Sycamore Grove -Where Adventures Begin
The Independent Magazine April 2006
by Bob Coomber
"Gallivant" - "to go about in search of amusement"
                                                             - Webster's New World  Dictionary, 2002
Now there's a word that describes me to a "T." It seems this hiking thing gets me going, no matter where, no matter when. Every season offers a new look at the same features, be they flora, fauna, fish or fowl. I love getting out, even if I can't spend three hours in the car to get to a remote trail. Some days domestic duty beckons, and on those occasions I just can't stray too far from home.
But all is not lost! Just minutes from the center of town is a lovely place packed with wild things, and tempered with family -friendly civility. All the rain we've received this winter and spring has muddied most of my favorite trails beyond use. The short drive to Sycamore Grove, managed by the Livermore Area Parks and Recreation District, delivers the family to trails usable in virtually any weather. During these wet and blustery times this park is a wonderful place to get out, put in a few miles, and gawk at the trees for which the park is named.
Since I was a kid, I've felt a bond with certain species of trees. In 4th grade it was Coastal Redwoods, the tallest trees on earth. As I grew up, my attraction turned to those trees built along a more "free form" ideal - Sycamores certainly qualify in this group. A large Sycamore can be shaped in such a way that you'd wish they grew with mattresses on the low, thick boughs. It's almost natural to want to sit on those low branches, whether to rest or to just take in the grandeur and solid feel of each tree. Sitting on a Sycamore, one must take stock of the seemingly indestructible nature of these gentle trees.
A walk through Sycamore Grove can mean using any number of trails - from the dirt roads around the western perimeter and through the old orchards, to a stream side trail just east of Arroyo Del Valle, to the paved trail which traverses the park for 2.5 miles to its terminus at Veteran's Park.  For the sake of this day's walk, I'm sticking to the paved trail.  Many times each year I come out to take a few hours off and roll down this trail end - to - end and back.  It never gets old.  Strapping my trusty, well-stocked day pack to the back of my chair, I set off gallivanting.
It's cloudy and a little chilly this Sunday morning. The flat trail makes motion fairly simple, and I take my time as I come to a bridge across the Arroyo. Stopping to look into the pool below, I spot a few fish. It's almost as if they know I'm watching, and they take cover under the bank and in clumps of weeds. They move too fast to be identified, so I make a mental note to ask one of the park's naturalists for help when I meet with them on another day.
Less than a half mile from the trail's entrance are three or four leafless and well worn dead trees just east of the trail. Looking closer, I see the trees are pocked from bottom to top. A quiet "knock knock knock" a few feet from the top calls my attention to a small wood pecker hammering away. I usually see at least one of these birds at this location. I say a quiet "who's there?"  in response to their knocking, while proceeding slowly down the trail. Moving on, it's easy to set your own pace - I prefer to stop every few hundred yards to look around and see what might be looking back. I've never been disappointed.
Ground squirrels are everywhere. They run across the trail recklessly, and are often too numerous to count. I?m still a sucker for cute, furry little critters, so I stop for a minute to watch them play. Deer can be seen many places throughout the park, as can cottontail rabbits, wild turkeys and a variety of birds of prey. This day, the prize was a Great Blue Heron that startled me as it rose from the Arroyo and landed just 30 feet from me in the wet grass. We watched each other for a few minutes, but the sky was getting cloudier so I got rolling again.  Magpies frolic about, crossing the trail and issuing magpie style warnings to me, lest I get too close to their homes. They can be a noisy lot!
There is one small rise from the level trail, past an olive orchard which is on private property adjoining the park. This little plateau is short, and drops back down to creek level after a short distance. At the Arroyo a second bridge is crossed, and a right turn leads me the last half mile to the trail's end. I feel great, despite the rude weather. The trail ends at Veteran's Park, where there is another parking area. It's cool but I'm warm. After a little break, I start the trip back to my car. Getting back to the car from here is as simple as turning around and backtracking, or taking any number of alternate routes.
I get a big lift from rolling down this trail. It's a more than willing accomplice to a gallivanter like myself, and hiking it's a thrill whether you travel a half mile, 2 miles or the full round trip of 5 miles. People of all ages and abilities can enjoy themselves immensely at Sycamore Grove.  If the prolonged winter weather has you down, you can have fun here regardless of the speed at which you move. This park is simply a big, ear - to - ear grin of a place. And I hope to meet every one of you out there some day soon.
Directions to Sycamore Grove: Travel south on L Street in Livermore, and follow the road as L becomes Arroyo Road. At Wetmore Road, turn right, and travel west to the Sycamore Grove parking area. There is a $3.00 per car entrance fee, or you can use your LARPD seasonal pass. Dogs on a leash are allowed. Call LARPD at 925-373-5700 for information about programs at Sycamore Grove.
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