, collect the mercury, store it in iron flasks, and ship it to San Francisco and beyond. In 1863 they sold the mine to Quicksilver Mining Corporation, an American Company.

From the 1850’s to the 1890’s the Nuevo Almaden Mine was a center of commerce and residential life. Over 1800 miners and their families lived in three camps on the site: English camp, Spanish camp, and Hacienda camp. The miners processed 300 tons of cinnabar ore per day, reduced it to mercury and placed the mercury in flasks for transport. Their product supplied more than half the mercury production in the world. Eventually the mine would transport over 1 million flasks of 76 pounds each, yielding $75 million for its beneficiaries.

By the late 19th century there were over 500 mercury mines from Oregon to Santa Barbara. The mercury mines of the California Coastal range supplied the mercury needed for the gold rush and the silver rush. Had it not been for the discovery of mercury in California, the story of the Gold rush might have been one of dependence on European interests.

In the 20th century the output from the New Almaden Mine declined as cinnabar became scarcer and more difficult to extract. New methods for processing metals included using cyanide instead of mercury. In 1975 the mine ceased operations. Between 1973-1976 Santa Clara County bought properties around the mine and established the Almaden Quicksilver Park in 1976.

If you visit:

  • Mining Museum and Casa Grande are free of charge

Hours of Operation:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Friday 12-4
  • Saturday, Sunday   10-4

Fun Facts about the Mine and its surroundings:

  • Henry Halleck was superintendent of the mine from 1850 to 1863
  • In 1863 Federal officials (with a writ from Abraham Lincoln) tried to seize the mine, prompting armed resistance from the miners and their allies. Lincoln and the military backed down when they realized the risk of California seceding from the Union was too great
  • Andres Castillero’s claim of 1845 was finally heard by the Supreme Court and denied in 1863
  • John McLaren did much of the landscaping for the camp
  • Wallace Stegner used Mary Foote’s account of life at New Almaden in his novel “Angle of Repose”
  • In 1867 F.S. Pioche leased 2.5 acres of the Hacienda property for 10 years to bottle the carbonated mineral water from Los Alamitos Creek. He sold it for $4 per bottle as Vichy water (the cure-all for every known affliction)
  • In 1893 the first Dry Ice (a by-product of the mine) was liquified, bottled, and marketed

Touring the Hearst Memorial Mining Building at UC Berkeley


The Hearst Memorial Mining building (HMM) on the UC Berkeley campus is a memorial to George Hearst, former California miner, Senator, and husband of Phoebe Apperson Hearst

In 1899 Berkeley was still a young university when Phoebe Apperson Hearst, George’s widow and a new regent, sponsored a global competition for an architectural master plan for the campus. Over 100 architects submitted entries, but the winner, Emile Benard of Paris, chose not to accept the commission (though he did accept the prize money). Hearst then chose John Galen Howard of New York as chief architect of the campus, a job he retained for 30 years. Howard disregarded Benard’s plan, opting instead to merge his own ideas with those of Frederick Law Olmstead, who had drafted an earlier plan (1866) for the university. Howard’s vision, like Olmstead’s, was to situate the campus along Strawberry Creek, and develop a corridor of lawn and plantings (the Central Glade) to emphasize the natural setting, and take advantage of the view to the Golden Gate Straits (before the Golden Gate Bridge).

The HMM Building is located at the eastern end of the Central Glade, and was the first classroom in the master plan to be constructed (1902-1907). Howard’s design mixed Mediterranean and California Mission styles in a Beaux-Arts building, adding mining details. In the main atrium, soaring 50-foot ceilings contain skylights and vaulting that recall the hollowing out of a mountain. The steel girders and balcony latticework suggest the timber supports of a mining shaft. The design was partly inspired by the reading room of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Inside the HMM, halls are lined with historic 19th century prints by Carlton Watkins. Watkins, a San Francisco photographer, captured the beauty and the degradation of the mining landscape. The 1906 earthquake destroyed many of Watkins’ original photographic plates, making these photographs unique and valuable.

