Category Archives: Trail of the Week

Trail of the Week 37 & 38: Ivy Court Path (#40) and Leneve Place (#42)

El Cerrito. California
Wikipedia lists the elevation of El Cerrito as 69 feet, which is the approximate elevation at City Hall. The Plaza is a little lower, the shopping districts on Stockton and Fairmont are a little higher, but most of the business in the city probably occurs at an elevation within 50 feet either way. Not so the trails of El Cerrito. For instance, the vista pictured here, on the Ridge Trail above the Recycling Center, is almost 500 feet higher, but even this doesn’t take in the full elevational range of El Cerrito. We’ve barely risen halfway to the high point in the city, a place no trail will take us since it is on private property. And under a house.

A house on the summit [TJ Gehling]

A house on the summit [TJ Gehling]

The highest point in El Cerrito is Wilhelm Rust Summit, located at the top of Thor’s Bay Road above Arlington Park. Most people who know something of the city’s history have heard of Wilhelm Rust. He gave his name to the village that preceded El Cerrito, while selling hardware and serving as the first postmaster. So it is appropriate, if not necessarily widely known, that the highest point in the city is named for him. The summit is 1004 feet above sea level, the only place in the city that tops 1000 feet. But the best you can do without trespassing is about 960 feet, at the end of Thor’s Bay Road, and then there is nothing to do but turn around and go back. If you don’t want to climb Thor’s Bay, which is very steep but contains neither a bay nor a Norse thunder god, the view pictured here is from the entrance to T-B road at Arlington.

Jurassic Park in the suburbs
The eastern side of the crest of the hills faces Wildcat Canyon, and the Trekker trail list features two trails that head down into the canyon: the Rifle Range Road trail and the Terrace to Wildcat trail. But how to get from one to the other (without descending into the Canyon)? Surely there must be something more interesting than walking the Arlington from Terrace to Rifle Range? Well,  you can’t actually avoid Arlington completely, but there are interesting ways to cut out a lot of it. And a major component of that way is the combined Leneve Place and Ivy Court paths.

Terrace at Leneve [TJG]

Terrace at Leneve [TJG]

Leneve Place begins at Terrace just a short block before that street’s end at the Wildcat Canyon trail. And in actuality it is just a city street, albeit one with some interesting features. For one thing it is would be a  cul-de-sac if it weren’t for the cul-de-sac at its end, Ivy Court. Together they are a dead end, at least for cars. Another interesting feature is the presence of sauropod dinosaurs in the bushes. There are probably theropods too, but you should be used to them.

Musee des Bibelots Voies

Yet another oddity for this quiet, if dinosaur infested, street is the presence of the Musee des Bibelots Voies, a collection of oddments and found art on a railing along the eastern side of the road. Unfortunately this exhibit seems to have hit hard times. When visited just a week ago the railing was almost empty and a nearby sign implied the vacant lot is for sale. The picture at right is from happier times, when a variety of trinkets could be found along the roadside. Whether that day is past we will have to wait and see.

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Ivy Ct [TJG]

After 1500 feet Leneve Place comes to an end with beautiful vista of Wildcat Regional Park to the east. But a short extension, west and north, continues the road as Ivy Court. Ivy Court is only about 400 feet long, but at its north end is an actual path, between 1150 and 1151. Only about 100 feet long, it is a key connector for walking in the hills.

A way along the crest in Camp Herms [TJ Gehling]

A way along the crest in Camp Herms [TJ Gehling]

The Ivy Court path is an entry to Camp Herms, a Boy Scout facility behind Arlington Park. The camp features several trails that start on the ridge and wind down either side of a scenic canyon. The northern branch eventual comes to Thor’s Bay Road and from there to Arlington and Rifle Range. We list Camp Herms as a trail in its own right, and it will be the subject of a future Trail of the Week post, but it is necessary to mention here that the land is property of the Boy Scouts, and the right to pass through can be revoked at any time. If you use the trails be courteous, and obey any directions from the owners.

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Trail of the Week 36: Tassajara Park Trail (#4)

Northern trails

Northern trails

After a long gap, we return to the north of the city for the third and last of Tassajara Park’s associated trails, the aptly named Tassajara Park Trail. We’ve previously showcased the Tassajara to Barrett path, which descend from Barrett to Tassajara Avenue, across from the park, and the Barrett to Alva path, which runs along the western edge of the park. But the Tassajara Park Trail is unique in that it begins in, and passes through, the park itself.

