On Saturday, April 29, a good number of MCC members and associates visited one of the most beautiful parks in the East Bay, Sunol Regional Wilderness. This destination is most beautiful in the early to late spring when the flowers are blooming and the creek is flowing abundantly. If you are lucky enough to hit peak flower bloom, you’ll be richly rewarded. Expect a trickle of water running through the waterfall , hot temperaturesand dry, brown hills during summer and fall visits.
Most of us were bound for Little Yosemite, which is the scenic gorge on Alameda Creek about two miles upstream from the Visitor Center. It is open to the public through a lease agreement with the San Francisco Water Department, which owns the property. You can take the hiking trails as well as the paved road to see the falls.
Alameda Creek, Alameda County’s largest stream, sustains a creek-side community of alder, willow and sycamore trees. At other locations in the park you can see coast live oaks and blue oak, elderberry, madrone and gray pine. Spring brings abundant wildflowers, including California poppies, mustard, goldfields and lupines, which carpet vast areas in yellow, orange and blue. This year, unfortunately we missed the peak bloom. We did see a lot of owl’s clover in bloom. I also saw some mule’s ears, lupine and Chinese houses in bloom. The visitor center, which offers an interpretive nature center, has a wildflower identification kit that you can check out.
This park is a birder’s paradise. There is a wintering population of golden eagles, falcons and many hawks. During late March and early April visits, you can see the male wild turkeys fanning their tails as they perform their mating rituals. The list of wildlife is long and includes numerous species. Ground squirrels, magpies and red-tailed hawks may be seen year round. Observant campers and hikers may notice raccoons, skunks and black-tail deer. Mountain lions are uncommon, but are occasionally sighted. Birding is superb along Alameda Creek; persistent birdwatchers may identify 20 to 40 species in a single morning. The acorn woodpecker, black phoebe, titmouse, turkey vulture and yellow-billed magpie are commonly sighted. A bird list is also available at the visitor center.
The park opens at 7 a.m. and closes at dusk, year round. Camping is available to groups as well as backpackers. Park entry fee is $5 and there is a $2 dog fee if you bring your best friend (who is allowed to run off leash as long as you control your animal with voice commands). In many other parks photographers are usually restricted to leashes, but this park also has a liberal “photographers-roam-free” policy.
There are no notable historic features at the park, however bedrock mortars used by Native Americans for pounding acorns are reminders of the area’s first inhabitants. For the past century the land known today as Sunol-Ohlone was used almost exclusively as ranch land. Under the East Bay Regional Park District’s multi-use land management policy, cattle continue to graze in the 6,858-acre wilderness. Combined with its adjoining wilderness areas (Ohlone Wilderness, Calaveras Reservoir Watershed, Del Valle Regional Park), Sunol Regional is part of 40,000 acres of contiguous public wild lands.
The park offers numerous trails and part of our group
took a hike on Canyon View Trail , which took us over the hump and down
to the falls. We were treated to several rewarding views of the canyon
from various promontories along the trail. I think it would be nice, on
a future field trip, to explore some of the other trails, some of which
are much more challenging. For instance, there is the Maguire Peaks Loop
trail, which offers views of San Antonio Reservoir and Mt. Diablo. According
to the trail guide there are plants along this trail seldom seen in the
other parts of the park. The loop is about a four-mile hike—a relatively
long hike for day-trippers.
The geology of the park sounds fairly interesting and offers sandstone outcrops containing fossils in deposits of what was once ancient seabed formations. Great boulders of greenstone, schist and metachert indicate a turbulent geologic history. There are massive basalt outcrops at Indian Joe Cave Rocks, which provide a few chuckles for the rock climbers.
If you want to get there on your own, take Interstate 680 to Sunol—just a short drive up the freeway from Milpitas. After you get over the big hill, take the Calaveras Road exit, turn south on Calaveras Road and drive four miles to Geary Road. Turn left on Geary and drive two miles to the park entrance.
© 2006 S.R. Hinrichs