In 1907 mining was a popular major among the 2,200 students at Cal (there were 247 mining majors that year). The Department offered aspiring miners practical experience as well as teaching and theory. Thus this building included smelters, rock crushers, drill rigs, and a tunnel where students could practice digging and using dynamite.

400px-Lawson_Adit_1917The tunnel, known as the Lawson Adit, extended as much as 900 feet into the Hayward Fault before cave-ins and instability made further exploration unsafe. By 1939 the tunnel was filled in with concrete, leaving only a 200-foot remnant for examination. Today the Lawson Adit is fenced and locked against curious students and visitors. However, in 2014 the Engineering Department inserted sensitive measuring equipment near the fault to monitor seismic activity.

Today the HMM houses the Materials Science and Engineering departments.

A Silicon Valley Tour Guide Visits Facebook


Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. This was not my first time at Facebook. I’ve circled the Facebook campus many times, and I’ve taken my share of pictures at their “Like” sign.

This time I was permitted to go inside.

I was working for a group from Canada who had arranged to visit the campus and then attend meetings with Facebook personnel. As their tour guide, I was going along for the ride.

untitled-21Facebook is currently housed in a 57-acre office complex on Willow Road. The campus was first built for Sun Microsystems in the early 1990’s, an imposing 1,000,000 square feet. I’m told that it was once full of offices and cubicles with no particular design aesthetic. Surrounded by water and looking like a fortress, it was jokingly referred to as “San Quentin”.

That was 20+ years ago, the glory days of Sun Microsystems. Their workstations were a corporate computer of choice. By 2008, they hit harder times.

Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2011. A pension fund now owns the campus.

cropped-untitled-15.jpgFacebook famously began in a Harvard dorm room in early 2004, growing exponentially and moving to the Bay area by June of that year. Their first offices were on University Drive in Palo Alto. In 2009 they moved to Stanford Research Park, and in 2011 signed a 15-year lease for this facility. Interestingly, they chose to keep the Sun Microsystems sign at the entrance, behind their own sign.

This Sun relic reminds Facebook that no company can assume a successful future.

A new 433,500 square foot building is now under construction for Facebook across the Expressway, connected to this campus by tunnel. The new construction, designed by “starchitect” Frank Gehry, will feature offices for 2800 employees and a park-like living roof. The exterior, unlike some Frank Gehry structures, is meant to blend into the marsh-like environment surrounding the campus. The interior architecture of this building and the existing campus reflects Facebook values: openness, innovation, creative collaboration, using plain and practical materials.

What did I see when I toured inside Facebook?

  • Large lighted display panels announcing worldwide numbers of Facebook users


  • Facebook’s own Wall with magic markers for writing



  • Industrial architecture revealing open ceilings, ducting, steel support beams


  • Edgy posters and graffiti on walls


  • Food in quantity and variety–snacks, fruit, yogurt, hot and cold drinks (some new and some old favorites)


  • Hacker Plaza –the large open plaza in the middle of campus suitable for large gatherings of the whole workforce. A barbershop and a health center open onto the plaza. The word “Hack” is spelled out in the plaza tiles, visible from an aerial view. A brightly painted bridge connects several buildings. The bridge is painted to evoke the Golden Gate Bridge.



  • A Ford Pacer and explanation that this car toured the USA for Instagram (Instagram bought by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012)


While my group was in meetings, I worked at a long conference table with my colleagues, made myself at home in the kitchen, and left my own mark on the Facebook wall.


A Short Tour of Brisbane, California

Brisbane is a small town 9 miles south of San Francisco, nestled in the Guadalupe Valley on San Bruno Mountain. Although it is located on Highway 101, Brisbane is easy to miss because it is separated from 101 by a man-made lagoon.


Shellmounds on San Bruno Mountain indicate that this area was once inhabited by Ohlone native Americans. The environment offered them ample black oak trees for acorns, plentiful fish and shellfish, and tule reeds in the wetlands for their homes, boats, and baskets.



