Tag Archives: dogs

Revisiting the Russell Peak Loop

22 Feb

I just hiked the Russell Peak Loop yesterday for the umpteenth time and felt compelled to draw attention to it again.  This is an easily accessible hike that starts near Happy Valley Elementary School in Lafayette and winds up to Russell Peak (1357 feet) in Briones Regional Park.  The views from the top are incredible!  You can see the north Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, Briones Reservoir, Round Top at Sibley, Rocky Ridge, Mt. Diablo, and more.  This is a great hike to do from Feb-May while the hills are green.  I just added a few more details to the original post.

Russell-Peak-Map-Marked

 

Oursan Trail

14 Apr

Length: 1 – 10 miles (go as far as you want and turn around)
Time:  2 hours for a 5 mile hike
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Elevation Gain:  Fairly flat trail with a few little hills
Dogs:  Yes, but must be kept on a leash at all times.  This is one of the few EBMUD trails that allows dogs.
EBMUD Permit:  Required
Calories: Around 900 calories for a two hour hike
Highlights:  The Oursan Trail skirts the northern shores of Briones Reservoir, through open fields and scattered oak trees and is one of the most serene hikes in the East Bay.  It is especially stunning in the spring when the meadows are green with wildflowers and the direct sun is welcome.
Directions to Bear Creek Trailhead (from Lafayette):  From Lafayette take Happy Valley Road up over the hill to Bear Creek Road.  Take a right and then a quick left into the Bear Creek Staging Area.   This staging area is on the opposite side of the road from the entrance to Briones Regional Park.
Trailhead:  Once you have parked look for the gate and trailhead on the right/north side of the parking lot.  The Bear Creek Trail starts on the other side.

This is the best hike in Lamorinda for walking adjacent to a reservoir besides the Lafayette Reservoir, which is far more crowded.  You’ll see a few people on this trail on the weekend, but it is very lightly used.  The name “Oursan” is as lightly used as the trail.  It means “small bear” in French, but I’m not sure when or why it  was chosen.

Briones Dam was built in 1964 to supply growing central Contra Costa County with water (that’s us!).  The Reservoir is very deep and the largest of EBMUD’s reservoirs with a total capacity of 19.7 billion gallons of water.  EBMUD manages the reservoir and the watershed land that surrounds it.  Local runoff into all five reservoirs satisfies about 5% of the East Bay’s water needs.  The rest comes from the Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra.

To start the hike, go through the gate, sign in at the registration kiosk with your permit number, etc. and then proceed on the fire road.  The trail climbs steeply from the trailhead over a small hill, then opens up to a view of the reservoir.

Oursan-poppys

First view of the reservoir.

You will pass a giant oak on your left with large clumps of mistletoe.  We commonly think of mistletoe sprigs as something you hang at Christmas time to kiss under.   Mistletoe is actually a very large family of parasitic plants that attach to and penetrate the branches of a tree or shrub, through which they absorb water and nutrients.  For a long time, Mistletoe was limited to the foothills around the Central Valley but today it is commonly found throughout the Bay Area and seen in many mature Oak trees in the East Bay.

Besides the big oak tree you may be flanked by hundreds of California Poppies.   They flower from February through September, but spring is when they put on the best show.  This is the flower pictured on welcome signs when you enter California!  It was selected as the state flower in 1890, as its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State.  April 6th is California Poppy Day.  A few fun facts about the poppy:

  • The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning.
  • Poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically.
  • It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens.

Besides poppies, you are likely to see buttercups, lupine, and blue-eyed grass.

After passing by the lake’s edge, the trail will take an up-and-down course around two fingers of the lake, often under a canopy of oak trees.   You may notice a nest box for wood ducks.  In many areas, wood ducks have difficulty finding suitable natural nesting sites. These boxes provide a man-made alternative, where hens can nest in relative safety from predators.

Oursan-oaks

Ducks are just one type of bird you might see.    In the open areas you may see red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, or turkey vultures flying high above.  In wooded areas you may see varied thrush, western scrub-jays, and band-tailed pigeons.  In the water look for ducks and grebes foraging near the shoreline.

After about a mile, the trail emerges from the trees and runs out in the open, along the water, for another mile or so.    You will have many excellent views of the shimmering blue water and may think it would be great for swimming or boating, but it is not open for recreational use.  There is one exception:  it is used by the Mills College, UC Berkeley and Saint Mary’s College rowing teams, which I’ve seen on one occasion.

Oursan-Reservoir-View

Keep track of your time and turn around when you have hiked half as long or half as far as you want to go.  I typically hike about an hour and then turn around.    At 5.4 miles you reach the Hampton Trail, which connects to the Hampton Staging Area.  The Oursan Trail actually continues for a lengthy 10.4 miles, ending at San Pablo Dam Road.  If you’re really up for a multi-hour adventure you can connect to the Bear Creek Trail and complete a 14 mile loop around the entire reservoir.

Selfie picture at turnaround point with friends Rick & Alicia!

Selfie picture at turnaround point with friends Rick & Alicia!

