In my home town of Livermore, this is the time of year we dream of cooler days while we endure triple digit temperatures. Although I love my summers, I can't bring myself to get out on trails when it's that warm. Yet, trails are where I want to be. Oh, to reconcile that little conundrum.
Enter Redwood Regional Park, which features one of Nature's most efficient trail coolers - coast redwood trees, or Sequoia Sempervirens as they're known to their close acquaintances. Covering long stretches of trail beneath a grove of redwoods is East Bay summer hiking at its most comfortable. Covering long stretches of trail beneath a grove of redwoods is East Bay summer hiking at its most comfortable.
The loop I'll travel this 103 degree (in Livermore) day will begin and end in the shade of these large trees, with some elevation gain and a climb to the chaparral climate typical of the ridge. There's a lot to cover and see today, so let's get going!
The drive south from Skyline Blvd. on Redwood Road is almost unchanged from when I was in high school. My friends and I spent a lot of time hiking in the Oakland Hills. I drop my car's windows as I drive to take advantage of the change in aromas filling Redwood Canyon. Once the redwoods start to appear, you picture that you could be on a coastal road in the Santa Cruz Mountains as the scent of laurel, blackberry and dozens of other fragrant plants takes you away.
Driving in to the Canyon Meadow Staging Area, I pull off at the parking area closest to the picnic and grassy locations. Lawn and Redwood Creek border the trail, which is paved through the picnic areas. It's an easy push through this piece, as gentle rolling bumps grace the road through the picnic areas. The sounds of day camps and the kids who attend them fill the air with happy kid sounds. This paved section is easy to navigate, but if you stop every turn or two and take a 360 degree look around, you'll begin to understand why I enjoy Redwood so much. It's an easy push featuring redwoods, a creek, canyon sides the trail's civility beckons a hiker (or roller) to keep moving.
Reaching the point where the redwoods form a canopy is like walking from 100 degree heat into an air conditioned room. I consciously slow the pace, taking in the coolness, the wonderful seasonings of the air, the sounds of birds chattering at each other. It doesn't matter how warm the sun is way out there - it's perfect underneath the natural sun shields. Redwood is a "regular" for me during the summer, as are many of our shoreline parks. Redwoods provide an almost unique kind of ecosystem, too. Denizens of the damp forest such as banana slugs and millipedes aren't hard to find. Several varieties of ferns adorn the sidelines, and the creek offers a subtle gurgle as it passes over small riffles just a few feet away. I reach the hut at Trail's End group site and take a break. It hasn't been a long push, nor has it been difficult. But already, less than a fifth of the loop through I'm gearing up for the hills.
Leaving Trail's End, the pavement ends and the road becomes dirt. It's the soft, powder - like stuff that seems to infiltrate everything I wear. But rolling on it is still easy, as the trail's nicely graded. I pass an old site our recreation department used to reserve for a group campout one night each year, and find a new twist. The old trail's been routed over Redwood Creek via a small bridge. I stop on the bridge to look for small fish and other creatures of the water. Water is a relaxing part of the park it's all I can do to convince myself to keep moving instead of catching a nap. I wouldn't blame anyone if they did, but it's probably more comfortable to use the tables just over the bridge on our old campsite. I stopped to talk to a couple of horsemen who were having lunch there, and we shared stories of long past experiences in the park.
Less than a quarter mile west of the bridge was the intersection with Prince Trail. I moseyed past Prince, following the Stream Trail west. The creek is delightful along here, and on this day ladybugs swarmed the sunny sections. As always, with the ladybugs come the dragonflies. I counted 7 species of dragon and damsel flies this day, in bright colors that would make a custom car painter jealous. Beyond Prince, the trail was more rutted, and gave me the feeling of being on an old wagon road. The grade wasn't steep, but it was steady. I broke out of the canyon as I headed up to Skyline Gate's parking area at the top of the Oakland Hills. I passed Girl's Camp on the trail up, a nice spot for a rest stop or - a recurring theme today, for some reason - a nap.