When the Southern Pacific Railway built the railway from San Francisco to San Jose in 1864, they bypassed this portion of San Bruno Mountain in favor of a route further west, near San Bruno. Their route included a steep grade over the Bernal Cut, requiring extra steam engines for every run. In 1904, the SP built a faster and more direct route along the bay near what is now Brisbane, creating the Bay Cut Off. This stretch of track set a new record for expense at $1,000,000 per mile for 9.8 miles.

Efforts to start a small town near the railroad began with limited success. It wasn’t until the 1930’s depression that Brisbane (then called Visitacion City) began to iattract a small population with the offer of cheap lots ($100) and the freedom to build your own home with minimal interference from the town.


In the 1940’s Brisbane began a tradition that led to its nickname “The City of Stars”. During WW2 individual posted lighted stars on their homes to remind themselves of the sons still at war. Later the Chamber of Commerce championed the tradition by distributing small and large stars to any homeowner willing to maintain the lights.


Early industry in Brisbane included slaughter houses, railroads, and Greywacke quarrying. Today Brisbane is a city of 4,400 and is proudly working to restore their environment from the Mountain to the Bay.

Some Notable Activities:

  • They are the first city to draft a Habitat Conservation Plan under the Endangered Species Act for the preservation of the Mission Blue Butterfly.
  • They have removed multiple invasive species from the landscape on San Bruno Mountain and worked to discourage development near the disappearing shellmounds of the Ohlone Indians.
  • They are currently nurturing a community of Pacific Tree native frogs in a restored wetland within an industrial park.
  • Their Mission Blue Nursery grows native plants for replanting in restored and refurbished local areas.

In 1976 Brisbane began a tradition of painting its fire hydrants with whimsical, social and political messages. Today a small park in town showcases a few retired hydrants, including a gold fire hydrant. (It recalls the famous hydrant of the Mission that didn’t fail in 1906, and is repainted every April 18) Other hydrants throughout the town reflect the small-town quirkiness of Brisbane.

A Sunday Afternoon Hike on the Los Trancos Earthquake Trail


Yesterday I hiked the 1 ½ mile San Andreas Earthquake Trail in the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. To reach the Preserve from Highway 280, you must drive 7 miles up a long and winding road, a drive of about 30 minutes. The Preserve is located on Montebello Ridge 2,000 feet above Palo Alto in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Loma Prieta peak in the distance

At the summit, I enjoy the expansive view from Black Mountain, to Stevens Creek Canyon (the San Andreas Fault) to Loma Prieta Peak (3790 ft.). The Crystal Springs Reservoir is faintly visible in the East. Nearby a sign points to the beginning of the trail, and warns of mountain lions and other hazards.


The trail is marked with numbered posts, each one corresponding to a description in the accompanying brochure. The first post is just a short distance past the parking lot. I stand in a clearing marked by jumbled rocks and boulders. My brochure explains these rocks originated 2 million years ago near the Loma Prieta peak, on the North American Plate. Water has carried them over the San Andreas Fault to the Pacific Plate, and tectonic plate movement has carried them northward. Now they are 23 miles away from their origin.

conglomerate boulders

A depression in the land identifies a sag pond, a place where the earth has stretched. Eventually landslides and erosion will fill in the pond and blend it into the landscape. For now, this “sag” in the earth denotes a relatively recent earthquake (1906).

sag pond area  overed in scrub


The path descends into a wood of bay laurel, fir, and oaks. An abundance of willows implies fresh water. The brochure explains that spring water occurs along faults. Why? Because fine clay soil in a fault impedes the natural flow of the water and the water bubbles to the surface.

willows indicate waer


Poison oak flourishes in an area once subject to a landslide.

poison oak

These unusual shaped tree trunks tell an interesting story. They are shaped like a bent elbow, growing parallel to the ground and then vertically. An earthquake threw them to the ground without severing their root systems. A branch resumed growing towards the light, resulting in the unusual shape.

elbow shaped trees


The white topped posts signify a minor fault break.

posts indicate fault line

Hikers have been enjoying this trail since 1977.

Flora Hewlett bench