Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Views along Skyline Blvd if you approach Sibley from Berkeley.
I continue to be blown away by all of the amazing hiking options in Oakland, and Sibley is no exception. Located off Skyline Blvd, high along the ridgeline of the Oakland Hills, this is a great park to enjoy with the family (dogs included). What sets Sibley apart from some of it's neighboring parks (Redwood Regional, Tilden, Joaquin Miller Park) is that it is home to a 10 million year old volcano. Over the life of the volcano, massive tectonic forces have tilted the volcano on it's side giving an unusual glimpse of the geology of the underlying rock. Additionally, there was substantial quarrying in the north half of the preserve that further revealed cross sections of the bedrock geology. 

If you're lucky, you will also get to enjoy a chorus of cows moo'ing (this was particularly exciting for the girls on our first visit to the park).
While getting to explore an extinct volcano is certainly a treat, one of the more celebrated aspects of the park are the labyrinths. If you search online for directions to the labyrinths you will find multiple accounts of where they are along with some very confusing directions. The most direct route to the most famous of the labyrinths, the Mazzariello Labyrinth, is to take the Round Top Loop Trail in a clockwise direction until you get to the overlook for Marker #2 (shown as Quarry Pit 2 on the map below). Start on the paved service road to the right of the visitors center/bathrooms. When you reach the junction of several trails, you will see a hill that goes up to the water tower (don't go up there like we did) at which point you should veer left and walk through the cattle gate. At the next trail junction you will see a sign that points to Marker #2.

From the Sibley Staging Area, start your hike along the paved service road to the right of the visitors center.

The best views of the Mazzariello labyrinth are from the northwest corner above the quarry, which you can access by walking along a small footpath that takes you to a higher vantage point of the quarry. On our first visit, this is where we turned around and called it a day (it was a late December morning and a very very cold 40 degrees out!). If you continue along that path, however, you will find yourself at another set of three labyrinths. Since we didn't take time to walk down to the bottom of the quarry for the first labyrinth, this was a fun chance to see the rock formations up close.

An added bonus is that the additional elevation of the second set of labyrinths gives way to some spectacular views of the Bay Area.

We continued along past the second set of labyrinths until the trail met up with the Volcanic Trail, which you can then use to cut back to the Round Top Trail Loop. Our first trip to the park was a simple out and back hike along the first portion of the Round Top Trail Loop. On our second visit, we did the entire Round Top Trail Loop, which takes you along a somewhat rocky dirt path through eucalyptus groves before it meets up with the trail you started on. This adds about a half mile to the hike and this portion of the trail can be particularly muddy if you are visiting shortly after heavy rains. Even if you aren't planning on doing the entire loop, it's worth climbing to the top of the hill that you will see just south of Overlook #2. The views of San Pablo Reservoir and the windmills in the distance are pretty amazing.

The windmills of the Altamont Pass can be seen in the distance on a clear day.

Have you hiked Sibley? Any trail recommendations?

Details: Sibley is located in the Oakland Hills off of Skyline Blvd. There is a small parking lot as well as street parking along the main road. During our visits during the winter there has been a bit of a temperature drop as we climbed the mountain, so bring layers. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rock City - Mt. Diablo State Park

Sentinal Rock - Rock City, Mt. Diablo
Over the recent holiday break we took a quick trip over to Indian Rock in Berkeley. If you haven't been, it's a massive rock in the Berkeley hills with steps carved into it that allow you to easily climb to the top for panoramic views of the Bay Area. You may have seen my instagram picture of the girls watching the sunset from the top of the rock. It was our first visit with the kids and I was nervous that the rock would be too challenging for them or dangerous. While there was definitely an additional level of caution and supervision required, the kids did shockingly well. My oldest (4.5 years old) was scaling the side of the rock like a little mountain goat! This immediately made me think that it was time for a visit to Mt. Diablo's Rock City.

The frown on her face is because I jokingly told her that we were going to leave her there. Apparently that's not funny :)
Rock City is like a natural amusement park for kids. Located just a few miles from the Summit of Mt. Diablo, this portion of the park is home to dozens of large rock formations, many of which have wind caves that have been carved out over the years. We had been holding off on this particular trip for a while thinking the rocks would be too challenging for younger kids to climb. What we failed to notice during previous trips (pre-kids) were all of the smaller rocks that are rather huge and impressive when you are 3.5 feet tall! Our 4 year old was eagerly running from one rock formation to the next, while our 2 year old was happy climbing over small boulders that lined the hiking trails.

One of the more challenging portions of the trail was the descent down the mountainside that takes you to the base of Sentinal Rock. As you approach the start of the trail, it appears that the hillside simply drops off, but as you creep along the ridge you are greeted by a set of stairs carved into the sandstone. They are steep, and a bit daunting, but our oldest handled them with ease (while I yelled out friendly reminders to slow down!).

A view of the steps from midway down the hillside. The kids at the top are sitting on the lip of the small pond shown in the previous picture.

At the bottom of the steps there are more large boulders to climb on and if you continue along the path you will find yourself at the base of Sentinal Rock (first picture of the post). Sentinal Rock has steps carved into the side and cables to grip as you climb to the top. My husband and I did the relatively easily climb years ago, but decided the kids were still too young for a trip to the top on this visit. The platform at the top is relatively small (enough to comfortably accommodate half a dozen people), but the barriers are nothing more than a couple of cables and would make me nervous with small children.

We took the steps back up the hill, and as you can see from this video, the climb was a cake walk for our oldest. The thrill of tackling the mountain and the large rocks was definitely energizing for them. After climbing what seemed like most of the rocks in the area, the kids explored the wind tunnels, which were particularly great for toddler aged kids.


As with our trip to Indian Rock, we had to pry the kids away when it was time to go. Even our walk to the car had several detours to explore "just one more rock".

Have you been to Rock City? Any suggestions for similar venues in Northern California?

P.S. You might like our hike through the rock caves at Pinnacles National Park.

If you want to see what we are up to, you can follow along on instagram, where I post more frequently on our weekly outings in the Bay Area. 

Details: Rock City is located off of South Gate Road approximately one mile north of the South Gate Kiosk. It is about a 30 minute drive from Berkeley. From 680 South, take exit 40 and follow signs for Mt.Diablo State Park. Access is $10/vehicle and there are several parking lots near the entrance to Rock City as well as dozens of picnic sites if you want to bring a meal along with you. You may want to wear either older clothing or pants that can take a beating, because the way down the rocks often involves sliding on your butt and we ended up with some small holes along the seam by the time our trip was over.