Exploring California

Ohlone WildernessMy sweetheart and I spent most of last week backpacking the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a rugged stretch of parkland southeast of Oakland (but still in Alameda County). We covered about 30 miles of steep uphill and downhill paths, camping along the way.

A lot of the land we went through looked like the picture above. It’s June, which is usually dry in California, and the drought has made water even more scarce. But we also saw places like this:

Little YosemiteThis is part of a spot called “Little Yosemite” because of its waterfall. And it did have water in it.

The park is named for the Ohlone people, who were the native inhabitants of this part of California. While the land along the trail has changed a great deal in the period since first the Spanish and later Americans settled in California, walking through this country made me really appreciate the knowledge and effort required to survive back when hunting and gathering were the logical way to live.

Ohlone Wilderness trailGiven how close this area is to the city — we could see the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco and Oakland from this viewpoint, though I couldn’t get the camera to focus on them — wilderness seems less than accurate. Much of the land is leased for cattle raising, and there are plenty of examples of human settlement, like this one:

lily padsI don’t think water lilies are native to the semi-arid parts of California!

But my sweetheart pointed out that the Ohlone people also managed their forest and grasslands. It’s been a long time since this area was untouched by humans.

And if you want to get away from it all, this is the place to go. We went two days without speaking to anyone but each other. One of those days we saw a few people when we were stopped at the closed ranger station in Sunol, but they were getting in their cars after doing day hikes and we were sheltering from the rain on the porch of the visitor center. The day after that we didn’t see any people at all. The next day we met two people who were going more than twice as far as we were in one day, which overwhelmed me.

That was the same day that we were very glad to find a creek still running through Williams Gulch, because we were getting very short on water. I am so glad we had a good filter system with us, because we probably would have drunk straight out of the creek regardless.

We saw all manner of birds: raptors, buzzards, blue jays, woodpeckers, finches, hummingbirds, and others I couldn’t put a name to. The ground squirrels ran rampant, and we saw deer footprints and coyote scat, though we didn’t see those animals in person. Lots of butterflies, some bees, hordes of ladybugs, and — of course — flies and mosquitoes.

And, of course, there were lots of interesting plants:

Ohlone wilderness trailAll in all, it was a successful venture, though a strenuous one. I was in pretty good shape due to my daily walking routine, so I didn’t pant on the uphills. And after living in Austin for the last few years, it’s hard to impress me with heat until it passes the 100 degree mark (it hit the 90s). But my legs complained a lot and my cranky knees made me slow way down on steep downhills.

I’m not sure I’ll do it again. The campsites are a little far apart for me. After about six miles of up and down with my home on my back, I’m ready to stop, but the sites were about eight miles apart.

My sweetheart loves this place, though, so we’re discussing possible ways of doing it that don’t involve as many long days (there is one campsite we skipped and we could start from a different spot).

Regardless, I’m not planning to join the runners who race this entire trail every year in one day. Not only am I not that tough, I don’t want to be that tough.

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Exploring California — 6 Comments

    • Wouldn’t have minded seeing a little more green and a little less brown. There were a couple of times when I looked out at a path up and down treeless brown hills and lost heart. Though the toughest place to hike was going downhill into a gulch with lots of foliage around us.

  1. Thanks for the post and the lovely photos. What a joy it is to be outdoors, and I am thoroughly impressed by the the length of your hike. I do a lot of up and down on my geology trips, but I don’t backpack, which makes everything much easier.

    • Yes. Carrying your home on your back like a snail is very hard work, even with the wonders of modern camping equipment.

      I’m impressed by the length of our hike, too! I couldn’t have done it a year ago.