The things you see when the tide is at minus one is simply amazing: life in tide pools; life, shells and fossils on rocks and in caves; a fossilized whale vertebrae atop a rocky promontory; and huge rocks and logs pushed up against the back of walls inside of caves (that you know will some day undermine the foundation of the cave and then the whole thing will come crashing down!). Simply amazing.
The first four photographs are mine. The slideshow set is courtesy of fellow docent, Cindy Rocha. She uses a professional camera; my photos are from my trusty iPod 4. Enjoy!
Life in a tide pool -yup! that green stuff’s alive
Here are some things I’m starting to realize as I navigate the East Bay parks:
many of their trails branch off in two, even three directions
these branches are usually unmarked and so, you end up losing your bearings (Lacking trail markers you wonder, “Do I go right? Do I go left? Do I go downhill? Do I go uphill?”)
often, there are no portable maps at the trailhead and since the details on the Internet are sketchy, you end up navigating by trial and error)
perhaps as much as ninety percent of these parks lack forest canopy and so, for most of your hike, you are at the mercy of the sun
the sound of traffic intrudes from nearby highways.
These are not necessarily complaints, merely observations. Each park is an adventure. You never know what you will find.
Sinbad Creek and Kilkare Canyon
I am planning to do two fourteen mile hikes through Kilkare Canyon, along Sinbad Creek, onto the top of Pleasanton Ridge and along Thermalito Trail (the same trail where I saw a mountain lion a few weeks ago). The first hike will be before the rainy season begins and the second will be during the rainy season, when the hills are once again green. These hikes will begin at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park instead of at Augustin Bernal Park. (Both parks are in Pleasanton).
A Short Trial Run Hike
Knowing what I now know about the East Bay Parks, I attempted a short trial run of the Sinbad Creek hike yesterday. I started at 11:30 a.m. This is a late start and so, I only planned to complete four or five miles. The goal here was to get my bearings so I’d be on the right trail(s) for the actual hikes.
I started out at the trailhead (that is, at the parking lot called Foothill Staging Area) and headed uphill along Oak Trail. This trail winds steeply along an exposed hillside, past many oak trees, and lots of poison oak and coyote brush. About a quarter mile later, I arrived at the junction of Oak and Woodland Trail. Taking Woodland (it’s on the left as you head up Oak) I climbed an even steeper grade with a few switchbacks. Here there are more oak trees, the ever present poison oak and gratefully, a canopy of forest cover to protect me from the sun.
The Cow Gate
About a mile later, still on Woodland Trail, I came across a cow gate at a junction by a meadow. I veered to the right, sidestepping the gate. That was a mistake: I was supposed to go through the gate. So instead of heading towards the Sunol side of the park, I found myself squarely in Pleasanton, at the junction of Oak and Sycamore Grove Trails. A marker by that cow gate would have pointed me in the right direction. Now I was clearly off the Sinbad Creek Trail loop.
The next time I hike Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, I will be attempting the complete fourteen mile trip. I will most likely start at sunrise when the park opens. I’ll let you know how that turns out. That will be before the rains start. After that, I will attempt a second hike (probably before Christmas), when, thanks to the rains, the hills will be green once again. For details of the entire fourteen mile hike, I’ve posted the map below.
Costonoa is a great place for hiking and camping. It is just down the coast from Pigeon Point and not too far from the Pie Ranch and Ano Nuevo State Park. I last hiked here during the first week of October and although it was over eighty degrees, I still needed a long-sleeved shirt. (This was only for the portion of the hike that was open to the coastal breezes.)
I wonder which word once preceded the trail titled, “Heaven Loop”? What has been erased?
Ohlone/Costonoa is a collective name for the First Peoples who once lived in Central California and along the Northern California coast. Many of their legends are centered around coyote, eagle and humming bird, all of which can be found in this part of California.
In the 1770s, there was an estimated 10,000-20,000 First Peoples in the region.
By 1800, they numbered only 3,000. The Spanish Missions and later, America’s Wild Wild West, took their toll on them.
Around the time of the Gold Rush, in 1849, it was estimated that there was only 850-1000 First Peoples here.
By 2000, they numbered about 1,500-2,000 people. The numbers are probably around the same today.
Here is a map of Costonoan languages and major villages. (The black dots and corresponding lines indicate current day place names.)
Planning a hike? Know the trails you plan to take. If the park you start out in abuts another, be aware of your route (otherwise, you may find yourself doubling, even tripling the miles you plan to cover).
