Entertainment by Nature

It’s Winter…And Football Just Isn’t Enough!

Safely past the holiday season, I thought I was in the clear until Spring - but a restlessness fills my weekends. There are no Bay Area pro football teams in the playoffs, the Warriors are on the south side of mediocre, and the Sharks may climb out of the cellar soon, if they don’t lose again this season. Where does that leave me? When does summer start? Will this cool, wet season ever leave us?

I’m at my best when being forced to improvise on a day like this. So it’s been a little drippy. And cold. The sun is out now, at least for today, so hiking I must go!

We in the Valley live in a virtual Mecca of outdoors possibilities. A coin must have more than two sides to be useful making a decision regarding an outdoors destination. Morgan Territory? Nah, it’ll be a mud fest, and my wife gets so snippy when I come home caked with slop. Del Valle? Heck, there are some awfully steep grades out there, and since this is my first hike of the year, I’d better save that for spring.

SUNOL! Of course! The Camp Ohlone Road is a gentle, low stress trail on which one can witness waterfalls and wildcats, cattails and coyotes. I can get almost 5 miles under my belt, yet not be frazzled by extreme grades or challenged by muddy goo. I pack up 3 liters of water in my daypack, make sure my first aid kit and headlamp are there, and we’re off.

Sunol Regional Wilderness is best approached from I 680, following Calaveras Road south from the exit off of Hwy 84. Making a left turn onto Geary Rd. from Calaveras Rd. will get you to the parking areas. This day, I was greeted by a familiar attendant at the gate, so I said hello, waved my East Bay Regional Parks District Season Pass (the best bargain in family outdoors entertainment, by the way) and was on my way south, to park in the southernmost lot adjacent to the Camp Ohlone Road trailhead. I put a little lube on my wheelchair’s axles, strapped my daypack on the back of the chair, pulled on my hiking gloves and was off. Just leaving the car, it was clear this sunny day was appreciated by many – the lot was almost full, quail were quietly talking to each other beneath the live oaks, and the wonderful aroma of California Laurel hung in the air as I crossed the bridge at Alameda Creek. This was a busy day, and hikers shook off the winter on a 60 degree January afternoon. The destination this day for most would be the fabulous waterfalls at Little Yosemite, some 1.1 miles from my car. Camp Ohlone Rd. is gently sloped to little Yosemite, an easy walk for the occasional hiker. I puttered my way along the trail and was struck by the diversity of visitors to this park – it’s apparently a great place for families with young children, if the numbers of little ones running alongside their parents was an indication. Each small hill provided the reward of a short, gentle down slope, just enough to ease my aching shoulders for a few minutes.

Looking down at Alameda Creek gave me a little insight into what the falls might look like. There is a lot of water right now, toward the end of January. The falls would be in full bloom! It’s curious – in just a few months, as the rain subsides and temperatures warm up, this stream will all but disappear. It’s typical of a winter stream in the Diablo Range. There is great rock hounding once it dries up, however – more on that in future dispatches.

A thunderous roar told me the falls weren’t far off. As I eased close to the edge of the road, I could see nothing but white water cascading through the rock formations along either side of the creek. A dozen visitors watched, “oohing” and “ahhing” as they watched the seasonal flow hastily work its way down the canyon toward the Bay. I found a spot where I could sit in filtered sunlight beneath a laurel, and watched for a couple of minutes. In a short bit, I moved on. The trail eased up as the creek flowed through a long, flat stretch just above the falls. Small rivulets trickled from the hillsides, and crossed through culverts under the road on the way to joining the main body of the creek. Sycamore trees grow on small islands in the streambed, and I kept my eyes open for wildlife. A hiker may see deer, bobcats, wild turkeys or, with much luck, a mountain lion. Lions eschew contact with humans whenever possible. It’s a noteworthy event to see one watching from a ridgeline or hilltop.

A short push farther, the “W” Tree is marked with a sign, and is so named because its trunks give it the shape of that particular member of the alphabet. A seasonal creek burbles past this tree from a steep canyon (which is full of poison oak, by the way – off trail hikers beware!), and I stop for a few minutes before engaging the steepest section of this road – it’s a short third of a mile until the Camp Ohlone Road ends at a gate. I ease my way up the hill, pushing slowly so I don’t scare off any animals I might encounter, stopping at wide spots to look down at the creek. I keep looking up the short slopes north of the road, hoping to catch a coyote or bobcat curiously looking back at me. Nothing. This stretch, from the “W” Tree to the gate, is a favorite spot to see bobcats, even in mid day. As I reach the top of the hill, a trail marker indicates the end of the road just a few hundred feet ahead, while noting a starting point for local adventurers – it marks the entrance to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a jewel of a backpacking experience and quite a challenge for even experienced hikers. I reached the gate at the end of the trail, and listened to the sounds contained within these hills – they were dominated today by quail and the noisy but entertaining Stellar’s Jay. This is the blue jay that sports a crest, and the one that saw me loudly announced my presence to whatever else might have been listening. I turned around, and slowly started back toward the parking lot. The advantage to doing a lot of uphill work while wheelchair hiking is that the road back is mostly downhill! Now I could simply relax, hang on to the wheels, and point it toward home! I reached the “W” Tree on the way back, and was excited to see 6 wild turkeys easing their way along the creek bed. They walked almost in unison, as if listening to the same song. They strolled, oblivious to me, and I matched steps with them for a few yards. We parted company as it was getting late, and I didn’t want to be out on the trail after the park closed. I made it back to the car without fanfare or mud. I figured the total distance at almost 4.6 miles, and heartily recommend it for even inexperienced hikers, as you’ll have lots of company should you find you need a hand.

It was a great day to break out of winter’s doldrums, and the perfect trail on which to do it. Hope to see you out there next time!

-     Bob Coomber

-     January 2006