We all know that the East Bay hills are ripe for an earthquake, but volcanoes? Don’t look for lava in the headlines anytime soon, but there is a place in Oakland where an ancient volcano has laid bare a tale of fiery eruptions, long-extinct ecosystems, and the massive movements of tectonic plates. Many people go to Sibley Regional Preserve for the views of Mount Diablo or the quirky labyrinths at the bottoms of old quarry pits. But look closely at the trailside rocks, and you’ll see lava flows and a volcano turned on its side!
The East Bay is home to 44 creeks that drain into San Francisco Bay—from small but well-protected Wildcat Creek in the north to the 700 square miles of Alameda Creek’s watershed to the south.
The hills above Oakland once held some of the largest redwoods ever seen, one estimated at 31 feet in diameter. Ten million years ago, such trees towered over much of North America. Nothing in this long history prepared them for the coming of men, armed with axes and saws, who felled all of Oakland’s redwoods in just 15 years. But even second- and third-growth redwood forests hold their charms, not to mention the subtle suggestions of the forests they can once again become. And you don’t have to go too far from downtown Oakland to find them.
It’s almost impossible to imagine the California landscape without oak woodlands. But this most familiar and prolific habitat faces a number of serious threats, including unchecked suburban development and Sudden Oak Death. Fortunately, many parks in the Bay Area, including those of the East Bay Regional Parks, offer welcome refuge for a variety of oak woodlands.
Lakes aren’t a natural feature of the coast range landscape. But since cities need places to store drinking water, we drowned some valleys for reservoirs. While precious creek habitat was lost, these man-made lakes now draw bald eagles and other wildlife, as well as thousands of human visitors for swimming, fishing, boating and other summer pastimes.
Though it’s the most extensive natural habitat in California, chaparral’s brambly ways discourage human visitors. Still, plenty of wildlife finds sanctuary in its tangled, brushy universe, as do the dormant seeds of wildflowers as they await the inevitable next fire, forceful sculptor of this complex landscape.
At the intersection of coastal tides and inland rivers there’s a place that’s rich in history and full of life. The Delta has been greatly altered by human hands, but at Big Break Regional Shoreline, its watery charms are accessible to those willing to venture off the beaten path.