Entrance behind the hoop

Entrance behind the hoop [TJ Gehling]

Canyon Trail Park runs in a southeasterly direction from its northern edge along Barrett Ave., to its southern edge at the corner of Tassajara and Alva. Tassajara Ave. makes up the whole of the eastern border as it follows a contour of the hills, rising gradually to meet Alva, which forms an elevated southwestern border. The park can be divided into three areas: a pair of tennis courts in the northwest, a baseball field in the southeast, and an open area in between featuring a play area, basketball courts, a picnic area and the clubhouse. An unnamed path along the south side of the tennis courts connects the Alva-Barrett trail to the play area, but the main entrance to the park is from Tassajara Ave. next to the clubhouse. Here starts a path that leads to the basketball courts and the official start of our trail for the week.

Storybook hikers on the path [TJ Gehling]

Storybook hikers on the path [TJ Gehling]

Although plants and trees are plentiful around the edges of the park, the only thing even a bit forest-like is a small stand of trees squeezed between the basketball courts, the baseball field, and a few house on Alva above. And here former generations of park users have worn their own path from the courts to the field. That no path was originally planned if obvious, since it is necessary to step up onto a low retaining wall. But as you scramble up the small hill over roots and rock you quickly come to a path that runs along the southwest side (and third base line) of the ball park. A fence and a hedge divide the path from the field, and a border of trees and shrubs covers the short slope up to Alva. This segment of the path ends  with a short climb up to the corner of Tassajara and Alva.

The baseball field from the path's southern entrance. [TJ Gehling]

The baseball field from the path’s southern entrance. [TJ Gehling]

The pictures accompanying this post were taken during Dave Weinstein’s Storybook Homes hike on July 19. Other pictures from that day are included in the post for the Francisco to Tulare Path. Tassajara Park is a popular waypoint on our northern hikes, not the least because of the presence of restrooms and a drinking fountain. But there was another reason to pass through on this recent hike. Last year, while drafting a list of possible future work sites for the Trekkers, the state of the Tassajara Park Trail by the basketball courts was brought to our attention. It was suggested that this might be an ideal spot for the placement of treads, since the current condition of the slope is a bit slippery. While the segment is quite short, there are obstacles in the form of outcropping rocks and tree roots to work around. It would probably be ideal to make an openning in the retaining wall as well. But perhaps next year we’ll be putting out a call for help to improve this trail.

But even if you don’t want to work, pay a vist to Tassajara Park if you get the chance. It is a little oasis in a vast sea of expensive houses, interesting though many of them are. If you are interested in the houses, a previous Storybook homes hike is chronicled here.

Trail of the Week 35: Tamalpais to Arlington Path (#9)

mch and environs mapYou could be forgiven for not having noticed this week’s trail. One end is on a sharp curve on the hillside’s busiest street; the other is on a steep and narrow section of a one-block-long residential road. On one side you might speed past, on the other you’re probably watching the crest of the hill for the possibility of oncoming traffic. Either way the narrow entrances to this path and stairway are easy to miss. But the Tamalpais to Arlington Path is a useful shortcut for those in the area on foot.

Tamalpais Avenue nearly forms a tangent line to the sharpest part of the curve of Arlington Boulevard as it approaches Cutting Blvd.  from the south. At their closest approach they are less than 20 feet apart, separated only by two sidewalks, a railing and a concrete retaining wall. Why the city didn’t build a stairway there we may never know. But 250 feet south on Tamalpais is the hedge-lined entrance to the trail they did build.
Waiting by the path
The path starts straight east, up 9 small flights of four stairs each. The path is concrete and there are railings on both sides of the stairs. All told this section of the trail is about 100 feet long and rises about 25 feet. Near the middle of the path it curves slightly south, before turning in a north-easterly direction. The last section of the trail is no more than 50 feet long and rises 15 feet via a single flight of stairs. These are steeper than the stairs below, but are shaded by a stand of young redwoods on the southeast side of the steps. At the top of the stairway the railings continue as a fence beside the sidewalk on Arlington. The sidewalk is concrete at the top, but in either direction there are short stretches of wooden walkway. The roadway is curved here and traffic tends to be fast, especially on the opposite, down hill side, but the trail entrance is on the outside of the curve so visibility is good.

