No. 22: Sibley Volcanic Regional Park, Round Top Loop Trail

Labyrinth in the quarry at Sibley.

At the bottom of the quarry is the main labyrinth and two smaller ones.

Unless you are a rockhound or a birder, it may take several visits for Sibley’s charms to grow on you. Even though it is the best place to see exposed volcanic strata in this area, to the untrained eye, it will not be as dramatic as the words “toppled 10-million-year-old volcano” sound.

For birders, the canyons and updrafts around Round Top can provide wonderful opportunities to see raptors. I brought my binoculars for my early morning walk, but saw only spotted and brown towhees, a pair of robins and some feisty Anna’s hummingbirds in the clinging mists. (I forgot my camera, so the picture of the maze is from a sunnier walk in 2008.) The wildflowers of spring are in retreat, but those of early summer — wild carrot, Ithuriel’s spear, monkeyflower, mule’s ear and yarrow — are advancing through the meadows.

One of the mysterious pleasures of Sibley is the Mazzariello Labyrinth, the largest of what once were five classical and not-so-classical labyrinths in the park. Although all of the labyrinths were constructed in low-impact ways, by moving local rocks and wearing footpaths in the grass, none of them is, strictly speaking, an authorized use of a regional park, and two of them seem to have returned to wilderness since I last visited. Several years ago, you had to stumble across them through luck or have a guide show you where they were. It now appears that the East Bay Regional Park District has granted at least semi-official status to the Mazzariello, and a sign by the quarry lookout directs you to the best and safest path to the labyrinth.

Despite its status, the labyrinth shows signs of being washed away by winter runoff and obliterated by buckbrush and laurel. To walk it is a physical as well as philosophical challenge: The missing stones and deceptive turns through the bushes make you think you have lost your way. Persistence leads you to the center, a rocky shrine where others have left notes, tobacco, foreign coins and business cards. I added a posy of rosemary, buckwheat and lavender in memory of a friend’s father who passed away recently; someone else had left sage twigs.

At about a mile out and a mile back, the Round Top Loop is long enough to make you feel virtuously tired. It is possible to extend your hike south to Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve or north along the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the Caldecott Tunnel and beyond.

Getting there: Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve is on Skyline Drive, just south of Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

Cool stuff near by: Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve. There are no nearby services, although there is an unattended visitor’s center with restrooms in the Sibley parking lot.

More information: You can learn more about the Mazzariello Labyrinth here, and find a list of bird, butterfly and wildflower species here. The Oakland Geology blog has a number of posts about Sibley.

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