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A League or Less: The Dish

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The Trail Companion (ISSN 1528-0241 (print); 1094-222X (online)) is the quarterly newsletter of the Trail Center.

Editor: Scott Heeschen
Staff Writer: Geoffrey Skinner

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The Trail Companion

February/March 1998

A League or Less

The Dish

     by Geoffrey Skinnner

      This issue's ramble takes us to a location closer to town than previous forays, one which may already be familiar to many of us: the Stanford Foothills. The Foothills offer spectacular views of the entire Bay Area on clear days, include Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Diablo and a good portion of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although no bicycling or horseback riding is permitted, the Academic Reserve is open to dogs on leashes. The Foothills have been used for walking and running for many years, resulting in a network of informal trails in addition to a main paved road; I describe a largely paved route in this column, since the trails can be very muddy during winter months. Despite the mud, winter and spring are among the best times to visit the Foothills because of extreme summer temperatures.
      Parking is available (though tight) at two main locations: Stanford Avenue near Junipero Serra Boulevard and at Alpine Road, near the Webb Ranch (approximately 1/4 mile east of 1-280). Access is also available at several other locations, but parking is extremely limited or nonexistent without Stanford University parking permits.
      From Stanford Avenue, my usual starting point, cross Junipero Serra at the light and go through the stile (if the ground is too muddy, you may wish to walk west on Junipero Serra for a short distance to the Frenchman's Road entrance). Bear right and climb toward a low ridge, but turn left on another trail before you reach the top. The trail meets the paved road rising from Frenchman's Road; go left and climb to the top of the ridge. As you near the top, the Bay Area spreads out before you and the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains looms to the west. I often walk or jog this route at sunset, which can be very showy if clouds cover the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sunrise is also a wonderful time to visit.
      Follow the road toward the large radio telescope, known simply as "The Dish", a 150 ft. diameter reflecting parabolic antenna built in the 1960s which is a landmark for anyone traveling 1-280. The Dish was originally built to probe ionosphere disturbances, but as radio frequency interference increased in the Bay Area, the telescope became less useful and was virtually unused for a number of years. Advances in computer technology let users filter out much of the noise and the telescope came into use again in the 1980s, though in a limited fashion. The Dish is currently operated by SRI International and shared with the Space, Telecommunication, and Radioscience Laboratory (STAR Lab) at Stanford University. The Dish has been in use for experiments with the Mars Global Surveyor and will be used for further tests with the Mars Surveyor 98 (see and for more information).
      Shortly before you reach the Dish, you may turn left at a road leading to a smaller radio telescope or you may continue straight. If you turn, cross over the cattle guard, then veer right at the next road, which will take you right next to the Dish enclosure. Once you reach the Dish, another road goes to the left; for a shorter loop, turn here, otherwise continue past the Dish and descend toward 1-280 for a few hundred yards to a junction with the road from the Alpine Road entrance. Go right to cross another cattleguard and ascend through a quiet buckeye-filled canyon. At the top, go left to pick up the road from the Dish. The road drops toward the main entrance to the Foothills on Junipero Serra near Campus Drive East.

      When you reach the bottom, notice the recently constructed ponds to your left; Stanford is attempting to create breeding areas for the endangered tiger salamanders, which cross Junipero Serra each year as they travel to Lake Lagunita. Surrounding the ponds are oak trees, planted here and elsewhere in the Foothills and Stanford lands by Magic, Inc., a local nonprofit in an effort to regenerate the oak woodlands which have suffered tremendously under pressure from grazing, urbanization and rodent overpopulation (see
      Before you arrive at Junipero Serra, turn right and climb again. Follow this road for about onehalf mile to the Frenchman's Road entrance. Depending on the mud, either continue straight on the dirt path or go through the stile and walk along Junipero Serra back to Stanford Avenue.
      Note: If you wish to use the Alpine Road entrance, the total distance win be approximately five miles; climb toward the Dish and follow the directions from the second cattleguard mentioned above.

If you're going...

      Approximate distance: 3 miles. The Academic Reserve is open from dawn till dusk. Dogs okay on leash; no bicycles allowed. A water fountain is located on the lower road between the main and Frenchman's Road gates; no other water is available. No restrooms.

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