Wednesday morning’s hike started around 9:00 a.m. I planned to do a four and a half mile loop, starting and ending at Golden Eagle Way. I should be home by noon.
Up Golden Eagle Trail to Pleasanton Ridge I went, stopping by a bench overlooking the valley. Here is where Golden Eagle and Valley View Trails intersect. Mount Diablo is visible in the distance. The East Bay/Tri-Valley hills are in the foreground.
The trails are dusty, making it easy to spot the tell tale tracks of wild turkeys. They have three toes forward and one back. Lizards scurry along at the edge of the ravine. Golden grass and yellow thistle cover the open fields.
Down by the turtle pond an Anna’s Hummingbird is frolicking in the water. Overhead an acorn woodpecker tap tap taps, moving from cavity to cavity. Is he removing or hiding acorns? My hummingbird is gone now. In her place, are blue damselflies. How pretty.
Thermalito Trail and Beyond
I decide to take a different route back and eventually end up on the Thermalito Trail. Am I still in Augustin Bernal Park or am I in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park? I don’t know. Up hill, downhill, on mountain bike trails, past several dried up watering holes. Something tawny colored and quite large darts out of the bushes, directly across my path. It is an adult or sub-adult mountain lion. I’ve only ever encountered one once before. (S)he stops on a hilly overlook a short distance away. She stares curiously, unwavering. My naturalist’s training kicks in: I stop walking; I make myself look big (I raise my hands up above my head and do so a few times); I keep eye contact, remembering never to look away; I begin talking loudly to myself for there is no one else around. She isn’t budging and neither am I. Finally, she loses interest in the crazy lady talking to herself and saunters off. This is an amazing encouner and according to what I’ve learned in my training, I ought not to have been alone.
This hike ends up taking all day. I do not exit the second park until 4:30 p.m. and I still have to walk another two miles back to where I parked my car. Worse of all, half of it is up a steep hill. I have covered the entire Thermalito Trail and most of Oak Hill Trail too. I’ve hiked about eighteen miles and I am exhausted. This is my second mountain lion sighting and it has made my day.
Oh, you know I didn’t take these photographs. I was too busy keeping my eyes on my new found friend.
Mountain lion photos, credit: U.C. Santa Cruz, California; and Mountain Lion Foundation.
Parallel to Interstate 680 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks is a landmark that bicyclists refer to as graffiti bridge. Does this bridge rightly have a name? I don’t know, but graffiti bridge is a good locator when trying to get your bearings as you bicycle the Sunol/Pleasanton (and if you are feeling particularly adventurous or suicidal, /Niles) bike loop. It is the most monumental graffiti in this area simply because of its location along a suburban country road lined with trees and pasture.
From Public Roadway to Private Underpass
Graffiti bridge is done up in red and white, green, and blue aerosol spray paint. Sitting directly on a public roadway, its colorful paintings are accessible to any who care to stop and look. The opposite is true for the rest of the graffiti featured here. This second set of graffiti is located on private land close to Happy Valley Road. Tucked behind a gate that is operated by a digital keypad, the tunnel paintings are barely visible from the street. Still, enough of it is visible to arouse curiosity. And so, one morning, just as the owner emerged from behind his gated, protected from the public, lands, I was able to get his permission to view as well as photograph the pictures in the/his tunnel. I doubt very much, that the taggers had permission to enter the space and create their art. Such is the nature of graffiti.
Oh the Bay, she is a wonder. See her from afar as you hike Coyote Hills and you will be treated to ribbons of pinks and greens mixed with whites, browns, blacks and reds. None of these colors are apparent when you stand next to her at ground level. I certainly saw no evidence of them when I hiked along her shores at Eden Landing. Thanks to my time at Coyote Hills, some new colors are about to appear on my palette. Who knows how the piece that now sits on my easel will turn out!
The San Francisco Bay Trail at Eden Landing
When I’m at ground level with the deep, deep parts of the Bay (near the San Mateo Bridge and Eden Landing, for example), fear commingles with awe. This may be because of the sounds the Bay makes as it moves toward you and then backs away, sucking and gurgling, slapping and pulling. A few sharp slaps from the wind-whipped water were reminders of how small I am and how huge the Bay is. I felt this even more acutely as I walked across the long wooden bridge that is part of the trail at Eden Landing. At low tide the bridge crosses over shallow mudflats. At high tide, like the day I was there, the water surged beneath the bridge and slapped at the pilings. The bridge shook.
