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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Ron Erskine

Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at [email protected]

Sierra Vista OSP hike is stunning

A couple columns ago, I wrote about the Aquila Loop Trail, a short loop near the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve parking area. In that column, I promised to return to walk the longer loop that reaches deeper into the preserve.

Fun destinations close to home

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Discovering hidden hiking gems

Over the many years I have lived in the Bay Area, I have overlooked the East Bay for hiking. I viewed the Amador, San Ramon and Livermore Valleys simply as corridors leading to the Sierra and other destinations beyond. But a recent visit to Las Trampas Regional Preserve chipped another bit of ignorance away and further opened my eyes to the East Bay's hidden gems.As you drive north on Interstate 680 through Danville and Alamo, Las Trampas Ridge follows you on a parallel path out your driver-side window. Just over the ridge is Bollinger Creek cutting a valley between Las Trampas Ridge and Rocky Ridge beyond. These two ridges and the adjoining valley comprise Las Trampas Regional Wilderness—at 5,342 acres, one of the largest East Bay Regional Parks.As I turned off Crow Canyon Road onto Bollinger Canyon Road, I was struck by how quickly the urban hubbub was forgotten in a bucolic setting that seemed many miles from the hustle and bustle I just left. Rather than a succession of modern day McMansions, Bollinger Canyon hid worn barns and ranch buildings that filled my mind with visions of an earlier California.The park staging area is in the bottom of the valley by Bollinger Creek-Las Trampas Ridge on one side, Rocky Ridge on the other. I talked with a friendly hiker in the staging area who knew the park well, and on her advice, I chose a moderate 4.5-mile loop that began on the Elderberry Trail at the foot of Rocky Ridge. The trail edged up through a forest of oaks, bays and buckeyes until I popped into open grassland and got my first hint of the views to come.Two miles out, I reached the Rocky Ridge View Trail 800 feet above the valley floor. Few hilltop roosts deliver a reward for a hiker's heart-pounding effort as grandly as the crest of Rocky Ridge. For the next two miles, I walked along the ridge crest that dropped steeply away from me on both sides. To the east, a crystal clear Mount Diablo rose above Las Trampas Ridge. To the west, across a huge expanse of protected watershed land, the view stretched from Mount Tamalpais down the length of the bay. But for lingering fog and haze, I would have seen the San Francisco skyline on one side and no doubt the Sierra on the other.The landscape of Central California changes steadily with each desiccating step inland. Only a few miles from the virtual rainforest habitat of the coastal redwood forests, oak woodlands predominate then give way to drought tolerant chaparral. I have rarely seen a habitat transition as stark as the one between this park's two ridges. Rocky Ridge was an inviting open grassland that still clung to spring's green, while across the way an impenetrable and forbidding thicket of chamise, buckbrush and other chaparral shrubs carpeted Las Trampas Ridge.Few Bay Area trails match Rocky Ridge View Trail for stunning spectator value. Mt. Diablo, Round Valley and now Las Trampas Regional Wilderness have upended my sour perception of the East Bay. I am discovering that there are not only parks with amazing trails and vistas, but country roads that twist through the hills and fool me into believing I am far, far away from a busy urban area. Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at [email protected]

Write Next Door: Local authors find creative inspiration close to home

In the world of writing, paths often overlap. People start careers in other professions then stumble into writing, either from a hardship, a hobby or an inner calling that surfaces later in life.

Hiking Barry’s Pinnacle loop

Pinnacles National Park is just far enough away to place it beyond the "Hey, let's go for a hike this afternoon" category. It's more of a "We gotta get down to Pinnacles sometime this spring" place. And often, we don't get around to it.

Getting Out: No Disney magic needed for enchanting Mineral King

If you are of a certain age, you may remember hearing about Mineral King long ago. In the 1960s, Walt Disney planned to develop a ski area in this region at the very southeast corner of the Sierra Nevada. The original proposal met no resistance from environmental groups, but when the plan grew to 27 lifts and an estimated two million visitors per year, the Sierra Club and other groups united to fight and defeat the project.

Getting Out: Prepping for Mt. Tallac Challenge

Since New Year's Day, we have been preparing for the hike—no, climb—up Mt. Tallac. At 9,783 feet, Mt. Tallac is the highest peak on the Lake Tahoe rim. We call it the Mt. Tallac Challenge for good reason. As I learned when I recently revisited the mountain, after you climb it, you will no longer be a hiker, you will be a mountaineer.

Getting Out: Find solitude at Modoc National Forest

We parked in front of the US Forest Service building in Alturas, Modoc County's only incorporated city. The shiny new building was a stark contrast to the rest of sleepy Alturas which appeared to be frozen in the 1950's. At just under 4,000 square miles, Modoc County is the twelfth largest county in California, yet it has a population of only 9,147; a number that has been steadily declining.

Getting Out: Reap the reward of the Mt. Tallac Challenge

Last winter, I challenged you to join me on a climb up Mt. Tallac this summer. Judging from the attendance at our various prep hikes and the email and Facebook buzz I am getting, many of you have accepted the challenge. Last week, I took a detour on my return from Modoc County and climbed the mountain to refresh my memory.

Getting Out: Discover the majesty of the Muddy Mountains

When we flip through maps looking for destinations with scenic beauty and solitude, we generally find places with proper names and boundary lines that define them. Yosemite National Park, Henry W. Coe State Park, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve and the John Muir Wilderness are all distinct regions carefully defined on a map.