From the observatory deck of Chabot Space & Science Center, the rural heart of the East Bay spreads out 1,500 feet below. Day or night, it isn't long until the sounds of sirens waft up to meet you. To borrow the words of lyrical genius Don Henley: "Somebody's going to emergency. Somebody's going to jail."
Outside the cozy confines of Lake Merritt, the streets of the Oakland flatlands can be some of the meanest in the nation. But from where you're standing - where the telescopes pointed toward the heavens are nestled among towering redwoods that once guided sailors through the gnarly straits of the Golden Gate - it's hard to comprehend that you're in the same city.
Yes, this is Oakland.
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LENGTH: 5.7 miles (round trip)
VERTICAL GAIN: 1,,201 feet.
TYPE OF HIKE: Not exactly a loop, not exactly and out-and-back; more of a "Figure 9," wherein we'll be retracing the first 1.5 miles of the trail on the return trip, but looping the rest. Only about a mile is fire roads (at the beginning and ends) -- the rest is a deeply forested single-track trail.
PLANNED STOPS: 15 minutes at Redwood Bowl at summit of trail, just 75 minutes or so into the hike; then back at it. This is the shortest day.
TIME ESTIMATE (WITH STOPS): 3 hours (the shortest day on the Circle circuit).
RESTROOMS: At Redwood Bowl.
A series of bright blue signs to "Chabot Space & Science Center" guide you from either of two exits off of Highway 13 -- Joaquin Miller or Redwood Rd. -- right into the parking lot at 10000 (Ten Thousand) Skyline Blvd. in Oakland. How easy is that?
Important: Our Meetup point is in the BACK PARKING LOT of the Space Center. As the steep driveway from Skyline Blvd. levels off and the Space Center comes into view, you'll see a parking garage on your right and a dozen head-in parking spots on your left. Pass them up and follow the driveway that swings to the right of the Space Center (ignore the signs that tell visitor's not to drive beyond that point). You'll pass employee parking on your right -- keep going to the back parking lot, which sits just below the observatory plaza. The back parking lot will be empty except for Trustees, it's free, and it's where our trail starts.
The comment I invariably hear when I lead first-timers into Redwood Regional Park goes something like this: "Wow. I can't believe this is Oakland! Has this always been here?"
You betcha. Much of boomtown San Francisco was built from the first-growth redwoods which once towered here (no worries; today's second-growth trees are nearly as majestic). When Alameda County broke off from Contra Costa County 160 years in order to gain more influence in state politics, the counties divided the precious resources of what is now Redwood Regional Park right down the middle. One more geeky factoid: The term "rainbow trout" was coined in this park, where the species spawns.
But you don't have to care about the history to dig this wondrous place. Redwood sits atop the Oakland Hills, perched high above downtown Oakland, Alameda and the bay. Much of this hike takes place under a canopy of redwoods so thick that it's often hard to tell when it's raining. And when it's foggy - all to often for the folks at the observatory - Redwood burrows into the soul. Even on the brightest days, the dappled sunlight plays tricks on the eye and the mossy branches can appear to be fog-shrouded.
In both time and distance, this is the shortest hike on the Circle Circuit. But it's not even close to the easiest -- if we took a poll, more Trustees than not would able this hike a mini butt-kicker.
This hike differs from any of other Circle of Trust & Beer outings on other fronts: we start the hike going downhill; it's less than 6 miles; and, just 75 minutes into the hike (after a steep climb), we'll push the pause button for 15 minutes at an awesome meadow called Redwood Bowl.
But don't be lulled into thinking this is a walk in the park. We're going to climb, baby -- about 1,200 feet on two leg-burning hills, all of it in a pair of one-mile stretches.
Monaghan's On The Hill is conveniently located right around the corner from the Joaquin Miller exit on Highway 13, just 2 miles from our trailhead. It's a hybrid place that's not sure whether it wants to be a nice restaurant or a sports bar, but the split personality works -- this place is immensely popular among the highlanders in (Oakland's) Westminster/Montclair area. And they always take care of us. We'll take over the outside deck - and let the Circulating begin!