Traffic passes the redwood shaded top

Traffic passes the redwood shaded top

Once you’ve reached Arlington there are several possible attractions to visit in the area. Almost directly across the Arlington is Murietta Rock.  This rock is on private property, but is apparently it gets some public use. The best views are from Arlington on the other side of Cutting. The closest nearby trail on our list is Highland Walk, but there is no direct access to the nearest end, so the easiest way to get there is to go south and east on Arlington to the next intersection, at Scenic. If you continue farther along the Arlington you’ll come to the end of Potrero. Starting down Potrero will take you to the entrance of Motorcycle Hill trail on one side of the street and the Julian Steps on the other. If you continue further down you can see the Madera Open Space behind the houses on the south side of the street and further down is Douglas Drive, which has an entrance to the southern portion of the Hillside Natural Area.

Save this space

Space worth saving?

If instead you go down the path to Tamalpais Ave., a left turn will take you down hill to the intersection of Tamapais and Fairview. Looking south and east you can see the largest remaining privately owned open space left in the city. A large creek forms the southern edge of the property, and it is most easily reached from this side. Beyond it is the northern part of the Hillside Natural Area, but there is no easy trail connection to either the top of Motorcycle Hill or Snowdon complex of trails. This open space is now i danger of being developed, filling it with houses, potentially blocking creek access and depriving the city of a natural extension of the Hillside Natural Area. Keep on eye on this site in the coming months for updates as more information becomes available.

Trail of the Week 33 & 34: The Duke and Earl Trail (#35) and the Betty Lane Path (#36)

Another two-fer this week. Making up for missing last week, we feature two more trails that are impassible now, but could be made passable in the future, the Duke and Earl trail and the Betty Lane path.

Earl Court [TJ Gehling]

Earl Court [TJ Gehling]

The King Court entrance to the Hillside Natural Area probably ranks second only to Schmidt Lane as the most used trailhead in the park. And with Schmidt it spans the entire range of options for entering the park from the south. For although there is park to the south of these entrances, no passable trail connects the southern border of the park to the rest of the Natural Area. The Duke and Earl Trail is an attempt to remedy this situation.

The trail, as it were [TJ Gehling]

The trail, as it were [TJ Gehling]

The Duke and Earl Trail starts at the end of Earl Court, one of the four “noble” courts that open west off Shevlin (The four are, south to north, Earl, Duke, Baron and the already mentioned King. There actually is a Noble Court in El Cerrito, but it is on the other side of the Hillside Area.) The trail follows a creek through a narrow canyon, mostly on a steep hillside that has suffered slumps and fallen trees in the past. The trail is unclear and overgrown and, in fact, the final route is still in question.

The end at the Ken Smith Trail [TJ Gehling]

The end at the Ken Smith Trail [TJ Gehling]

But in the end it should connect to the Ken Smith trail. To do this it is presently necessarly to hop the creek. There is also plentiful poison oak, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. A second possiblity would be to end the trail at the King Ct. trailhead. or even to make a path on the other, western side of the creek. But however it is completed, this trail would add a much needed connection to the Great Western Power Trail, under the power poles next to Moeser Lane.

The lower end of the Betty Lane path [TJ Gehling]

The lower end of the Betty Lane path [TJ Gehling]

Leaving the Hillside Area via King Ct., there are several options for continuing up hill towards Arlington Blvd. One is the Shevlin to Arlington Path, a subject for a future post. Another is our second trail this week, the Betty Lane path. Our old trail list refers to this as the “abandoned but not forgotten Betty Lane Path.” It begins across from the entrance to King Court, at the confluence of Shevlin and King Drives. Begins is probably an overstatement. It certainly should begin there. but there is no trace of an entrance. Instead there is thick vegatation. The trail should run uphill between the two telephone poles pictured at the right. If this path were to be reopened, it would probably be necessary to install many treads, since the right of way is narrow and the hill is steep. Landscaping to separate the trail from adjacent properties would probably be necessary too.

