I just can’t keep a secret.
For years I have heard whisperings of this mysterious Niles Canyon walkway near San Jose.
In lore and mythology it ranks right up there with the Information Superhighway, Silk Road, the Yellow Brick Road, the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Paper Trail.
It is usually spoken only in hushed tones and, in these modern times, on the rumor mills of the Internet.
One writer even proposed once to place it on the list of unofficial unusual attractions of Northern California.
On one Internet message group, he wrote: ”I am doing research on unusual Northern California places, particularly the infamous secret sidewalk of Niles Canyon. I’ve been looking for any official info and found none, but I’d be interested in just hearing stories about this unusual place or anything else about Niles Canyon. The information collected will be used to write an article for a California history magazine.”
Whether that article was written or not, I don’t know. I couldn’t find it.
But I did find the secret sidewalk.
A 1996 newspaper story spoke of it as a place that young people visit.
But there was nothing else written about it.
I turned to the Internet message board where there had been a discussion on it way back in 1998.
”It’s an absolutely gorgeous canyon, a truly beautiful piece of nature in the middle of the East Bay,” wrote Maghan Harvey. She spoke of ghosts and Charlie Chaplin but described the secret sidewalk as if it were a wisp of fog on a dark night.
”Niles Canyon is one of the great secrets of the Bay Area and it’s mostly locals who know about it,” she wrote. ”It is so magical and the one thing about it that always sticks in my mind is that at night it is the darkest place on Earth.”
But she gave no other hints about this Niles secret.
Christy Lopez also knows where it is.
”I myself have walked the secret sidewalk many times,” she wrote. ”My dad also did when he was a teen. You have to climb up a hill and past some railroad tracks to get to it. Many kids are known to hang out there. There is a lot of tagging along the walk. When you get so far, there is a point where the sidewalk is crushed to pieces. I love the scenery there.”
Josh Weller thinks secret societies might meet on this sidewalk.
”I went up there at night with a few friends and we had someone watching us the whole time. . . . It’s also odd to find out at the end of the sidewalk that the dang thing is hollow. Kind of makes you wonder what was under you the whole time you were walking. …”
”The funniest thing to me about the secret sidewalk is the fact that I can’t find any info on the place at all. I checked maps, looked online and asked a lot of people. No one has heard of the place.”
I ran into the same problems when I set out to find the Secret Sidewalk of Niles.
I found a couple of security guards — so be warned — and asked them. They said they never heard of it. But they allowed me to hike on to look for it.
Minutes later, I stood on what must be one of the most beautiful trails in the Bay Area and looked down about 150 feet on the security guards.
Up here on the sidewalk, guarded by tall thistles and a double whammy of poison hemlock and poison oak, was a well-worn trail. At least, that’s what it looked like minus the trail markings.
The Secret Sidewalk of Niles is actually the top of the six-mile, 101-year-old, unused Sunol Aqueduct owned by the San Francisco Water Department. The top is just over six feet wide, about the size of a sidewalk.
In the distance, it looked just like a sidewalk curving with the terrain and disappearing into the forest.
Although the East Bay Regional Park District is building a trail through the canyon, there are no plans to incorporate the secret sidewalk into it.
I’d give you directions — but then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it?
I just can’t keep a secret.