Adventure: Morgan Territory - Simply the start of a great day
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve - Bob Walker Loop Trail
Spring is a good time for some 4WheelBob history. Many years ago, when I decided I was going to try using my chair on the not - very - accessible trails on which I used to hike, I drove myself and an older folding wheelchair up the long hill from my Livermore home to Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. My thinking was simple: the park is as remote as any within the District, and if I could find a way to manage ambulation along dirt trails which could feature rocks, mud, ruts and other imperfections, I might take wheelchair hiking to new levels while inspiring others to try.
Imagine my dismay to find, upon parking, unloading and preparing for a nice day on the trail, the trailhead was effectively blocked by two logs spaced about 2 feet apart! I'd have to climb over them just to get to the trail. It bothered me that here I was, ready and willing, with this 4 feet of obstacle turning me back before I could even try.
A phone call to the park supervisor's office changed my life. A day after leaving a message about the barriers, I received a call from Roger Epperson, park supervisor and visionary. "Bob", he said, "I knew I'd hear from someone like you one day."
Roger went on to tell me of a new entrance gate which eliminated the logs and incorporated a low, narrow angled piece on each side so my shoulders could slide under and through. A few weeks later, the main parking lot had one. Later that same year, after Roger got a feel that I was really serious about this hiking stuff, two more gates appeared on Morgan Territory Road. Roger and I became good friends, meeting every once in awhile as he patrolled his park, talking about my plans, his plans€¦the last time I spoke with him was just a few weeks before his untimely passing while on vacation in Hawaii in 2008.
Roger's efforts represented what I love most about the East Bay Regional Park District - the will to take the initiative and create experiences for the incredibly diverse Bay Area population. For the many who ask me where I got my start hiking in a wheelchair, I'll always answer "Morgan Territory."
I know every inch of trail in this park, as well as many locations good for viewing different kinds of plants, wildlife and geologic features. In spring, I'm up there almost weekly to observe the progress of the wildflower bloom, or to check on my white tailed kites as they pass through. Ground squirrels? I know most by name, as well as the coyotes. And it's the home of my favorite loop in the District, the Bob Walker Loop.
Bob Walker was an open space advocate, environmental champion and incredibly talented photographer. Although he and I never met, we shared the same enthusiasm for Morgan Territory. This is an almost boundless open space, providing unbroken public access as it connects with public land managed by the Contra Costa Water District and Mt. Diablo State Park. Walker passed away at the age of 40 in 1992, yet he shared a lifetime of observation through his gifted lens - the loop named for him was a favorite of his, no matter the season or the weather. A hike to explore it will explain why.
As I expanded my hiking horizons, it became a favorite, even to this day. April and May as well as October are my favorite months to hike the loop. Let's pretend we're having this conversation at the main staging area, just over the highest point on Morgan Territory Road north of Livermore.
Your day pack should contain plenty of water, sunscreen, snacks, a park trail map and a light windbreaker just in case. Oh, and a camera. Don't forget that, as the hike out to this loop can offer several unique photo ops. I start at the southwest corner of the lot, where the wheelchair access gate stands. We're through the gate and up the hill - that used to be a real test long ago. Now it's simply the start of a great day. In spring, you may see kites or kestrels, as well as red tail hawks cruising the skies close to the parking lot. It only gets better once you drop over the hill to the first meadow. Morgan Territory is also a summer favorite because of the ample shade from several species of trees - oaks, laurels, one huge Manzanita. Cruising along on the wide path through the meadow, I have seen coyotes, tarantulas and the vociferous ground squirrels during certain times of year. A short rise on this, the Volvon Trail, passes under a canopy of oaks. I call this place The Wind Tunnel, and have found it a nice rest spot on the way back, where the breeze always blows. Sure feels good after a long, warm day.
You brought your camera, right? Wander a few feet down the trail from the Wind Tunnel (my own appellation, by the way). As you walk next to your second fine meadow, you can turn around for what might be the best view of both Mt. Diablo and its sister, North Peak. In the early morning just after sunrise, especially on a partly cloudy day, the picture of these two peaks is incredible. It was a favorite of Bob Walker's, I hear. Early morning is the best time for this hike, although I've done it almost any time of day. It's quiet, it smells wonderful and you'll have fun watching the late owls and early hawks soaring around. You might be tempted to stay right here and take photos all day, but let's mosey on. Just ahead is a signpost indicating a left turn placing you on the Blue Oak Trail. Make a left at this point.
