Spring Fever: Urban Hiking, Labyrinth and Poison Oak

They say California has no seasons. Last week, this was true for the Bay Area with temperatures reaching close to 70° in winter. The effects of the weather lead to a very strong case of spring fever in V and myself. Which, everyone knows there is only one way to soothe and that is to get out in the sunshine!

Most of our urban hikes are to V’s points of interest. These are the local library, bookstore and café. In this order we will say,”Good morning” to V’s favorite librarians, taking a few books home at a time to enjoy. That is until she has memorized them word for word. Then we happily trot off to the local book shop, located only a few blocks away, where V will peruse the used children’s section until she finds a title to adopt. Our next stop is to Snappy’s Cafe in Downtown Hayward. This urban hike is 1.6 miles round trip.

This week V was testing out her new Sprig 12 by R.E.I. backpack. This pack features: chest strap, webbing hipbelt which is retractable, one large main compartment, two side pockets and one zipcord on the front. Plus, the back is lined with “egg crate” foam for sweaty backs. The feature that V most enjoys is the chest clip due to the whistle placed in the buckles. As a parent, I was so excited to find a pack made for little hikers under 8 years old. This pack fits V’s frame very well without being too big, yet, there is still room for V to grow.

V taking her new Sprig 12 out for a urban hike.

While out on our walkabout I would frequently ask V how her pack was feeling. Each time she would exclaim how much she loved her new bag. It made me so proud to see her carrying her own snacks, drink and friends without having to struggle. If you happen to be in the search of a great pack for a child under 8 years old, I would suggest Sprig 12 by R.E.I.

Since the weather was so fantastic this week the VCR Household made it a point to get out on a trail. R & I decided to take V to Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserves. Sibley Volcanic Preserves is located off Skyline Blvd. in the Oakland hills. The most unique feature of this park are the labyrinths made from rocks native to the park. The VCR household has found 4 out of 5 labyrinths, the most popular being the largest. This labyrinth can be found off Round Top Loop Trail, at point of interest #4 on the self guided tour. This is our personal favorite due to the fact that you can access it reasonably by dirt trail. There is also a pond towards the northern end of the labyrinth. The pond is a favorite place for little fingers to find frogs, newts and  salamanders.  This is also a great area to rest, snack or lunch in the park. On this trip we chose to use the flat area on the left as you hike up towards the Round Top Loop Trail. This particular day our lunch was to the sound of busy bees retrieving pollen from the lupine and lavender in bloom.  After our light lunch we decided to reward V for being well-behaved, by finding a geocache.  There happened to be a geocache to find no more than 500 feet from where we sat.  After hunting for “Volcanic Labyrinths” we spotted our find where rabbits would hide. This geocache happened to be the oldest and largest find for our family. “Volcanic Labyrinths” was placed in 2001 with over 250 fellow geocache players successfully finding this geocache.

The following day we decided to introduce R’s dad Phi to Geocaching. We celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day at Sibley’s neighboring East Bay Regional Park, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve. The VCR household loves this park for the amount of shade offered by a dense forest of bay trees and canon live oak. Within the park you will find a moderate 1.7 mile loop which takes about two hours to finish with little feet in tow. On the loop you can follow a self guided tour of 17 points of interests. Those 17 points will educate adults and little people about the different foliage growing along the trail. As we hiked today’s trail we noticed blossoms that were not there on our last visit. R and I have decided to continue to visit Huckleberry year round to see how the park changes with the seasons.

We noticed this trip that the Douglas iris was coming in along with poison-oak. While Phi and R were in search for “Grammie’s Day Out” I took the time to show V a sprig of Poison oak. We played a very quick game of “I spy with my little eye” poison-oak edition.

Poison-oak is a common deciduous shrub, although it grows in a vine,  throughout mountains and valleys of California, generally below 5,000 feet elevation. How do you identify poison-oak? First, look for three leaflets sharing one node. The leaflets need to have a projection giving off a wavy look like that of an oak tree. The leaves appears to have a glossy texture on the top with a velvet texture on the bottom. Leaves can be 6 up to inches in length with varying shades depending on the season. In Spring you will see the leaves are bright shiny green. In Summer the leaves will take on a pinkish or greenish-yellow color. In Fall the leaves turn a stunning shade of red and yellow. In Winter the leaves turn brown while continuing to fall off. Poison-oak is flower and berry-bearing in the Spring. The flowers are yellowish, petite and clustered while the berries are greenish-white.

 Got all that?

When our household makes it home from a hike surrounded by poison-oak we strip down and shower. Luckily, our family has not had to address a case of toxicodendron poisoning. If you happen to notice irritation on the car ride home remember not to scratch the irritation, strip down at home, and shower with oil-free soaps in cool water. There are also some over-the-counter medicines you can apply such as Zanfel or Cortaid.

V & R, with the geocache “Volcanic Labyrinth”

I digressed from our geocaching adventure with the importance of keeping away from poison oak. R and Phi did end up finding the very well hidden geocache although it was a bit off from where the GPS was pointing them. This cache was interesting as it had only been found by 9 players since it was placed a year ago. V left a trinket behind to take a marble from the container. We continued the rest of the hike with Phi, stopping at most of the points of interest. The point of interest that is my favorite is #6, the Manzanita barren. From this flat top you are able to see all the different types of foliage that grows in such a small part of California’s east bay area.  There is also a bench here which makes for a wonderful sun-filled snack/rest stop. The rest of our hike was pleasant with just a few markers left on the self-guided tour. As we sauntered back to the car I was happy to hear V reiterating how to spy poison oak, Phi’s excitement to geocache with us again in the future.  This was a great soon-to-be Spring hiking weekend in two beautiful parks found right in our backyard.





This is V.
She is 4 years old going on 20.
V is the inspiration for this blog.
She has a raw passion for being on the trail.
With out her, I would not have rediscovered my own passion for hiking.

In the next couple days, I will be tidying up this blog space with a full introduction to our family. Along with favorite place to hike near our home in the San Francisco bay area.