OverviewWarning: as of Fall 2010, much of the Clear Creek Management area remains closed due to hazards from the natural asbestos in the area. The area in the temporary closure map seems to include all access to San Benito Mountain. The closure is temporary, but I do not know if anyone has estimated an opening date. These areas have been closed since at least Spring 2008. However,the map is difficult to read accurately, and Diggler reports he was able to access the peak in 2009.
San Benito Mountain is the highpoint of the Diablo Range, reflected in its rank as the 29th most prominent
peak in California. San Benito is also the highest point in San Benito county, which is what attracts most of the non-OHV crowd to this area. The peak is located in a remote but accessible area on the west side the Central Valley. The peak is surrounded by the San Benito Research Natural Area, which is in turn a part of the Clear Creak Management Area (CCMA) operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
San Benito is located in a mass of serpentine soil, producing a bizarre landscape that is devoid of life in some locations and full of a unique blend of plant life in others. Serpentine soils are characterized by high levels of magnesium and nickel but very low levels of calcium. The serpentine mineral also contains chrysotile, a long, fiberous mineral. That’s the bad stuff you know better as asbestos.
Welcome to New Idria
While you’re in the area you’ll probably notice cinnabar, too. It’s a bright red rock that is an ore of mercury. Mercury is exactly what helped produce the mining town of New Idria, located just to the northeast of San Benito Mountain. New Idria operated for over 100 years and was one of the most productive mercury mines in the country until closing in 1973. You can’t miss the pile of cinnabar as you drive into the now nearly deserted town (Population “Me”), nor can you miss the pile of tailings in town. What’s really disturbing is the color of the water coming out of the tailings: bright orange. Dude, don’t drink the water when you visit the CCMA.
Admittedly, San Benito Mountain is a drive-up, but I wouldn’t try it with a 2-WD. From New Idria, The OHV roads are passable by 4WD, with the occasional mudhole in winter and spring. Of course, that isn’t quite as much fun as getting out and enjoying a hike in the area. Well, depending on your persuasion and available time, of course.
We approached San Benito from the Bay Area, traveling down 101 to Gilroy, then taking SR 25 south through Hollister. About 13 miles south of Hollister, turn left onto County Road J1. There is a general store on the left just after your turn (good for Coke and ice cream on your return). Around 30 miles after your turn you will intersect Panoche and Little Panoche Roads. Continue straight on paved roads all the way to New Idria. At New Idria the pavement becomes intermittent, and then dirt. This road continues through New Idria and into the Clear Creek Management Area. Nervous 2WD owners may want to stop within 1/2 mile above New Idria before the road gets rough. It’s about 6 to 7 miles to the summit from here. Braver drivers may consider taking the right hand turn just above the town onto a road that rejoins the “main” road a little further ahead. 4WD owners can go either way now that they have filled in a collapsed shaft on the main road.
One can also reach this area from Interstate 5, taking the Little Panoche Road exit and driving approximately 20 miles to the aforementioned intersection of Panoche and Little Panoche Roads.
There is another approach from the King City area. Clear Creak Road, designated R001 in the CCMA, is a 4WD road with mud and stream crossings that accesses the area from the west. If you have some information from that approach, I can include it here.
Red TapeWarning: as of Fall 2010, much of the Clear Creek Management area remains closed due to hazards from the natural asbestos in the area. The area in the temporary closure map seems to include all access to San Benito Mountain. The closure is temporary, but I do not know if anyone has estimated an opening date. These areas have been closed since at least Spring 2008. However,the map is difficult to read accurately, and Diggler reports he was able to access the peak in 2009.
San Benito Mountain is located in the Clear Creak Management Area (CCMA), operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The management area is open year round, without seasonal closures. Their web site suggests that some areas may close temporarily after rains.
The area is open to day and overnight use, without fees. Campfire permits are required, but free.
are naturally occuring in the serpentine soils. The BLM does not recommend use of some areas, particularly during dry and dusty parts of the year. Like most exposure-related risks, "how much is too much" can be tough to answer. CCMA provides a recorded update at (831) 630-5060.
Camping is allowed in CCMA, but avoid the dry, dusty parts of the year. Be prepared to share your camping area with members of the OHV crowd, as they are plentiful in this area.
There are also some BLM areas along Idria Road. Griswold Hills (scroll down in this link
) is a 10,000 acre parcel with a parking area on New Idria Road located 3 miles south of Panoche Road. If you're coming from I-5, Tumey Hills along Panoche Road may also be an option. Thanks to jakefrisbee
for this info.
External LinksGeneral Clear Creak Managment Area Information
County Highpointers Trip Reports
Bob Burd's trip report
Matt Worster's Trip Report