The view from the end of Betty lane [TJ Gehling]

The view from the end of Betty lane [TJ Gehling]

The is also a lot of vegetation at the top, where the path ends under another telephone pole. Across the street (Contra Costa Dr.) is the end of Betty Lane. Following this up hill, you can reach, via Brewster, Arlington Park and the top of the Shevlin to Arlington path. This could be a very useful addition to the city’s path network, but given the amount of work that would needed to go into making it passable, and the availability of the nearby Shevlin to Arlington path, this path will probably be a low priority for the foreseeable future.

Trail of the Week 32: Francisco to Tulare Path (#2)

Looking west

Looking west [TJ Gehling]

When building in the hills, the rigid grid lines that characterize street layout in the flat lands are abandoned for the gentle curve of the topographic contour. This often makes for a more interesting walk, since you are forever rounding a corner to a new vista. But finding a minimal route between two points can become an exercise in complex geographic calculus. Take for instance the problem for a resident of Francisco Street on the northern edge of El Cerrito. In order to visit a neighbor on Mira Vista, little more than 150 ft west, you might have to walk twice that distance east, than south to Barrett before walking almost 500 feet west to Mira Vista. And there is still the walk north on Mira Vista to your destination. That 150 feet west has become 1400 feet and you’ve walked in every cardinal direction. Good for your heart, it not for your schedule. But wait, what is that between those two houses? That narrow gap? Why it is the minimizing function of our problem, know to us as this week’s trail, the Francisco to Tulare Path.

Up from Tulare [TJ Gehling]

Up from Tulare [TJ Gehling]

This is the second trail on our list, and fittingly, the second most northerly after La Honda Way. The city limits are just 300 feet to the north. Like many trails, the Francisco to Tulare Path can be seen as a continuation of a street, in this case Charles St. to the west. The last, mostly easterly, section of Francisco completes a fairly straight route from Sonoma St to Carquienez, a distance of just over a quarter mile. And anyone along the route can use it as an alternative to Barrett for reaching Tassajara Park, which is just across Barrett from Carquinez.

The stairway to Francisco [TJ Gehling]

The stairway to Francisco [TJ Gehling]

The route exists in two segments:  a inclined path from Tulare to Mira Vista, and a somewhat steeper stairway from Mira Vista to Francisco. The first begins between 2626 and 1628 Tulare, with a white picket fence on one side and a hedge on the other. It rises about 25 feet in elevation over its greater than 200 foot length. At Mira Vista there is an almost imperceptible dogleg to the left before you begin your ascent of the stairway between 2621 and 2625. The stairs rise about 30 feet over a length of 150 feet and exit on to Francisco between 2637 and 2641. Turning left will take you into Richmond and eventually to Hazel Ave. just above the entrance to Mira Vista Elementary School. Alternatively, turning right will take you quickly to Carquinez, and if you wish, on to Tasajara Park.

Storyland [TJ Gehling]

Storyland [TJ Gehling]

The pictures accompanying this post were taken on Dave Weinstein’s recent “Storybook Homes” hike. If you couldn’t make that hike, or the previous hike in 2012, the area is a wonderland of interesting architecture. Dave produced a guide for those who would like to explore this area on their own. One person who did make the recent hike was Trekker board member Mark Miner, and via the wonders of modern technology he live tweeted it as we went along. Some of his pictures are posted here. You can also follow the Trail Trekkers on Twitter here.

Trail of the Week 31: Snowdon Way (#14)

Looking towards Tam {TJ Gehling]

Snowdon Way is the last block of Snowdon Avenue as you head east towards the hills. Coming to Ganges, you could be forgiven for mistaking the way ahead of you for a private driveway. But, in fact, it is the northern most entrance to the Hillside Natural Area (HNA) and the beginning of a network of trails that can take you all the way across the HNA and eventually to Moeser Lane.

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Spell check [TJ Gehling]

We should probably deal with a minor issue right away and get it over with. On the PDF version of our trail list the road and associated trails use the spelling Snowden, with an “e”. The correct spelling, based on street signs, is Snowdon, with an “o”. You can find both spellings on maps, sometimes on the same map. Our own map uses the Snowden spelling. Google Maps uses Snowdon, but Google Earth uses both!

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The gate [TJ Gehling]

The description of this trail also says that it is pedestrian only. This isn’t strictly true. For the first 300 ft or so you can drive in, but then you come to a gate. And there is little room to park, much less turn around, so we recommend parking out on Ganges. Snowdon Way functions as a fire road for the area, so it is better if it isn’t blocked.

