Wind, Blimps, Space, and Posolmi - Quiet Country Lanes of the Bay Area - CycleBlaze

November 22, 2020

Wind, Blimps, Space, and Posolmi

I had a hard time writing up this entry because I got so lost in the weeds about the history of the place. At first it was just going to be "and so I went to point A and saw this then went to point B and saw that" but the more I looked into some of the places I was riding through - almost literally since so many are ghosts now - the more rabbit holes I traveled down. But I'm up for air and will do my best to distill what I learned and felt.

This ride is a loop I often do. It takes us through G**gleland, then out along a bike path to join the Bay Trail. This part is called the Moffett Bay Trail because it goes behind Moffett Field, a former Navy airfield but now just a federal airfield. Then we get off the trail to circle around Moffett, wandering through former Lockheed Martin Space Systems acreage, now Silicon Valley office parks. We'll also visit where the the top-secret Blue Cube used to be when Onizuka Air Force Station was a thing. And of course, before all of that, it was a rancho and cropland.

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Let's start with some art, shall we? I cut through the Googleplex that we saw on the last ride and headed towards the Stevens Creek Trail. On my way there I made a stop at a favorite sculpture, a cast bronze horse by Deborah Butterfield. Horse and Pokey are good friends.

Pokey and Horse by Deborah Butterfield. They lurve each other. You touch that sculpture expecting to feel the grain of the wood, but it's cold metal.
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From this direction it looks more western. The hill in the background is actually an old landfill.
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So I get to the Stevens Creek Trail, cross over the creek, then head the wrong way, upstream along the levee. This is just so I can show you a wind tunnel that is operated by NASA at their Ames Research Center. I can't remember why I wanted to show you the wind tunnel, yet here it is.

This turns out to be a serendipitous little side trip. There is a bike path to the wind tunnel, which I'd never seen before. (See what you make me do!) It's been years since I was up this part of the levee since it dead-ends, but it looks like the bike path has been there for a while too. NASA Ames is on Moffett Field. Moffett is a federal facility so you can't just waltz in there. So that open bike path surprises me. I think we have just added another trip to our list.

A wind tunnel operated by NASA Ames Research Station at Moffett Field. This end is the air intake for the world's largest wind tunnel (80x120ft). When it is in use, it sounds like you're near a jet about to take off. New to me: I never knew there was an open bike path here.
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Nearby, Google is building a couple of these huge circus tent office buildings. Interesting. They spent a lot of money and bought a lot of the land that was part of Moffett Field.
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I rode back down the levee and got onto the trail proper, then turned on to the Bay Trail. It runs on levees for former salt ponds on one side and Moffett Field on the other. It's a really nicely-surfaced trail at this point. Our friends G**gle paid to redo the levees and resurface the trail as part of their commitment to encouraging alternative commutes. We all won on that one.

I love riding this trail and do it often. I enjoy being out by the water, and the fast flat ride. There are lots of migratory waterfowl resting on the water today too, maybe a thousand or more on one pond I passed. It's also duck hunting season so I heard the occasional pop-pop from the duck blinds.

Pokey taking a rest to enjoy the breeze.
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From the Moffett Bay Trail looking back over one of the old salt ponds towards Moffett Field. On the right is Hangar 1's skeleton (PCBs, lead and asbestos hide removed) with hangars 2 and 3 on the left. All are dirigible hangars from the US Navy's ill-fated attempt to launch a Lighter-Than-Air Force in the 1930s. Between them is the runway for Moffett Field.
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From the trail we can look over an old salt pond to Moffett Field to see the huge dirigible hangars that were built in the 1930s. Hangar 1 had its toxic skin removed thanks to the generosity of the G**gle founders who also wanted to use Moffett for their personal 747s after it was decommissioned as a Navy airfield. 

Back in the 1930s Admiral Moffett was the main champion of establishing a lighter-than-air force. One of several bases was established in Sunnyvale and Mountain View. The field was named for the admiral after he died in a dirigible crash. The USS Macon was stationed here but crashed off the coast of Big Sur in 1934. That was the end of that.