No sign of mud flats. Yikes!
In Search of the Other End of the San Francisco Bay Trail
Perhaps I was by Alameda Creek or the Hayward Regional Shoreline. It could also be that I was near neither. Although my GPS indicated that I was ten or so miles away from the other end of the San Francisco Bay Trail (the section that starts at Eden Landing), I don’t know where I was. This part of town was very industralized. I could’ve been in Union City or in Hayward, or maybe even in Fremont. All three cities have highly industrialized spaces with sections running along the Bay. I get lost quite often but each wrong turn is an adventure.
I parked along a dead end street somewhere off Whipple Avenue and ducked through a locked gate to start my hike. I walked past garbage, old salt flats and marshland. At the beginning of the trail was a fenced in truck yard. Soon I was walking past marshland (to my left) and dried up salt flats (to my right). About a mile into the walk, I came across a concrete levee. Here, water flowed through a drainage pipe that ran under the embankment. This piped water ran into the marsh. In a pool of water sat piles of plastic and metal. Where was this garbage coming from? This was not good for the birds and other wildlife that live here. As the trail at levee’s end was blocked by a locked gate (to which was affixed a “No trespassing” sign), I headed back to the car.
opposite side of the levee
close up of sign
Perhaps next month I’ll visit this area again. There was evidence of wildlife in the bird songs I heard and in the scat of various small animals that I saw. I think too, that the residents of the nearby community walk their dogs on the trail and do not clean up after them. In the middle of this wasteland then, there was hope, sadness and possibilities. I counted at least six different bird songs along my walk and I found the feathers of three different kinds of birds. Their droppings lined the path, a definite sign of a robust population. Perhaps another tell-tale sign of a healthy bird population is the sign I saw on my way onto the trail, “Duck hunting permitted in season, by permission, California Department of Fish and Game.” Is this even necessary? Why not just let the ducks live?
I spent most of yesterday (okay, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) removing invasives by a pond at Driscoll Ranch, one of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District’s preserves. Ooooh, there were lots of red winged blackbirds darting about as we made the ascent up over the hills. (A four-wheel drive was necessary!) Numerous cows lazed about near the large drinking hole (an enormous man-made pond fed by underground springs) while deer watched our caravan of three pass by.
No Sugar Cane Here
Down by our little pond (a small man-made one, fed by a trickle from the mountain above), there were polliwogs galore! Seeing them took me back to my childhood in Jamaica, to a year spent playing by the gullies that irrigated the cane fields. These gullies were a treasure trove of tikki tikkis (baby fish) and polliwogs. A little girl and boy, could and did, lay side by side on the banks of the gullies catching tikki tikkis and tadpoles, then releasing them back into the water. When we got tired we’d watch clouds drift overhead as we chewed on freshly broken cane.
There is no cane growing at Driscoll Ranch but just as on the plains in Jamaica, the mountain heat here is unforgiving. One of the nearby ponds had completely dried up leaving behind a landscape scarred by fissures. Any polliwogs remaining in that environment are all dead by now. Hopefully, the adult frogs were able to make it to a pond filled with water like this one.
Saving the California Red-Legged Frog
Most of the tadpoles here are the babies of the rare California red-legged frog. They are the reason my fellow volunteers and I were breaking our backs under an exceedingly hot sun, to remove invasive plants and restore this riparian habitat. How did the slaves do it? How did they work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week? Some of us were on the brink of heat stroke yesterday, and we didn’t even put in a full day’s work! With my volunteer work done at around 2:30 p.m., I headed down to the beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
(Note: Driscoll Ranch – near the town of La Honda – is not yet open to the public.)
Pomponio State Beach
Where: On the San Mateo Coast (a few miles from the towns of San Gregorio and Pescadero)
Notes about Pomponio
Pomponio State Park is a refuge for the: barn swallow, blue heron and kite; and deer, fox, racoon, skunk and weasel.
The park is named after Jose Pomponio Lupugeym, a Coast Miwok who fought against Mexican rule and the Mission system. He was captain of a group of outlaws called Los Insurgentes. Pomponio died before a firing squad in 1824. (California was under Mexican rule then and Pomponio, along with many other First Peoples, was forced into the Mission system.)
You can connect to Pescadero State Beach on the south and San Gregorio State Beach on the north from Pomponio. Only do so during low-tide; it is extremely dangerous at other times.