Winter in Augustin Bernal Park

2 -toyon
Toyon berries (also known as Christmas berries), along Golden Eagle Trail

Wednesday, 12/18/2013 — I am off to find the Sinbad Creek Trail again. (See my first try here.) It’s 2:10 p.m. and I’m just starting out. Too late to complete the 14-mile trip out and back but I can at least travel along sections of the creek. I haven’t done that before.

Today’s hike begins in Augustin Bernal Park, not Pleasanton Regional Park like the last time. Although both parks are open to the public, access to the former is controlled. Non-Pleasanton residents must obtain entry permits from the Pleasanton Community Services office to enter via the main gate to Golden Eagle Farms, a gated residential community.

  • Hike type: moderate to strenuous
  • Distance: about 8 miles round trip (exact distance to be determined at a future date).
  • Time to complete: 4 hours round trip
  • Trails: Take (1) Golden Eagle to (2) Chaparral to (3) Valley View to (4) Ridgeline to (5) Bayleaf to (6) Sinbad Creek. Reverse order to return.

PART I

  1. From the trailhead by the parking lot/staging area, go uphill along Golden Eagle Trail. Moderate trail. (5-10 minutes)
  2. Make first LEFT onto Chaparral Trail. This trail is steep. (5-6 minutes)

    3
    Soap plant (aka California soaproot), along Chaparral Trail
  3. Make LEFT onto Valley View Trail. (45 minutes-1 hour)
  4. Continue straight on Valley View Trail, past the wooden bench and Blue Oak Trail (both on the right).
    Coyote brush in bloom
    Coyote brush in bloom, along Valley View Trail

    In about 2-minutes you will come to a pond, down to the LEFT, off the trail. This is a good place to bird watch and enjoy the reflections in the water. As I sat by the pond, the scent of California Bay drifted down to greet me.

  5. Head back up onto the Ridgeline Trail, go past the water trough and faucet on your left. A copse of oak trees stands at attention before you. You are now nearing the border between Augustin Bernal and Pleasanton Regional Park.

    9 -oaks
    Oak trees along Ridgeline Trail lead into Pleasanton Regional Park
  6. Continue straight on Ridgeline Trail, past the second Blue Oak Knoll Trail junction on your right. (1/2 minute)
  7. You are now at the connector gate to Pleasanton Regional Park.

*****          *****          *****

PART II

As you enter Pleasanton Regional Park you will begin seeing directional markers. I have listed the ones on my route.

  1. A little past the gate, inside Pleasanton Regional Park, is Marker 21. Continue on straight ahead, going down and around an enormous green water tank on your left. (8-10 minutes)
  2. At Marker 22 there are small trails leading hither and yon. I chose to stay on the trail I had been following, the largest one (Ridgeline Trail, i.e.). From my map it seems that you can also take the smaller trail to your left to get to Sinbad Creek Trail. (Since I haven’t tried it yet, I don’t know for sure.)
  3. In about 2 minutes you’ll come to the Brett Whitelow memorial bench. Here you get a lovely overview of the valley below and the town of Pleasanton.

    View from Whitlow memorial bench, overlooking the valley and town of Pleasanton
    View from Brett Whitelow memorial bench, overlooking the valley and town of Pleasanton
  4. Continue straight, on Ridgeline Trail. (5-6 minutes)
  5. Now you are at Marker 26. Continue straight ahead; ignore the trail on your right. Although not indicated on the marker, Ridgeline Trail has now become the Bayleaf Trail. My only way of knowing this is (a) the pervasive smell of the bay trees that surround me and (b) the steep drop below that is Sinbad Creek and Kilkare Canyon. (5-6 minutes)
  6. Wallah! Here is Marker 25 announcing the beginning of the Sinbad Creek Trail. It is now 4:11 p.m. I scan the skies. It is already starting to get dark. Even if I quicken my pace and get back to the trailhead in under two hours, it will still be totally dark when I get there. Sure hope no mountain lions or bobcats are prowling about tonight. The Chaparral Trail looks like a good place for them to be!

4:59 p.m. Sun is setting over the Pleasanton ridge.

Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, and the best of the season for now and the coming new year. See you in two weeks.

Destination: Sinbad Creek

janeEast Bay Parks

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

view from Oak Trail
View from Woodland Trail looking towards Sunol

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.

Try Again

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.

Map Trail
Map credit, Regional Parks Foundation

Sightings on Pleasanton Ridge

long ridge view of valley 2
View of Mount Diablo from the Valley View Trail

Know Where You’re Going!

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.

long ridge view of valley
View of Pleasanton from Long Ridge Trail

Summer Sights

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.

turtle pond at end of long ridge
turtle pond at end of long ridge trail

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.

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