The carefree days of summer have slipped through our fingers, making time spent outdoors all the more crucial. Make a commitment today to walk, hike, bike, play or just sit enjoying the nature around you. There’s still time to participate in the 2005 East Bay Regional Park District’s Trail Challenge and hike number five offers a number of options for an outdoor adventure.
Before venturing out into the post-summer landscape it’s good to be informed about a few unwanted hiking companions, rare but present. Warm temperatures, dry grasses and low water levels might lead to encounters with ticks, yellow jackets or, less common, rattlesnakes.
In California, the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is a vector for the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme’s disease. Teardrop in shape with a dark head and a reddish-brown flattened body and only 1/8-inch long; the adult tick is easy to mistake for a speck of dirt.
Grasses, shrubs and leaf litter throughout the regional parks are ideal environments for Ixodes so precautions when hiking are a must. Stay on trails and check pets and person frequently. Light colored clothing with pants tucked into socks and shirt into pants reduce your exposure on narrow paths or off-trail.
Crawling ticks can be brushed off. If they become embedded, pull out steadily without twisting, using tweezers close to the skin and then clean with antiseptic. Save for identification if the tick resembles Ixodes and be aware that Lyme’s disease can affect both people and pets.
Ticks want your blood, yellow jackets want water for their nests, protein for their young and sweets for themselves. Your picnic is their Shangri-La. They’ll sting if threatened so gently blow them away and keep your foods covered.
Like Greta Garbo, snakes just want to be left alone, especially the Western rattlesnake. In all my years hiking in the parks I’ve yet to encounter this poisonous reptile but it never hurts to be informed and careful.
Snakes are not aggressive. Their color and pattern camouflage them against the rocks and soil, their rattle warns you of their presence. Using loreal pits on each side of their broad, flat head to sense heat, they can locate warm-blooded prey in the dark or amid many confusing scents.
Common sense can prevent negative encounters. Again, stay on trails where snakes can be seen more easily. Don’t use hands or feet to explore where you can’t see. If you sight a snake give it plenty of room and don’t disturb it. Remember, the parks ensure its protection as well as your enjoyment.
Informed, enthusiastic and anxious to get outdoors, we’re ready for the next hike.
Trails Challenge No. 5: Wildcat Canyon Regional Park
This loop hike takes you from Wildcat Staging Area at the north end of the canyon to Tilden Park at the south end via canyon and ridge trails. If 11 miles is too much of a challenge, you can utilize two cars or public transportation and hike one direction only. Since Tilden Park is my second home, I decided to explore the unknown—Wildcat Canyon and Alvarado Park.
Like many of our regional parks, the story of the Alvarado area begins with Native Americans utilizing the natural bounty of the woodland and coastal environments. In the late 18th Century, Spanish explorers reached the mouth of Wildcat Creek and opened the way to ranches and missions. Two centuries later the war of the waters raged over Wildcat Canyon’s springs and streams, only resolved in 1920 when the Bay Area’s water source was switched to the Mokelumne River. The final chapter takes place between 1967 and 1976 when the Park District acquired over 2000-acres to create Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.
From the Staging Area, Wildcat Creek Trail, a wide, paved road, climbs steadily uphill providing an instant aerobic workout. Amid thick stands of eucalyptus, coast live oak, madrone and pine I listened to the calls of songbirds, the squawk of jays and cry of a hawk. Plant invaders were in full profusion; scotch broom, six-foot tall wild fennel and thorny yellow star thistle easily outnumbered natives. Open flower heads and garlands of pods thick with seeds spelled trouble for the coming year. This trail had the air of a neglected sibling; there were few signs of any effort toward plant control.
I followed Wildcat Creek Trail well into the canyon but it felt more recreational than aesthetic. Though wide enough for multiple side-by-side exercisers, the open terrain made me long for the lush riparian forest in the canyon below. Late in the season, the creek was neither visible nor audible.
Aesthetics kicked in when I climbed Belgum Trail and reached a cattle gate, Wildcat Canyon being a grazing park. Like Alice, entering that gate brought me to a true hiking environment—late summer ranchland. Among drying oat, rye and barley I spied remnants of the park’s previous lives—an agave cactus with a 10-foot flowering spire circled by bees, full-fronded palm trees, solitary fence posts wrapped in barbed wire and small sections of fencing going nowhere.
An attractive, illustrated panel marked the spot of Belgum’s Grand Vista Sanatorium for the treatment of nervous disorders. In 1914, San Francisco’s upper class used this remote outpost to keep afflicted relatives out of sight. Looking at the pictures of the two-story mansion in its peaceful, park-like setting, I had no doubt about who had the better deal.
Shawls of fog covered the hills, but glimpses of the sun signaled a warm day ahead, making me glad I had come early. The trail undulated across the hills to the ridge past low-growing wildflowers like lavender puff-balls on flowering mint, tiny white daisies and yellow ceaonothus, but few trees.
At the top of a small hill I found an inviting bench, obviously a spot favored by the park’s grazers. Before me spread grand vistas of Richmond and the bay, behind me El Sobrante. The breeze refreshed and my water tasted great. I watched a hawk hover then dip down into the shrubs. Cows were content and so was I. The creases of the hills were thick with bay laurel and oak. As the sun emerged, wafts of licorice infused the air.
These Trail Challenges embody more than getting outdoor exercise. They’re about taking the time to absorb the beauty around us, even in a dry field. A hill of parched grasses revealed rippling contours and dabs of color: the orange of a poppy, the white of a morning glory and the violet of lupine. The challenge is to make the time to see the features of nature.
There’s no better ending to your adventure than a picnic at Alvarado Park. Like a secret treasure, you’ll want to hoard this site all to yourself. Beautifully landscaped with lush lawns, mature trees and attractive flowers, the unique feature of this park is its rustic architecture of wood and stone that blend with the environment.
A gathering place for over 200 years, Grand Canyon Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. Stonework greets you at every turn, in chest-high walls lining pathways, the bridge across Alvarado Creek and in solitary light standards among the lawns, picnic areas and trees.
A welcoming pavilion with benches looks out over a huge lawn and the native flowers of Jean and Vern’s garden. Rather than one large picnic area, sites are scattered throughout the park in nooks under spreading trees and along the creek. Though the open-air dance pavilion and roller rink are long gone, the old-time atmosphere of a neighborhood gathering place remains, awaiting your pleasure.
East Bay Regional Park District Trail Challenge: 562-PARK www.ebparks. org.
Getting there: Take Marin Ave. to Arlington Boulevard. Follow the Arlington into Richmond and turn east on McBryde Avenue. Alvarado Park is on your left. Continue on McBryde to the Wildcat Canyon Staging Area and parking lot. AC Transit Line number 67 runs between Tilden and Wildcat Parks. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m., no fees. Alvarado Park group picnic reservations: 636-1684.