Hangar 1 covers about 8 acres and is the largest free-standing building in the world, Wikipedia says. When it had its skin it also had its own weather inside.

USS Macon and Hangar 1 at Moffett Field around 1933. Can you see how teeny the people and cars look in comparison?
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Poor unclothed Hangar 1. It has its own Twitter account where it sometimes notes how cold it is when the wind blows through.
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Moffett Bay Trail
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We start to see windowless buildings. Must be some secret stuff going on.
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This southern part of San Francisco Bay has many old salt ponds and a few water treatment plants, so it's been heavily affected by us humans. There are efforts under way to restore most of this part of the bay back to marshland. And we have about 60% of 500 miles of trail surrounding the bay.
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We leave the Bay Trail to skirt the shoulder of a capped landfill and head back to corporate lands.
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There isn't much left of Yahoo's business, but there is still some. They have retreated to just a couple of buildings and celebrate 25 years in the world.
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I was glad to see that this art installation is still on Yahoo's grounds. There are about a half dozen different doors.
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Ruh-roh. Better stay back!
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Here's why: big defense and space contractor. They have a lot of windowless buildings.
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Lockheed Martin is a large defense contractor and has been around here since the 1960s. Their presence is much diminished since their heyday but they are still very much alive. They were an important part of Silicon Valley's development also and attracted a lot of people who did cool stuff when the space race was a thing.

Lockheed sold some acreage to the Air Force in the early 1960s for double-secret reasons. What resulted was another windowless building painted sky blue that came to be called the Blue Cube. The area around it was mostly farmland so must have seemed remote-ish. But by the time I moved here in the early 1990s this secret place was right next to the junction of two busy freeways. Thousands of people every day drove past this blue building with lots of big satellite dishes. We sure were mystified by what could possibly be going on - not. What they were doing was tracking spy satellites that Lockheed developed, among other spacey things. The air station was renamed Onizuka Air Station for one of the astronauts killed aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Col. Onizuka spent some time at the Blue Cube training [for something secret to do with spy satellites] before his shuttle mission.

The air station was closed in 2011 and the Blue Cube was demolished in 2014. However, the Blue Cube lives on.

This was the main entrance to the Blue Cube. Very secret.
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The other side of the gateway. Nice mosaic. Glad they saved it after the Blue Cube demolition.
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A local community college now has a (pardon me) satellite campus where the Blue Cube sat. They have lots of Cube and shuttle artwork inside to honor its legacy. The concrete walkways around the building have chips of the old Blue Cube mixed in.
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There is one satellite dish left on the original grounds of Onizuka AFS. The big guys are redeployed.
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After leaving the Blue Cube I saw a sign for the Aspiration Dome so had to check it out. Apparently when a big tech company constructed their cool new campus with tall buildings on former Lockheed land they forgot to include a place to have all-hands meetings so built this. I have no idea why it's called the Aspiration Dome.
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See, I told you Lockheed was important for Silicon Valley. There's a plaque and everything.
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Have to say, these new buildings for Amazon's SV outpost are a huge improvement on those Lockheed buildings.
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And now, a little time travel. Below are Google Earth images that show the Moffett Field area in 1948. You can also see the wind tunnel, the dirigible hangars, the location of the future Lockheed campus and the Blue Cube. In this one corner of the world we cover a lot of US aviation history from blimps to jets to satellites to space shuttles. But before it was all that, it was farmland.

Moffett Field area in 1948. The red line is my ride today.
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This is the same 1948 aerial but with Google Earth's feature of 3D buildings added. On the left is the NASA wind tunnel. On either side of the runway are the dirigible hangars (Hangar 1 on the left with its former skin). Lower right is the location of the Blue Cube. The blue doesn't show up too well but trust me, it was blue. The other buildings scattered to the right of the hangars are Lockheed buildings; the 3D feature is a mix of historic and current.
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This is the same area in 2018. Farmland all gone, a mix of residential and corporate uses. You can see what I mean about the Blue Cube being right next to a busy freeway junction.
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Now let's go back even further in time, back to the Mexican land grant period. An Indian named Lupe Ynigo was granted a rancho in 1844, an unusual thing at the time. He was given a lot of marshy land but it was where his village was before he had to move to Mission Santa Clara. He is commemorated at a light rail station near the site of his village. I stood there for a while and gave a thought or two to him and to what has this land has experienced.

