Category Archives: Nearby

Nearby: Aquatic Park, Berkeley

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A friend has been posting pictures of Monarch butterflies colonizing the eucalyptus trees at Aquatic Park in Berkeley. Traditionally, they visit a grove near Santa Cruz, but perhaps the milder winters have lured them farther north. There is something ironic about a Mexican butterfly seeking out an Australian tree in a Northern California park, and I wish all weary immigrants were welcomed as these are.

The day was sunny but only 49 degrees, bitterly cold by our standards, which may explain my lack of success. I spotted two Monarchs, one sunning itself on a leaf, the other making a lazy flight south, but never found the colony.

Aquatic Park itself is as charming as an estuary squeezed between a freeway and an active railroad line can be. From its southern entrance, off Shellmound in Emeryville, the paved path is nearly level and winds past several picnic areas and a playground before ending at Bancroft Avenue in Berkeley. I passed an unflappable blue heron into an alley of massive cypress trees. Coots, gulls and mallard-doodle ducks floated on the tranquil water, and a single-scull skiff went by.

Near the boating center, I startled a small hawk; a little farther on, a kingfisher. I regretted not bringing binoculars but truthfully, the day was too cold for standing still.

From Shellmound to Bancroft is about one mile, but feels shorter. It’s possible to continue north from Bancroft and across the iconic pedestrian bridge to Eastshore and Cesar Chavez parks, another mile and a half away.

Cool stuff nearby: The big orange warehouse you see across the railroad tracks at the north end of the park is Vik’s Chaat Corner cafe and Indian market. It serves some of the best street food and offers some of the best people-watching you’ll find on this side of the bay. The south end of the park isn’t far from the Emeryville Public Market.

Wheelchair access: Yes, with reservations. Although the path is nearly level and fully paved, the asphalt is in bad condition and may be muddy in some spots.

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No. 54: Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Quarry Road and Quarry Trail

Quarry Trail, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. (Mary Mazzocco)

The Quarry Trail is open to sun and sky.

Until recently, what Oaklanders would call the “back side” of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve was officially off-limits. But about a year ago, the East Bay Regional Park District opened a trailhead just off Fish Ranch Road that makes a whole new segment of the park accessible to the public.

The route to the trailhead is just through the Caldecott Tunnel. By car, take the first exit, which turns sharply back towards Oakland. Continue straight up Old Tunnel Road a few hundred yards and you will see park district signs directing you to Quarry Road. (If you continue a little farther on Old Tunnel Road, you will reach one of the entrances to the Skyline Trail.)

Manroot.

Manroot.

Some of you may consider what follows to be more of a hike than a walk. Quarry Road, which is broad and paved, rises 200 feet in a little under a mile: not an impossible grade, but certainly one you will feel in your thighs. The hills around you are covered in yellow-flowered broom and the occasional modest-sized oak, and your route is open to the sun and sky.

A half-mile from the parking lot, or just about the point you may be tempted to turn around, the road makes a sharp S-bend, and a guidepost on the right points you through a cattle gate to the unpaved fire road called the Quarry Trail. This path, which is significantly more level, gives you a clear view of the Round Top Creek valley, a good place to look for raptors, although this morning it was the private domain of a lone hummingbird, who disdained to give way to the passing hiker as he sunned himself on a bare twig.

If you want a longer excursion, stay on Quarry Trail until it joins the Volcanic Trail, a sharp left turn about a half-mile from the cattle gate. This loops back to the summit of Quarry Road. Or continue a little farther to the Round Top Loop Trail — although most walkers will prefer to approach that from the Oakland side.

More information: About Sibley Volcanic Regional Park, and about the volcano. In fact, Andrew Alden’s OaklandGeology blog has several posts about Sibley, but he doesn’t use categories or tags, so the easiest way to find them is through Google.

Cool stuff nearby: When you return to Oakland by turning left on Fish Ranch Road to cross Highway 24, be sure to appreciate the Art Deco ornamentation over the original tunnel entrance. Other than a portable toilet in the parking lot, there are no nearby services.

 

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Nearby: Lafayette Reservoir, Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail

Looking north across the Lafayette Reservoir.

Looking north across the Lafayette Reservoir. The dam is visible to the right of the white tower.

A short hop through the Caldecott Tunnel, Lafayette has two walks worth traveling for.

The Lafayette Reservoir, which belongs to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, is surrounded by a paved nature trail just under 3 miles in length. On a weekday morning, it is busy with dogs being walked (on-leash) and pairs of friends engaging in a little movement-and-talk therapy.

The steepest hill of the entire trail may be the one from the west side of the dam, near the fishing pier, past an auxiliary parking lot to the trail’s real beginning. Keep an eye out for birds: On the morning of this walk, hundreds of swallows swooped chaotically above, snatching an insect breakfast. Two white pelicans and a flotilla of coots were on the lake itself. Red-winged blackbirds and at least a dozen turkeys could be heard, but not seen, in the brush surrounding the trail. Although I didn’t see them this time, ospreys and red-tailed and cooper’s hawks are frequently spotted at the reservoir, and a bald eagle much more rarely.

The trail around the lake is rolling, making this a little more strenuous than the Lake Merritt loop, but most of the hills are short and not steep. Benches, water fountains and pit toilets are placed at civilized intervals if you are more interested in loitering than working up a sweat. Depending on the time of year, you may see a bare tree on the southeast side of the lake covered in edible “Christmas ornaments” for the birds.

Birdhouses along the Lafayette-Moraga Trail

Lafayette-Moraga Trail

The Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail is 8 miles long and quite flat, and the section through downtown Lafayette is flat and paved. Historically, the easement was used by the Sacramento Northern Railroad, but now it passes through shady neighborhoods so assertively charming, they could be in a Thomas Kincade painting — if Kincade painted 1950s suburban fantasies.

Entrances to the trail can be a little challenging for outsiders to find, but it crosses Foye Drive just south of Fourth Street and Moraga Boulevard. About a half-mile east of that crossing, someone has created a village of whimsical birdhouses in a lichen-covered tree.

West of Foye Drive, the trail parallels St. Mary’s Road and passes by several schools and parks in Moraga. It is popular with runners, bikers and dog walkers. You may also see people on horseback.

More information: Lafayette Reservoir is at 3849 Mt. Diablo Boulevard and offers boat rentals as well as fishing. (No swimming in the drinking water.) Larger staging areas for the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail are at Olympic Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road in Lafayette and the Valle Vista Staging Area, near Pinehurst and Canyon roads, just east of Redwood Park and outside Oakland’s city limits.

Transit options: The Lafayette BART station is about 1.5 miles from the Lafayette Reservoir dam and about 1 mile from the Foye Drive crossing of the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. Buses run from the BART station along St. Mary’s Road, but expect long wait times. There is no bus service on Sundays.

Cool stuff nearby: The Lafayette Public Library is an architecturally spectacular building that includes a community center, used-book store, history center and small cafe. It has  a number of cozy places to sit with a book outside and free wi-fi inside. Mt. Diablo Boulevard is an old-fashioned commercial strip with a number of chic and slightly-less chic restaurants. Among the appealing low-cost options are Millie’s Kitchen, El Jarro, and The Great Wall.

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