Sunset on Mount Umunhum

 A couple wrapped up in a blanket watching the sunset on Mount Umunhum.

A couple wrapped up in a blanket watching the sunset on Mount Umunhum.

This week, Modern Hiker published my second trail description on www.modernhiker.com, a family-friendly, 3.8-mile hike in Muir Woods National Monument called the Canopy View-Fern Creek Loop! Aside from the phenomenal redwoods, the hike features views of Redwood Canyon and Mount Tamalpais on a clear day. Going forward, I’ll be posting newly-published trail descriptions on my website here: Articles/Modern Hiker. I hope you will enjoy them :)

Our most recent adventure was driving to the summit of Mount Umunhum to watch the sunset. At 3,486 feet, Mount Umunhum is a prominent peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 25 miles south of San Jose. Up until 2017 it had been closed to the public as it went through an extensive restoration, and recently re-opened last September with a brand new 7.5-mile round-trip hike to its summit.

There are many wonderful stories about the history of Mount Umunhum—stories of veterans who lived on an Air Force base on it’s summit from 1957-1980, stories of the Native American history on the mountain, and stories of MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District’s incredible, 30+ year effort to restore the summit with input from veterans, the public, and descendants of the Ohlone people. I think my favorite is how it got it’s name: Umunhum.

 A ceremonial circle built to honor the Native American history on Mount Umunhum. The openings in the circle are to the east, symbolizing new beginnings and new opportunities just as the sun rises to the east at the start of a new day. The Amah Mutsun, a tribal band that is descended from the Ohlone people, use this circle for prayer and dance. They welcome everyone to use it to pray.

A ceremonial circle built to honor the Native American history on Mount Umunhum. The openings in the circle are to the east, symbolizing new beginnings and new opportunities just as the sun rises to the east at the start of a new day. The Amah Mutsun, a tribal band that is descended from the Ohlone people, use this circle for prayer and dance. They welcome everyone to use it to pray.

Umunhum contains the root word for hummingbird in five Ohlone languages and when spoken, sounds like a hummingbird hovering. Surveyors in the mid-1800s reported it sounded like “oomoonoom” but today everyone pronounces it “umunum.” I was really curious to find this root word, but after a lot of digging, I didn’t have much luck. The closest I came was finding the Mutsun word for hummingbird, “humuunya.” Sounds similar to Umunhum, right? Even just saying “Umunhum,” like you’re humming, sounds almost like the buzzing of a hummingbird’s wings. Hummingbirds apparently like the plants on the summit of Mount Umunhum and can be seen there when they migrate, particularly in the spring and fall.

Here’s a short, lovely video with Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, talking about the significance of the hummingbird to the Amah Mutsun:

I had no idea what to expect when Onur and I went up there for sunset this past Saturday night. Since it’s only about a 45 minute drive from Silicon Valley and is one of the tallest peaks in the South Bay, I figured it might be packed. But I was shocked when we got there—there were only about eight cars in the Summit Parking Area and of those, only a handful of people chose to walk the 159 steps up to the summit.

 Looking north to Mount El Sombroso and Silicon Valley.

Looking north to Mount El Sombroso and Silicon Valley.

I loved showing Onur the views from the cantilever deck beside the concrete radar tower. On a clear day, you can see the Apple ring building beyond Mount El Sombroso, elevation 2,999 feet. It was a bit hazy though, so we couldn’t quite see it that day. We did see the San Jose, the San Jose Airport, and Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton. It was such a nice experience on a Saturday evening.

Stay tuned for more about Mount Umunhum in a write-up I’m working on for Modern Hiker :) Have a wonderful weekend :)

Mount Umunhum sunset