 

Oursan-Map

Eastport to Sibley Loop

7 Mar

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Elevation Gain:  636 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Not Required
Calories: Around 800
Highlights:  This was my first favorite hike in the Lamorinda area and my kids used to call it the Ladybug hike since they found a bazillion ladybugs!  Start in Canyon at the former site of “Eastport” and hike up a scenic, wooded canyon to Sibley Volcanic Preserve (reaching 1600 feet), hike around Round Top, and descend back the way you came.    This is a great year-round hike – a manageable amount of mud in the winter and a good dose of shade in the summer.
Directions:  Drive to Moraga and then go south on Canyon Road, which ends at Pinehurst Road.  Go right on Pinehurst Road.   You will pass through the tiny town of Canyon.   It’s fun to remember that a train used to run through this canyon.  After a little over two miles you will reach a hairpin turn with a fire road gate.  Park there.
Trailhead:   You will see a fire road gate and a sign that says “Lower Pinehurst Trail.”
Special Notes:  Sibley allows dogs off leash away from the parking lot, so you’ll likely run into hikers with dogs on the Round Top loop.

A couple hundred yards before reaching the hairpin turn, you will pass the spot (on the left side) where the Sacramento Northern Railroad used to go through a tunnel between Canyon and Sheperd’s Canyon (on the Oakland side).  The Sacramento Northern Railroad was an electric train that ran 183 miles from Oakland all the way to Chico.  The first stop on the East side of the tunnel was called Eastport (the eastern portal).  Eastport still shows up in Wikipedia and on Google Maps!

Eastport-gateEastport-sign

After parking at the hairpin turn, begin your hike by walking past the gate.  After about a quarter mile, and a short climb, you will reach the Skyline National Recreation Trail, which runs for 32 miles through the East Bay Hills and is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Going left will take you to Huckleberry Preserve.  Going right will take you towards Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  Go right.

Right away you will cross the San Leandro Creek, which begins near Sibley and continues for an amazing 21.7 miles through San Leandro Reservoir, Lake Chabot and then out to the Bay near the Oakland Airport.    This is one of the few places in the Lamorinda area where you can hike next to a running creek.

Eastport-climb

Climbing up the ridge to Sibley.

After following the creek for a little ways, the trail will begin climbing up a ridge, and eventually reach a little, open grassy area with pine trees behind it (see picture).  This is a great spot to catch your breath, turn around, and enjoy an amazing view.  Continue through the grove of Monterey pine trees.

Eastport-viewEastport-pine-steve

After about 25 minutes of hiking and just a hair over one mile you will reach a junction with the Round Top Loop Trail.  This trail circles around Round Top, the central feature of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet.  Take a right.   You will be following the Round Top Loop Trail for about a mile all the way around Round Top.

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail - take a right

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail – take a right

It’s pretty cool that we have a 10 million year old volcano in our back yard!  It features a complex volcanic center that was the source of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga.  Tectonic forces on the Hayward and Moraga earthquake faults have uplifted the Berkeley hills and tilted the Round Top volcano complex on its side.  So, under the grassy cover, its guts are exposed, and a self-guided brochure is available highlighting visible geological features.

Eastport-Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus trees

In the next section of the hike there are many, many eucalyptus trees.  They have become such a familiar sight in California that many people probably don’t realize that they are really transplants from Australia. Almost all of the 600-plus species of Eucalyptus are native to Australia, where they are the dominant plants in a number of different habitats.  They are some of the tallest trees in the world and extremely drought tolerant.

After going through a cow gate, you will a junction, with a fire road heading off to the right.   For this hike you want to stay left.  Taking a right will lead you into a “land banked” area that is not open to the public yet.   Read more about this at the end of the article.

As you come down the hill you will see an overlook, where you can view the old quarry pit.   Looking down into the pit you’ll see a large labyrinth.  It was crafted in 1989 by Montclair sculptor and psychic Helena Mazzariello as “a gift to the world.”

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Loop Trail.   After going through another cow gate, you’ll reach a junction, where you’ll see a small sign on your left that says “Geologic Marker #1.”    Hang a left at that point.  The Round Top Loop Trail continues across the paved road leading up the hill.

In a quarter mile or so you’ll cross over a road and reach the junction where you started on the Round Top Loop Trail.  Continue straight and descend back down the canyon the way you came.

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

Map of trail

Map of trail

Alternate Loop for the Adventurous

There is an alternate loop for those that are willing to climb fences and explore areas not open to the public.   Enter at your own risk!!  After going through the Eucalyptus zone and the cow gate, take a right at the next fire road where it says “Park Boundary 0.3 Miles.”

Eastport-Landbank-JunctionEastport-Ridge

Shortly you will reach a fire road gate that borders the land-banked area.   This land-banked area will eventually be developed and added to the Sibley Preserve.   If you continue on this fire road it will take you down a ridge with incredible views out towards Moraga and Mt. Diablo.  Stay right and you’ll eventually reach a junction with two large power line towers.  Take a right.    You’re now on the main road that led out of Eastport, off of Pinehurst Road.   As you near Pinehurst Road you’ll see old foundations and other remnants from the days when Eastport was an important train stop and small unincorporated town.   When you reach Pinehurst Road, take a right and walk along the side of the road back to your car.   You’ll walk right by the spot where the tunnel was!   Check out pictures of Eastport back in the 50’s.

