I have always loved the rain. I love the sound and smell of it; sometimes I even like the feel of it. I watch my kids stand completely unfazed by their drenched clothes and dripping hoods as they stretch their red, cold hands out to feel the droplets hit their palms. The winter season of 2016-2017 has brought endless downpours to Oakland and beyond. To say our ground is saturated is an understatement. Water has been endlessly streaming through our neighborhood days after the skies have cleared. The green blanket of weeds in our yard is nearing knee height; my husband often sighs at the work ahead. While temporary creeks seem to exist along every curb with a downward slope, I started to think about the vast watershed that cuts through our city. I crossed my fingers that a series of dry days might remove the slickness from the mud and I hit the trails of Joaquin Miller Park in search of the sound and smell that I love.
I decided that it was time to continue where I left off last year when I shared my visit to Dimond Canyon Park. A quick jog across Monterey Boulevard and a jaunt through the pedestrian tunnel underneath Highway 13 allows you to step into Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park via the Palos Colorados Trail. Defined as “red sticks”, the Palos Colorados Trail sits within the Sausal Creek Watershed; the Palo Seco Creek runs parallel to it in this lower section of the park. In my hand I had a copy of a waterfall map prepared by Stan Dodson, Executive Director & Founder of Oakland Trails. The nonprofit organization produced last year’s documentary about Oakland’s trail system in the Sausal Creek Watershed, Trailhead. As I headed off, I quickly realized that the usual trickle and babble of water had been replaced with the gush and crash of rainfall charging out of the hills.
In some places trees stretch across the path as permanent trail landmarks. In others the saturated hillsides caused roots to give way in recent days; new obstacles created. The tireless efforts of the Oakland Volunteer Park Patrol are evident. Hundreds of hours have been logged to clear trees off of the trails. Stan Dodson shared with me that in 2016, 86 trees were cleared within Joaquin Miller Park. Two months into 2017 and 114 trees have already been cleared.
As I followed the gentle climb of the trail above the creeks’ banks the volume increased and waterfalls came into view.
Along sections of the trail, old rusted pipes peek through the impacted dirt. The pipes are remnants from an old water delivery system that fed the neighborhoods below Joaquin Miller Park from a reservoir that once occupied the meadow inside the park.
I continued along Palos Colorados, headed towards the junction with the Sunset Loop Trail. Along the way I popped up a set of old stairs to check out what remains of the Sinawik Cabin. The cabin that once stood on the hill was built by the Kiwanis Club in 1949 for the local Girl Scouts. Unfortunately in recent years it fell into severe disrepair, became a target of vandalism, and finally met its demise when it was ravaged by fire in 2013. All that remains is the foundation; and on the day of my visit a curious bucket of birds of paradise.
Once on the Sunset Loop Trail I continued for about a 1/3 of a mile to its intersection with the Fern Ravine Trail in search of more falling water.
The Fern Ravine Trail takes you along Fern Ravine Creek, a smaller tributary that feeds down to Palos Seco Creek. An uphill climb will take you to its intersection with the highly trafficked Sequoia Bayview Trail.
I turned around at the intersection of Fern Ravine Trail and Sequoia Bayview Trail and headed back downhill. Once I popped back out at the bottom of the Sunset Loop Trail I meandered down to the bridge that crosses over Palo Seco Creek and spent part of my return trip on the other side of the creek on the Sinawik Trail. The water is quieter along this stretch and the path runs close to the creek banks. The Sinawik Trail intersects with Palos Colorados and I followed my original footsteps back out to the trailhead on Joaquin Miller Court.
If the trickle, babble, gush, and crash of water is a symphony of sound that you enjoy, the hillsides of Oakland are the perfect spot to find water flowing at all speeds these days. As we reach that time of year when the days are beginning to stretch and the weather is showing hints of warmth, the waterways will slow their pace. So throw on your kicks, possibly some old ones, and hit the mud to see just how Mother Nature has doused our Earth here in Oakland. It’s worth the muddy tracks you might bring home.
The Oakland Volunteer Park Patrol, a program co-founded in 2015 by Stan Dodson of Oakland Trails and Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, is now a team of 45 hardworking volunteers. The group works to not only improve and maintain Oakland’s wildland parks, but to also ensure the safety of all their visitors. More information about the program can be found here. Thank you to Stan Dodson for his help and assistance.
All photos by Adrienne Schell. Do not use without permission.