If one were to draw a cross section through the cities east of San Francisco Bay it might look like this. First of course, there would be the Bay itself. Then to the east, the gradual rise of the “flats”, peppered with modest bungalows and apartments, then the sharp climb of the East Bay Hills, dense with rustic shingled hillside homes, and finally, topping those hills a string of regional parks, chock full of trails, gardens, playgrounds , swimming, golfing. Those hills divide the bayside cities to the west from the more suburban Contra Costa County to the east. But on the backside of those hills, before one hits those suburban towns , is a surprisingly remote seam of land. It is land that has been set aside by our local water agency, the aptly named East Bay MUD, to protect a chain of reservoirs that provide us with some of our drinking water. It is a little slice of paradise. I call it the Green Seam, my pandemic therapist.
The land is mostly undeveloped , but there are some trails that traverse the open space, and they are lovely. But best of all, during a year when getting some good ole social distance was much sought after, they could be positively deserted, a bit of a secret. As one example, a few miles away at the top of the Berkeley Hills, a parking area beckons hikers to Berkeley’s famed Nimitz Trail, a lovely trail that runs along the top of the city’s Tilden Park. 99% of the people who park there take this trail. But just to the side sits a small gate, and if you are not scared away by the warning that you must have a permit to enter (easy, 10 bucks online), you can walk out into a scene out of the Scottish Highlands, untrammeled rolling green hills with nary a sole in sight. On this particular trail I have encountered cows, foxes, coyotes , deer, turkeys, newts….. and nary a soul.
Now, as the world opens back up, and we all aspire to return to the “way things we were”, I know that I am still hopelessly hooked on this lovely bit of wide open space. These places have been a godsend this past year plus, keeping me at least moderately sane, and will be part of my regimen going forward.
Each reservoir and surrounding watershed has its own character. One can walk , not surprisingly, along the water, here along Briones Reservoir:
Or rise above the waters, here Moraga Creek snakes its way to San Pablo Reservoir. Hold my calls.
There are lovely valley vistas, such as the aptly named Valle Vista. This is one of my favorite places in all the Bay Area:
There are thick forests of eucalyptus , laurel, and redwood. In winter, walking in a small redwood forest during a light rain is your moment of zen.
In spring, the green hills come alive with flowers- mustard, poppies, and lupine.
And in summer, perhaps the most classic California landscape , that of oak studded hills, a setting that wears the dry season vividly, and increasingly these days, ominously. This was from the height of summer last year, just before the fires broke loose elsewhere. As dry as can be.
Did I mentions there are horses. There are horses.
I began coming to these places more regularly during the last year- early in the morning, or at the end of the day. The start of a walk is often marked by thoughts of the day ahead or behind, thoughts that predictably melt away quickly, overtaken with little effort by the senses- perhaps the pungent smell of the woods , the clatter of cowbells, or simply the sound of the breeze.
So , as a public service, and with the knowledge that given the readership of this blog, we are in no danger of suddenly crowding these places, I offer up my favorite trails in the Green Seam.
- Inspiration Trail , Berkeley. The aforementioned trail in Berkeley is located on Wildcat Canyon Road , at the top of the hill, at Inspiration Point. See where everyone is going, and go the other way (my motto for so many things). Trail descends to San Pablo Reservoir, go as far as you like. There are a number of coyotes out here, I have run into several, and had one very close encounter. We stared at each other for a bit, and then I began singing, I’m not sure why, the signature song from the musical Oklahoma! The coyote promptly ran to a nearby hill and began howling.
- Oursan Trail, Briones Reservoir, Orinda- This trail is not in Briones Park, but EBMUD land across the street to the north. The parking area is located at the south end of Briones Reservoir, off of Bear Creek Road. This will be the parking lot without the cars. You can walk all around this reservoir, but that’s a long 13 miles. I go for a few miles along the res and then come back. No one out here.
- Valle Vista Staging Area- Moraga. And finally, I’ve been coming here for 25 years, and it is my favorite. It has become a spiritual place for me, has seen me through much all these years (many of the photos above are from there). This is a more popular spot, but like may areas, people tend to drop off after the first mile or two. The Kings Loop is a great 6 mile loop that takes you through a forest, a marsh, some water view points, open range, and even a horse ranch. The birdwatching here is spectacular, though I am not an expert. A second trail to the west takes you all the way to Redwood Park, traversing through a lovely Redwood grove, seen above.
All the seasons are fine for hiking, but I think spring time is the best, it is just so lush and green. Summers can be hot out there.
The cost of this therapist is one East Bay MUD Trail Permit- $10. Unlimited sessions.