Alternate Loop

Alternate Loop

Skyline to Sibley Trail

21 Oct

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour and 20 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate.
Elevation Gain:  About 350 feet of gain from trailhead to Sibley Staging Area.
Dogs:  Yes!  Dogs are supposed to be leashed on the Skyline Trail until reaching the Sibley Staging Area and then can be off leash in Sibley, away from the parking lot.  You will typically see many happy dogs in the park!
EBMUD Permit:  Not Required
Calories: 600-700 calories
Highlights:  This is the fastest way to reach the 32-mile East Bay National Skyline Trail from Lamorinda, and an interesting and scenic way to access Sibley Volcanic Preserve.
Directions:  Take Highway 24 west towards Oakland.  Before going through the tunnel, exit on Fish Ranch Road.  At the stop sign, take a left across the highway and then take a right on Old Tunnel Road.  After about a quarter of a mile you’ll see a parking area.
Trailhead:  The new parking lot is at the bottom of Old Quarry Road, but you want to get on the Skyline Trail going south towards Sibley (look for sign shown below).  You can take it in the other direction to reach Tilden Regional Park.

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

When you first take a right on Old Tunnel Road, it’s fun to remember that this small road used to lead to the old tunnel that was 220 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel.  It was called The Broadway Tunnel, Kennedy Tunnel, and Inter-County Tunnel.  After surviving protests from Lafayette residents that thought it would increase competition for land, the old tunnel opened in 1904.  It was 1.040 feet long, 17 feet wide and lined with timber.   Long, dark and narrow, the tunnel could only accommodate one-way traffic..   Wagon drivers lit up newspapers when entering as a signal to those at the other end to wait.  In 1915 the ceiling was raised three feet to accommodate cars and trucks.   In 1937, when the old tunnel was retired, it was handling 30,000 cars per week.  Today the Caldecott handles 160,000 cars daily!

After you park you’ll see the signs for the Skyline Trail.  The 32-mile East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail goes through six different parks and preserves.  The trail begins at the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond and leads through Tilden Regional Park, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Redwood Regional Park and Anthony Chabot Regional Park.   It is part of the larger 550 mile Bay Area Ridge Trail that circles the entire Bay Area.

To start the hike, go through the gate (shown in picture) with signs pointing the way to Sibley Volcanic Preserve.   Right away you will see a sign explaining how the Caldecott Wildlife Corridor provides an important path for animals to move between parklands on the south and north sides of Highway 24.  They certainly don’t stand much chance trying to sprint across the highway!

Skyline Gate

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

You will begin a steady, gradual climb through the wooded canyon adjacent to Round Top Creek, which is dry in the summer.   Many of the trees are California Bay Laurel Trees.  After about 9/10ths of a mile you will reach the parking lot and visitor center for the Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  The park is named in honor of Robert Sibley, who helped found the East Bay Regional Park District and served for 10 years on its board of directors.

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center - 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center – 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

This is a good chance to use the bathrooms, get a drink, and check out the unstaffed outdoor visitor center that has interesting displays illustrating the preserve’s geology.

It’s pretty cool that we have a 10 million year old volcano in our back yard!  It features a complex volcanic center that was the source of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga.  Since the volcano’s active days, tectonic forces on the Hayward and Moraga earthquake faults have uplifted the Berkeley hills and tilted the Round Top volcano complex on its side.  So, under the grassy cover, its guts are exposed, and a self-guided brochure is available highlighting visible geological features.

Backtrack to where the Skyline Trail continues into the trees, on the south side of the visitor center.   After about a quarter mile you’ll reach an intersection of trails.  Look across to the other side of the road and you’ll see a post showing where the Skyline Trail continues.   After another fifth of a mile, you’ll intersect the road that leads up to Round Top, one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet.    Cross the road and then take the Round Top Trail to the left.  The Skyline Trail continues to Huckleberry Preserve and then Redwood Regional Park.

The Round Top Trail circles around the peak for about a mile.  When you reach a viewpoint of an old quarry pit, you are about half way around.    This pit was made by quarry operations that removed huge amounts of massive basalt lava, and it now exposes the interior of the Round Top volcano.  Looking down into the pit you’ll see a large labyrinth.  It was crafted in 1989 by Montclair sculptor and psychic Helena Mazzariello as “a gift to the world.”

Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Trail.   After going through a gate, you’ll reach the junction again.  Take the Scenic Overlook Trail on the right.   This will take you back to the visitor area, where you can rejoin the Skyline Trail and follow it back down to where you parked.

Skyline-to-Sibley-Map-Marked

Full Map of Sibley Volcanic Preserve – Trailhead for this hike is where it says “Old Tunnel Road Staging Area”