Light rail station with artwork commemorating Lupe Ynigo, an Indian who was granted the lands that became Moffett Field as a rancho in 1844. This is part of what his rancho has become - an RV storage lot.
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"... adapting so their descendants might find a future."
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I'm sorry to admit this but we white folks were taught that the diseases we brought to this country wiped out the Indians. Surprise! They're still here! Public land managers are getting smarter about incorporating the tribes in planning and restoration work, as well as correcting historical records. The tribes are also getting much better at advocating for themselves so that we white folks have to pay attention. I myself find it really calming to think about the land the way the Indians do - as an extension of myself. That's pretty hard to do in this valley but I try.

After the light rail station I turned for home. I cut through yet another G**gle campus. This one was almost 500,000 square feet of office space built for AOL but never occupied by them because they got bought by Time Warner then the Great Recession happened blah blah blah. Sat empty for years until G got big enough to move in.

Acres of lovely empty parking lots.
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Park your G bike here!
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Riding through a city park back to the Stevens Creek Trail.
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The least nice part of the Stevens Creek Trail as it fronts a freeway but it helps get me home.
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Today's ride: 18 miles (29 km)
Total: 38 miles (61 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 8
John PescatoreBack in the 1980s, I used to work for a company HQed in Mountain View and when I'd travel out there would stay in a motel near Moffeet. They had free bikes to use - after work I would ride many of those trails. When I had to stay through a weekend, used to bike up the Bay Trail to E. Palo Alto, head over to Stanford and bike around there and then loop back.

Many memories of the blimps and those trails along the Bay.
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11 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo John PescatoreThat's a nice route - good choice. I've done variations of it many times. It's even better these days with improved cycling infrastructure.
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11 months ago
Sarah HitzKathleen, you are giving me great ideas of things to photograph, so thank you! I am also looking for Deborah Butterfields around the Bay. I saw your other post about the 2 on Stanford campus, and the one by Sunset (gone now, not sure where to). Have you found any others? I've heard there is one on Canada College campus but need to investigate.
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7 months ago
Kathleen JonesSarah, I'm not happy that the one near Sunset mag is gone. Glad I got to see it then. And one at Cañada College? Hadn't heard that. Once the campuses open up again I may have to stop by. The only other one I've seen is in Terminal 2 at SFO. So that means:
- SGI gift on Crittenden in Mountain View
- outside new Stanford Hospital
- Cantor Museum lobby, Stanford
- Cañada College campus
- SFO Terminal 2
- former Sunset campus in Menlo Park, maybe
Someone will have to make a google map of all her installations. Keep me posted if you find more, and vice versa.
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7 months ago
Sarah HitzTo Kathleen JonesYes, we have the same list. I just confirmed that there is one at Canada college! Found it this weekend. The horse is in the main quad in a grassy area between buildings 9 and 13. I parked in lot 1B right next to the ticket dispenser. There are stairs from there that you can take down to the main quad where the horse is. The campus was entirely empty, so I had the place to myself and parking is free on the weekends. I compared photos and this is not the Sunset horse, so the fate of that one is still a mystery to me.
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7 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Sarah HitzThanks for the update. I'll check out the Cañada one.
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7 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Sarah HitzSarah, I was just in Evanston, IL to visit family. Came across another Butterfield in a little park just off the Northwestern campus. So nice to see in the wild!
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2 months ago
Sarah HitzTo Kathleen JonesOh fun! I was just in Evanston 2 years ago and didn't think to look. She is pretty prolific, which makes for a fun scavenger hunt on various travels.
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2 months ago