It's fun to note the changes in climate as you make it
out of the valley, through a short transitional setting and into the
chaparral at the Skyline Gate. I took on some water here at the parking
lot and went over the map once more. It wasn't that I wasn't sure where
to go, as I grew up nearby and visited the park often. I just didn't
want to miss anything. The quiet of the canyon now met with the excited
activity of the parking lot, as park users, kids and dogs got ready for a
nice day out. From here, I made my way north just a few yards to the
East Ridge Trail, and began the return trip.
East Ridge is a favorite of dog owners, and I happen to like dogs. I got to see and talk to many different kinds of dogs, too. Some weren't quite so sure what I was with all those wheels, while others couldn't get enough. There's nothing quite like a Mastiff that wants to sit in your lap.
There's a warm wind out today, a welcome feature on this hot afternoon. The dry grass and shrubbery adds even more to the bouquet - ridgeline pines speak to the wind, while the Manzanita, Toyon and other trailside bushes help make the views to the east even more scenic. The East Ridge Trail rolls along gently, with no monster hills but lots of opportunity to rest while rolling with the wind at my back. I stop to chat with 5 Jack Russell terriers and some guy holding their leashes, which is always a motivating experience - it's a bit like watching popcorn pop when that many are together in one bunch. I was chuckling as we parted company, imagining new "green" power plants containing Jack Russells on treadmills. We'd never run out of electricity!
After a little more than a mile and a quarter on East Ridge, I reached the Prince Trail. Now, Prince is an experience if you're in a wheelchair. It's steep, rocky and probably a bit too daunting to be safe unless you're a really experienced outdoors wheelchair user. I put on my "brake" gloves - thick kayaking gloves with full fingers and a palm pad that keeps heat from cooking my hands. And I'll generate some heat coming down - it'll be the fastest 4/10ths of a mile I've done today! There are several places to stop and admire things such as late blooming wildflowers or to hear the chatter of ground squirrels. Stellar's Jays yapped at me as I passed them - these are the big blue jays with the topknot. I love them - they must be the noisy neighbors of the forest to all who live here. Prince got slippery and I had to take it slow, almost to the intersection with the Stream Trail. We're almost back, it felt, yet there are still a few miles under redwood cover to enjoy - this is a PERFECT loop!
I sat next to Redwood Creek once back at the Stream Trail
and considered the territory I'd covered today. This was not a short
loop, but a fascinating one, where so many subclimates and ecosystems
could be explored. Here I was, back in the redwood forest to finish the
final 1.5 miles. But I don't object to returning on a part of the way I
came - with the afternoon light you can gain a new perspective on any
trail. As a general rule, a trail never gets repetitive because it
changes with the time of day, the season and the weather. I looked
forward to the easy roll back.
Just as I was getting comfortable, though, I saw something big flying beneath the redwoods, out of the corner of my eye. Was it an owl? A low flying raptor? I listened for a call but slowly moved forward as I heard none. Then, there it was - a big bird with a red topknot flying from tree to tree and settling not on a branch, but on the tree's trunk. The huge topknot made it look prehistoric, like a small, feathered pterodactyl. I waited for it to fly again, but it didn't give me another look. Was could it have been?
My best and most educated answer would that it was a Pileated Woodpecker, a very, very big woodpecker featuring a topknot and about the size of a crow or medium size raptor. I had seen one recently at another local park, but had never seen one at Redwood. Look it up sometime, or ask one of the District's great Naturalists for an idea where they might be found - I have a really good idea after this hike!
I stopped at the edge of the redwood stand to try to find some way to take that smell home with me, but failed. That means I'll have to go back, probably soon. We've got a few months of hot weather remaining here in the Tri Valley, so expect to find me somewhere on this loop next time you read it'll be 100 or more in Livermore. It's a perfect setting for leaving the heat elsewhere. Besides, this big woodpecker and I have to find each other again. I hope I'll see you out there, too - summer is the time for redwood forests, and you'll find them here at Redwood Regional Park.