Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pleasanton Roller Coaster

With the Lockheed fire still causing havoc and air advisories on the coast we decided to hike somewhere in the east bay. In choosing a venue, I always begin by dreaming about getting away somewhere, but we rarely have the time to take long drives, so the scope narrows accordingly. We usually avoid hiking the east bay hills during summer, as notorious as they are for exposure and heat, but we’ve had a mild season this year. I thought of Pleasanton Ridge only because it’s been so long since I last hiked there, I really don’t remember much of it. Maybe it would seem like a new place? It couldn’t hurt to try. At least we would get some trail miles in.

After struggling a little to find our way there because I couldn’t remember the right exit, we finally arrived after a brief tour of the area around old Sunol. Pretty place. We headed up the Woodland Trail, immediately climbing up some switchbacks to get atop the ridge. There are a lot of little shortcut spur trails in this park, and Sue decided to take advantage of them to play one of her little tricks. Thinking she was behind me I waited at one switchback for her to catch up, wondering what she was doing, only to find out she was ahead of me up at the next turn laughing at me. Once out in the open we could see how bad the air quality was on this morning. A little haze would be normal for long range views, but this was much worse, and we wondered how much of that we should blame on local fires. We couldn’t smell smoke, and the air didn’t seem that bad. We hiked north on the Ridgeline Trail, and turned off to visit the olive grove that sits near the south end of the park. The olives all looked very immature and seemed behind the curve for their normal fall harvest. The groves are an interesting diversion though. The rows of trees make for a shady oasis. This would have been perfect if it were lunch time.

The park has numbered posts that correspond to exact locations on the map similar to the Ohlone Wilderness trail. This a great system, but in the middle of the park there is a transition into a City park called Augustine Bernal. The trail markers in the city park are good, but they do not use the number system. It resumes at the other end. The trail system at Pleasanton Ridge rolls along up and down like an attenuated roller coaster ride. Most of the transitions are gentle, but on the whole, expect them to be fatiguing if it’s hot. There’s very little tree cover and lots of dust. The scattered oaks aren’t much help in providing shade. The Bay Leaf trail is the only really shady trail. The California Bays also fill the air with a nice scent. The high route has pretty good views though. We could see south to Mission Peak and Mt Allison’s TV tower. The eastern panorama provides views down on several golf courses, the 680 freeway, over to Maguire Peaks, and to the east bay hills. To the west is another ridge system that eliminates any opportunity for views of the bay. From high points at the north end of the park you can spot Mt Tamalpias, but with all the haze and smoke I couldn’t tell if San Francisco or other details may be visible under better atmospheric conditions. And of course Mt Diablo cannot be missed. Up high the breeze is a welcome ally. We passed a couple of ponds that were teeming with tadpoles, frogs, and dragonflies. Late in the day the wind really picked up and the sky grayed up with some strange cloud formations like some kind of storm, but nothing came of it.

Click here to see more pictures from this hike

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