The former tank location [TJ Gehling]

So, why the gate? Why even, the road? The answer is water. This last block of Snowdon was the access to, and in fact, the location of, an East Bay MUD tank reservoir. Called Navellier Reservoir, it was replaced by the reservoir off Potrero just below the Madera Open Space. Once the tank was removed, EBMUD had no further use for the property and so it was added to the northern section of the HNA. In January the city agreed to protect the entire Hillside Natural Area “in perpetuity,” as a step in their application for a National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Grant to help pay for Madera. This proclamation was a first step in federally protecting the HNA, which would stop any future building in the area. When they did this, they explicitly excluded the former tank location, with the expectation that the area could be used in the future for a club house, picnic area or bike park.

Lower Snowden TrailAs we mentioned, Snowdon way is a gateway to the entire Hillside Natural Area. Right now the northern section has only two other “hike-ready” trails, Lower Snowdon (#15) and Motorcycle Hill (#17). Lower Snowdon begins just before the gate, and leads to the foot of the Motorcycle Hill Trail. Another trail, probably designed for bike use, will connect the former tank area to a point farther up Motorcycle Hill. The hope is that in the future this trail, and another, envisioned but not yet planned, will provide an alternate route for bikes up and down Motorcycle Hill.

Breadth of It hikers on Snowdon Way [TJ Gehling]

Breadth of It hikers on Snowdon Way [TJ Gehling]

Snowdon Way was one end of Jenny Hammer’s The Breadth of It hike held earlier today (July 20). The > 4 mile round trip took us from the PG&E land on the HNA’s southern border all the way to Snowdon and back. We covered diverse terrain and went up and down (twice) nearly 500 feet in elevation during the hike. Mark Minor live tweeted the hike and some of his pictures on Twitter are linked here.

Trail of the Week 29 & 30: Gatto Trail (#11) and Harding Path (#57)

Redwoods behind the backstop [TJ Gehling]

Redwoods behind the backstop

After taking off last week we are back with a two-fer. The trails featured this week couldn’t be more different. Harding Path is on the south edge of town, in a park and quite flat. Gatto Trail is northern, in a residential neighborhood, and very steep. The characteristic they share is that neither is usable. And even there they differ in the reasons for their impassibility.

From bullpen to staff parking [TJ Gehling]

From bullpen to teacher parking [TJ Gehling]

Harding Park trail is more of a concept than an actual trail. Part of it is there, along the western side of the playground at Harding Park on C Street. It is a fenced alleyway that gives access to the area behind the backstop of the baseball diamond. The next section would be the left field foul ground between the field and the fence. The last section of this appears to be the bullpen, though it doesn’t seem to have actual rubbers and plates. and a fence and gate divide it from the Harding schoolyard beyond. But if that gate wasn’t there, the “path” would lead right on through to a gate on Fairmount Avenue.

Teacher's cars only [TJ Gehling]

Teacher’s cars only [TJ Gehling]

Unfortunately, the gate is currently there for the exclusive use of Harding teachers and staff for the parking of their cars. Given the general propensity of school districts to control access to their facilities, those coming from the north will have to reach Harding Park by a longer route, using either Ashbury or Barent to get to C street.

Bottom of the Gatto Trail [TJ Gehling]

Bottom of the Gatto Trail [TJ Gehling]

Our second trail of the week takes us north to near the western entrance to Canyon Trail Park. Coming from Key Blvd. or the Ohlone Greenway, Canyon Trail is reached by going east on Conlon Avenue. Just before the park entrance Conlon meets Junction Avenue, and on the eastern corner is the bottom end of the Gatto Trail. Like many trails this seems to be a utility right-of-way. There are utiliy openings on the sidewalk and what looks like a manhole part way up the hill (Though this is behind a wire fence). There are also extant treads, which suggests this trail many have been used in the past. As it is now the path is very steep, over grown, and probably impassible at the top. I can’t find one of my own pictures of the top, but the Google Maps Street View is here.

With Gatto we have the perfect example of a public right-of-way that, with a lot of work, could be made into a useful path, or better yet, stairway. Such stairways exist in the city, at Madera, the Julian Steps, and the upper section of the Knott Trail (called the Harper Steps on our old trail list.) But all those stairways were built long ago, and given the current budget realities, we probably should hold our breath.

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