On Saturday, September 16th the East Bay Barefoot Hikers met for a barefoot hike along the Stage Road and Castle Rock trails in Diablo Foothills Regional Park.
The 978 acres of Diablo Foothills are bounded by two dramatic East Bay landforms: The Castle Rocks of Mt. Diablo and the undulating "camelback" ridges that form Shell Ridge. These ridges link the park to Walnut Creek open space and Mt. Diablo State Park. which together represent the largest (about 23,000 actes) open space area of the East Bay.
Four people took part including myself, my son Gareth (12), and two first-timers ... Paul from Walnut Creek and Eva, a student at U.C. Berkeley.
Gareth and I picked up Eva from the Concord BART station to give her a ride over to the trail-head. We got there at 8:55 and sat a while chatting. Paul arrived shortly afterwards and introduced himself. When a group of barefoot people get of of a car ... there's no question that it's the Barefoot Hikers !!.
We set off at about 9:15. Getting to the main trail involved walking through a complex of large group picnic areas, ball-field and swimming pool. They were gearing up for some large event and many picnic tables were being set set up with red and white chequered table clothes. It turns out that this is Paul's favorite hiking area and he even knows the park supervisor. As we were picking our way through a short, somewhat gravelly section, a truck appeared behind us and a voice called out "Are you going fire-walking, Paul ?!". This was Stan (the park supervisor). He pulled alongside us and stared dumbfounded at our feet. Yes, we're going barefoot hiking I told him. I explained that we do this on a regular basis, we have a club, it's very enjoyable and invited him to come and join us. I handed him a leaflet, which he looked at and said "You know, I think I've heard of this".
We carried on out of the picnic-complex area and reached the trailhead-proper. At that point it becomes a trail of mostly soft dust, meandering below huge sandstone outcroppings on the right hand side of a narrow valley (Pine Canyon). On the left, the spectacular Castle Rock Crags thrust skywards against the sharp blue sky. There is a fair amount of shade on this trail compared to other Mount Diablo trails. Gareth and Eva talked about music, while Paul pointed out features on the crags and told anecdotes about places he had seen various kinds of wild-life (including a mountain-lion) in this valley. Paul had been here countless times all through his growing up ... but this was the first time he had done it barefoot. He felt like he was moving through the landscape on a very different level.
The trail crosses the valley stream about seven times. The first three crossings were dry (typical for this time of year) but the upper four had enough water for a good wade and some underwater mud-between-the-toes ... ahhhh !. Another new experience on this trail for Paul. On previous trips he'd been balancing on rocks in order to keep his boots dry.
We turned around at Pine Pond ... a small, disused (but filled) reservoir choked with reeds. In the open spaces in the center, some ducks were scooting around. Several large blue dragonflies hovered by as Paul related an incident were he had come face-to-face with some kind of snake in one of the dark hollows under one of the retaining walls.
We retraced our steps and stopped for lunch at some picnic tables. We saw no other walkers on this hike ... about eight sets of cyclists, two groups of horse-riders and three joggers. It always surprises me how few people take advantage of these stunningly beautiful parklands, when you consider the size of the nearby (SFO Bay Area) population. When you do see people, they seem to be hell-bent on getting through it as quickly as possible. I think it's a broad-based indication of humanities continuing disconnection and divorcement from nature.
We intended to vary the route back, but somehow, deep in conversation, we missed the intended turn. Paul, however, showed us an alternate route avoiding the picnic-area complex (which was now thronging with people who were being shuttled up by bus/trailer from a lower parking lot ... a FULL half-mile away). Funny to think that 99% of them will never see Pine Canyon. The trail Paul chosen meandered along the hillside above the complex. It was getting warm now ... and this trail had the deepest, softest, most continuous earth-dust I've ever had the pleasure of walking in !. I was looking at the expressions of bliss on Paul's and Eva's faces. I think we have two new barefooters-for-life.
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