Just a few hundred feet later, you will bear right onto Blue Oak. As soon as you do you'll run across one of my favorite natural oddities. You'll see what appears to be a huge oak tree with a massive trunk on the right side of the trail. But look closely - the leaves on the branches are shaped differently! And if you make this hike in winter, it will appear that half the tree is dead - no leaves, just empty branches - while the other half is fully leafed out.
The secret, of course, is that it's two oak trees. The evergreen side is a Coastal Live Oak, while the deciduous part is a Valley Oak. Looking closely at the trunk you'll see a tiny gap separating the two. This is another of my favorite shady spots, which I use when hiking on hot days. It's also home to some very vocal Scrub Jays.
Meandering along, you are at one with the fine, green grass of Spring, as well as the oak / laurel buckeye tree combinations that dominate the park. Because of the seasonal streams and spring flows, laurels flourish in some uncharacteristic places, far from a water source or creek. Yet flourish they do; even if you don't know them by sight, you'll find them by smell, as the laurel leaf is also known to chefs as the Bay leaf. You may have chewed on one in your Mom's spaghetti sauce. The aroma of the laurel in Spring is delicious and captivating. The trail winds up a short hill and around another big meadow as it approaches the Miwok Trail. Miwok is a connector to the Los Vaqueros Watershed and ultimately Round Valley Regional Preserve. The Blue Oaks of this corner of the park are small yet numerous. If you wander 100 yards down the hill on the Miwok Trail, you'll be covered beneath a dense ceiling of Blue Oaks. Stop and listen to the bird activity in here. Acorn woodpeckers, Flickers, quail and meadowlarks meet daily each April and May through the summer to revel in the shade and the bounty of insect life. For this trip, though, let's continue on Blue Oak.
With Blue Oak forest to the east and rich grassland to the west at the Miwok Trail junction, there is much to see as well as hear. From this point the trail begins to feel quite remote - a feeling I enjoy. I rarely see hikers out this far, as most follow the Volvon Trail almost exclusively. Now you'll get a good feel for what I deal with on a hike. The next signpost is at the junction with the Hummingbird Trail. Bear right, remaining on Blue Oak. You'll travel down a hill of decomposing sandstone, which is a little tricky for a wheelchair to navigate. As you reach the bottom of the hill, passing a small pond, you will once more find shade for a quick rest. Down here, listen closely for puppy sounds - coyotes frequently den at the ridges. The next hill is always a bit tough - it's short but steep, usually rutted and with little upturns that a walking person wouldn't even notice. It can be a grind, but it's short and a favorite test of my conditioning.
But at the top of this short hill, the dense blue oaks surround you. There are downed trees and rocks if you wish to stop for a snack. Through the trees to the east on a clear morning, you can see snow on the Sierra crest. This is but one advantage to an early start, before dust in the Central Valley obscures the view. Listen to the thousands of birds flittering around here - blue oaks are home to a wide range of songbirds.
Venturing on, you come to intersect with Volvon again. Hang a right. You'll soon see a rest stop just before you pass through a gate and a crossing with the Valley View Trail. Follow Volvon as it opens to views of Solano County and the east. You'll see the Delta far below as you wind toward the next ridge. This is my favorite coyote - spotting place, just as Volvon becomes the Bob Walker Regional Trail.
As you reach the gap where the loop begins, you'll usually be cooled by a nice breeze. As for which direction to take, it's a toss up - if I'm on an early morning hike, I'll go straight, to the east side of the ridge and in the warmth of the rising sun. On a warm afternoon, I'll bear left, down the hill and around, past Stone Corral and Eagle Trails. That'll give me shade once I'm up and east of the ridge. But this part of the park bears exploration. The wildflowers are copious right now, and the hills green - don't waste a day before making the trip. Many of Bob Walker's favorite photos are from this loop. At this point you've probably discovered why I think it's so special.
