Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sunday Adventure: Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Some close friends got to talking about labyrinths, and mentioned Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. (Take a look on google earth if you have the inclination - it's impressive from the air!) The conversation caught my attention, and I decided to cross the bay for a hike. My cousin (who is training to run a half marathon to fight Leukemia) was interested as well. We decided to go early Sunday to avoid the heat on this exposed trail. I met my cousin, we stopped quickly for coffees and egg sandwiches, and then drove up up up the Berkeley Mountains to the trailhead.

On the drive up, I realized why only google maps says to drive up Thorndale. It is steep, steep, steep! It is also a single lane residential road with some deep hairpin turns. I strongly advise getting there via Hwy 24 instead. Once in the parking lot, my first impression was "cyclists!" There was about 30 cyclists gathered together in the lot. I found a parking spot, we finished our breakfasts and headed out.

The visitor center there is a fantastic start. Highlighting the different types of rocks, showing the trail, and providing self-guided tour maps, it's definitely the place to start. Bonus - it has bathrooms too! It turns out this little park has gotten a lot of attention, as you can see with this KQED segment. Honestly, I am a bit embarrased that even after living in the east bay for a few years, I'd never even known there was a volcano there, let alone the chance to hike in its belly. We picked up a self guided tour guide, which included the park map. I also had the always amazing Bay Area Hiker Info in my back pocket detailing our intended hike. (notice I say intended? yeah.)

The other thing to note: we didn't need to worry about the sun. At. All.

The trailhead starts under the treeline. The trail is easy to follow and a slight incline, but the exposed roots and rocks require attention. I found a few elderberry trees with flowers and fruit, and pointed these out to my cousin, as she had just tried our Elderberry wine the day before.

After about a half mile in, the tree line breaks and the trail opens up and flattens out. Trees give way to grasses and shrubs. I think this is where some of the fantastic views are.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. Bay Area Hiker is awesome. All said - the park has changed quite a bit in the eight years since it's been documented. It was pretty cool to see that, and it's worth noting before heading out on the trail.

We found the first labyrinth easily enough. From the top of the trail, I got this shot looking down. There are two ways to get down: a fairly steep trail that descends from the lookout point, and a fire road that gently slopes away from the lookout, and back down into the quarry pit. Take the fire road. Trust me.

(we ended up talking to the four women in this photo later, they were great to talk to. Very curious about where the other labyrinths were, funny, and easy going.)

Here's a photo of option one to get down.

I took the last bit crab crawling, and my cousin chose to sat and scoot. Loose gravel, sand, and erosion is not the hikers friend.

Alternatively, this is your option two. A gentle incline, gravel rich path that while may add to your pedometer, it's well worth it.

The fire road popped us back out not too far from the lookout point (the fence area.)

We left the first main labyrinth (there are two smaller ones in the same quarry pit) and hiked on to the second. We got back to the Volcanic Trail, and here's where my notorious hiking sense of directions kicked in. We somehow ended up on the Quarry Trail, and realized it at the Quarry Road. We met up with some nice folks that I imagine were bird watchers (one was carrying a digiscope) who asked to see our map. We talked about the park a bit, and then we struggled with the cattle gate for a bit. ;) We decided to head down the Quarry Road, and catch the Ridge Trail back to the parking lot.

As we walked down Quarry Road, we came across a second parking lot. A couple was getting out, and the man asked us if we saw any sun on the trail. Nope! I did realize - this was one of the friendliest and most social hiking spots I've been on. People are generally kind in the nod-and-walk-by kind of way, but the folks here were practically exchanging phone numbers.

We picked up the Bay Area Ridge Trail and headed back to the lot. It was all too scenic. It was funny - we had definitely gone up as we started the hike. The middle part of the hike seemed pretty even with ups and downs. The Quarry Road did descend, but much more than we thought! The Ridge Trail was beautiful, shady, and UP. We were laughing as we hiked - this has to go downhill at some point! But nope - the trail crested, and we were back in the parking lot.

What is hard to capture in words or photos is that there is something to this park. It's beautiful, but simple. There is a complexity in the rocks and predictability in the life. Maybe there is some energy still leaking out from the heart of the volcano. Not having walked through other calderas before, there is no way to compare. I'm definitely planning to go back, and want to explore the other trails of this phenomenal park.


  1. Thank you for telling me about your blog yesterday. Be sure to let us know when you install a hive for Christopher.

    On an entirely other subject, here's a link to the script for the play I mentioned:

  2. Hey James!

    Thanks for the link to the script, will pass it on to Mark.

    We're planning to install the hive at Christophers next March / April. Bees ship out in the early spring which dictates the schedule. Between now and then we'll be cleaning up the area, adding a fence to protect the dogs, and getting a new hive assembled.

    See you in yoga tonight! :)