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Fresh Air, Exercise, and the Beauty of the Stanford Campus – “Walking the Farm” Might be the Remedy We Need in These Times

Kylie Gordon
Jun 17 2020
photo of the Stanford dish on a foggy day

Above, the 150-foot diameter Stanford "dish," built by the Stanford Research Institute in 1966 to study the chemical composition of the atmosphere. "The Dish Loop" is one of many campus walks featured in Tom DeMund's book, "Walking the Farm." Photo by Tamer Shabani.


For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has translated to days and months stuck inside at home. And yet,  getting out in nature for a walk or hike thankfully remains a safe, healthy and uplifting activity from which most of us can benefit. From the Foothills to the Bay, the Stanford campus and its environs is overflowing with beauty, history, art, parks and nature preserves. It is yours to explore with “Walking the Farm” by Tom DeMund, the Stanford Bookstore’s #1 bestselling book of 2019, published with the Bill Lane Center for the American West.
Offering 18 themed walks and 20 local hikes, the guidebook is rooted in the Bill Lane Center for the American West’s annual tradition of hiking Stanford lands to trace the links between the university, its founders, and the dynamic region it helped shape. From the transcontinental railroad to postwar atomic research, and onward to the rise of Silicon Valley, the book is an opportunity to both enjoy the outdoors and immerse yourself in the stories of generations who walked the Farm before you. Plus, it’s easy to read: The book features detailed, colorful maps with walking routes, points of interest, building information, trail markers and more. Some walks also offer alternative driving directions.
I recently spoke with DeMund to gain some insight into his impetus for writing “Walking the Farm” in the first place, and to ask for some hike recommendations to help with the cabin fever many are experiencing right now. Read on for a short Q&A with the author, and pick up your copy of this excellent book today. While the Stanford Bookstore is currently closed, they offer storefront pickup for online orders. Free regular ground shipping is also available on all orders over $65.

A Q&A with Tom Demund, author of “Walking the Farm”

Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Thanks for chatting with the Bill Lane Center about your book, Tom. Can you tell me why you chose to write a guidebook of walks and hikes on the Stanford campus?
A: My intention in writing the book was to introduce people to the beauty of the campus. I’m a Stanford alum myself – class of 1957! I’ve always enjoyed walking around and absorbing all the knowledge that’s been partaken of there. And there aren’t many campuses that are prettier than Stanford. I’ve been to Harvard, Yale, Princeton…but Stanford – with its sandstone buildings and all its history – is about as nice as anywhere in the country.
Q: Do you have a favorite spot on campus?
A: Sitting in Memorial Church while the organ is playing. I’ve visited the big cathedrals in Europe, and just like the campus, there aren’t many as beautiful as Stanford’s.
Q: Now might be the perfect time to enjoy a campus hike or walk, given that being outdoors, at a distance from others, is such a safe and enjoyable way to get some respite from sheltering in place.  Do you have a favorite campus walk/hike you could recommend? 
A: Yeah, probably the one called "Slate Creek Trail to Trail Camp and Page Mill Site" in the Portola Redwoods State Park. There’s an overnight campout site at the Slate Creek camp ground. I do a lot of solo backpacking, and I did that one all by myself. There was no one around for several miles. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard a “crunch…crunch…crunch” in the forest outside my tent. I still don’t know what it was, but I’ll tell you, it wasn’t a mouse! 
That’s a neat hike – it takes in the old site of Page Mill. In 1867, this guy named Page built a lumber mill on Slate Creek. The mill is gone; the site only has an informational board that tells the history. But from Slate Creek, Page would take his lumber in a wagon pulled by horses down the route of what is now Page Mill Road.
For almost all the hikes, and all things on campus, I related a lot of history. That was the fun part about writing the book.
Q: So were you a history major at Stanford?
A: I was not a history major, I studied engineering! But anybody can do historical research. I try to write in a natural way, just as I’d talk. So each chapter is written that way – a little bit folksy.
Q: What about a hike for beginners? What would you recommend there?
A: Well, I divided the book into three sections: hikes that are near Stanford, hikes that are on Stanford property, and hikes that are farther from Stanford. Slate Creek is a little farther from campus. But the Dish Loop is one most people can do. It’s good to start with that one, and the history of the dish is interesting. 
One of my true favorites is the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. That and the Hidden Villa Wilderness Preserve. The San Andreas Fault Trail is also pretty unique; if you do this hike, you can stand with your feet on both sides of the fault. 
Then there are hikes out near the Bay. None of those are spectacular, but you can see lots of interesting water fowl on those hikes. 
Q: Did you learn any fun Stanford trivia while writing the book?
One chapter that was loads of fun is called "Long-Gone Unusual Features on Stanford Property." That chapter is divided into a walk around the campus and a drive around the periphery of the Stanford land holdings. I came across so many fun things that people wouldn’t know about while researching this book. There was a nuclear reactor on campus at one point (for educational purposes). It was eventually removed, then faculty housing was built on the site. Nobody knows that there was an airport on Stanford property and an early wind tunnel. There was a trolley line that came onto campus; a Catholic church; a World War I camp. There was a silver mine on campus, and Jane Goodall, she had a home for chimpanzees out where the linear accelator is. Vineyards and wineries were there. I've got a whole chapter on 48 different things that can be seen or that are now long gone. It's fun for people to read about some of the old-time stuff that happened on campus.
And then one of the most fun walks, I'd say, is the one that I called "A 110-year Flashback Stroll Around the Campus the Day Before and the Day After 'the Big One.'" I walk through what happened at the time of the 1906 earthquake. 
Q: Those sound wonderful. One of our Lane Center staff members followed that walk and wrote about her experience. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Well, there's also a chapter of the book that I call “My favorite walk," which visits some of the real campus highlights. There's a long loop and a short loop. That's a good one too. And I might add that "Walking the Farm" was the #1 bestselling book at the Stanford Bookstore last year! That certainly made me happy.
You can purchase "Walking the Farm" online at the Stanford Bookstore. Though the bookstore is closed, storefront pick-up is available.


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