It's not easy to maintain a constant cadence once at the Ridge. There's so much to see - open vistas of the Valley and Sierra, watching the raptor community forage, a chance visit with coyotes, foxes or a bobcat€¦my personal recommendation is that you stop for awhile, silently listening to all the activity around you. Make notes of the insects (you can often see praying mantises), birds, mammals, plants. Nature's community is always active, always moving in its constant, dynamic quest to endure. So wander slowly around the loop. Take advantage of the views, and note the change with each turn in the road. From the north end of the loop, walk out on the small flat - you might be able to see Mt. St. Helena through the haze.
I've always felt that flat would make a good spot to take a nap, although I've never taken advantage of the opportunity. Turning the corners and heading down into a small canyon you might still see trickles in the seasonal streams. I'm so easily fascinated on this hike that at this point, as I make the turn to complete the loop and head back, I intentionally slow down as if some latent child within is screaming "I DON'T WANNA GO HOME!" Passing the Stone Corral Trail, you'll stay to the left toward Volvon once more, up a pleasantly graded hill until you reach the top and the completion of the Bob Walker / Volvon Loop.
For a short while as you head back toward your car, you'll simply retrace steps. When reaching the Blue Oak Trail junction, however, remain on Volvon Trail (straight ahead) and take in the canyons and ridges of the west side of the park. Although there are some ups and downs, none of them are overwhelming, even to me. You'll pass beneath Blue, Valley and Coastal Live Oaks, as well as those wonderful, aromatic California Laurels. As you walk overlooking a canyon to your right, stop and take in the views from this side. Deer frequent the steep hillsides of the rippling grassland, and are best viewed in the early morning or just before sunset. You may cross a couple of seasonal stream beds that could be mucky, but they're easy to jump or sidestep.
As you follow the Volvon Trail, you'll make a right as you reach the west end of the Hummingbird Trail. Soon you'll see the short pitches on which I train for rock - rolling. Although they're not very long, the erosion each winter changes my approach to them. These are the 4wheelbob Proving Grounds, where once upon a time I convinced myself after much uneasiness that I could handle just about any trail they could toss my way. You'll pass my other favorite tree on this side - a massive Manzanita I've named Red, and with whom I'll share "hellos" (I think that's what he's saying) as I roll past. Red is an old timer, a gorgeous survivor with many stories to tell - don't believe his tales about the jackalopes, though€¦
Soon you're into the last big meadow, where you'll find picnic tables and a rest stop. More rock shelves follow as you finish off the Volvon side of this loop, as you approach one of the earlier meadows and roll back to The Wind Tunnel ( a GREAT place to rest on your trip back). From here it's just a short jog to the parking lot.
This loop is my favorite, Number One rated by this highly biased rolling hiker. If you read of one of the ranger led hikes, tag along and learn a lot from the Park District Naturalists. Want to try it with a couple of friends? Go forth and enjoy it. But go soon, while it's green and flowery. It makes for a long day for me, but it never disappoints. My e - mail is on my home page here at www.ebparks.org, so please let me know what you thought of this hike. See you out there on the trail!
Trails: Volvon, Blue Oak, Loop Trail, Volvon - mileage - approximately 6 miles:
From Morgan Territory Road staging area, entrance at southeast corner of parking lot, take Volvon Trail .6 miles to intersection with Whipsnake Trail
Stay straight on Volvon Trail for just .06 miles and then veer right (north) on Blue Oak Trail .72 miles to Hummingbird Trail.
Continue straight (north) on Blue Oak Trail .63 miles to Volvon Trail intersection (NOTE: for a shorter hike, turn left (south) on Volvon Trail back to parking lot - 1.75 miles - total mileage is 3.2)
to continue this hike €¦
Stay straight (north) on Volvon Trail for just .08 miles (there is a restroom on the left), go through the gate and continue straight on Volvon (not left on Valley View Trail). Take Volvon another .25 miles to Bob Walker Ridge Loop Trail.
Continue straight for .42 miles and then veer left back around to the Volvon Trail keeping left at the intersection with Corral Trail. In about 1.25 miles, you will have completed the loop and be back at the gate and restroom near the Blue Oak and Volvon Intersection. Stay right on the Volvon Trail 1.75 miles back to the parking lot.