Parking my car in the lot below Tilden Park's Environmental Education Center, I slowly got my chair assembled and ready to go. I climbed aboard and strapped on my day pack. Hearing a Red-shouldered Hawk in the dense forest surrounding the parking area, and smelling the wonderful aroma of Spring all around, a funny feeling came over me€¦.
I'd fallen in love with Tilden Park all over again.
As a child, my parents regularly trooped my sisters, brother and myself to Tilden, toward the Little Farm. After trying to pet Geraldine the Cow and Rosebud the Pig, we'd mosey down the road toward Jewel Lake and the boardwalk, sure to see frogs or a turtle or maybe some mud for my brother and I to filthify ( I love making up words, especially as appropriate as this one was) ourselves. Back in the car, we'd head toward the merry-go-round and some well deserved time with a hot dog or s ice cream. We never left Tilden with our eyes open, though. All four of us slept while Mom and Dad took us home through the Oakland Hills.
Download the Tilden Regional Video (5.4 MB QuickTime Movie)
Back to 2010. As soon as I got out of the car, I headed for the Little Farm. OK, it's probably more adult - like to say I would be perusing the exhibits and talking to the naturalists at the Environmental Ed Center (EEC), but I have a weakness for furry and feathered things. The pig softly snorfled at me while I spoke with her. Children were everywhere, overjoyed at seeing the animals. It reminded me of those days when I'd race my siblings to the barn to see who could get there first. The next mandatory stop is the Environmental Education Center, just a few yards from the Little Farm. The displays are entertaining and informative; I learned that if you have any flora or fauna questions after a rigorous hike, the EEC is staffed with an outstanding team of knowledgeable and friendly naturalists. I tried some of my old "kid" questions, things I'd asked as a 2nd grader during a naturalist - led walk: "What if you find a centipede that has only 99 legs? Is it a 99 - a - pede?" That was me long ago. Not much has changed.
This day I wanted to find a trail where a wheelchair could easily rumble along. I remember the short walk to Jewel Lake, and the boardwalk trail out onto the lake, so I headed that direction. I found the Wildcat Creek Trail in good shape for any chair, as the surface is hard packed dirt with just a few shallow ruts and bumps. I got to Jewel Lake to find the boardwalk closed for reconditioning. It'll be open by early summer. I'll be back when it opens, as I have great memories of looking for the aquatic creatures that frequent the lake.
Continuing along the Wildcat Creek Trail, I stopped to look out over the lake at its north end. There was a sight that made my day - half a dozen turtles had stopped to sun themselves on a log, and three more sat in the water looking at me. I tend to say "hi" to just about everything and everybody, and these guys with the hard shell finish didn't spook at all. They looked up at me as if bored with my inane chatter, and one by one dropped into the water for a swim.
Did I mention the wildflowers? Late and abundant rains have helped preserve the wildflower bloom in many of our parks this year. It's delightful to see wild iris, mustard, wild parsley and wild hyacinth as well as poppies clustered in showy, colorful bunches. I'm counting on a couple more weeks of blooms. If I had a weekend day to poke around and look for good wildflowers, Wildcat Creek Trail would be a good choice.
I had my "street" chair with me - treadless tires, not grippy enough for serious dirt travel - but I made it another half mile, each push of the wheels providing a glimpse at something new, something delightful. It was here that I saw my first garter snake of the season. Large black beetles worked their way across the trail in front of me, not caring much that I was sitting over them watching. Every trail provides a microcosm of life that anyone can witness if you exercise a little patience. I recommend sitting on a trail in silence for several minutes to hear what's going on all around you.
I made it back to the parking lot with a silly perma-grin on my face. The trail was easy enough for almost any chair, flat enough that anyone pushing won't get tired. I had one more stop to make before leaving the park, so I packed up the chair and drove up Wildcat Canyon Road to Inspiration Point.
Parking there at the Point, I rolled around the corner to Nimitz Way, a paved section of road which doubles as a section of both the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the East Bay Skyline National Trail. This trail is a paved stretch, wide enough for any chair yet providing some challenge because of the short, hilly stretches intrinsic to the route. While the hills aren't immense, they can be challenging if it's warm or a hiker follows the trail toward its end. I didn't find the end - a mile and a half was good for me. Excellent views of Berkeley and the Bay can be found here, as well as some quiet raptor watching east of the ridgeline, toward Orinda. It can get windy up here, so consider bringing a light windbreaker any time of year.
But Nimitz Way gave me a chance to play around a little, and to take a long "ish" roll along the road. I might come back during the summer to watch a fine sunset or hang out in the fog, as opposed to my Livermore home's oppressive heat. If you want to get some mileage in the books, using Nimitz Way to keep walking the Skyline or Bay Area Ridge Trails is a welcome break.
Tilden is one of the District's three original parks, along with Sibley and Temescal. If you grew up as I did, spending many a weekend day here at one of the original bright stars of the East Bay Regional Park District, you owe it a revisit. It's a park for every taste - and especially if you have kids. Is "beautiful" too general a description for Tilden Park? I think not, as beauty comes with dozens of definitions - all of which can be found here at Tilden Park. Here's wishing you a great day at Tilden or any of the diverse and very, very special lands of the EBRPD.