On the morning of Sunday, October 27th the East Bay Barefoot Hikers met for a barefoot hike along the Chaparral Loop and Manhattan Canyon trails.
Ten people took part including myself, my son Gareth (12), Fred, Peter, Teresa, Phoebe, Denise, Hap, Dina, and Darren
This 3,700 acre park features 3 townsites from a Coal-mining era that lasted from the 1840's to the turn of the century. It also has a sand mine that operated from the 1920s to 1949. The Rose Hill Cemetery was a Protestant burial ground with many of the graves of the Welsh mining families that came to work here. The preserve has 34 miles of trails traversing areas of grassland, chaparral, stream vegetation and exotic plantings. Some of the various mine openings can be examined and partially entered.
We met at the trailhead parking lot at around 10am. We were pleased to have two first-timers along on this hike, Teresa and Dina. Dina is a high-school student who had seen our flyer pinned up at another one of our hiking venues. Teresa is a friend of Phoebes.
Teresa looked a little a little doubtful now that she was faced with the prospect of actually going though with the hike. The first two hundred yards of the hike is along a somewhat gravelly, metalled road. I decided to waive the "begin barefoot" rule until we reached the trail proper. She seemed satisfied with this. A few minutes later, we were able to leave the road and she was stuffing her shoes into her daypack.
The first sensation of the day was to be the large mounds of black "tailings" left over from the coal mining days. They look like they might be tough on the feet, but they actually aren't. They feel like a mixture of powder and fine grit. The black dust gets up between your toes and gives one a really "grubby" look almost right away. The area has some interesting geology. On the flat top of the hill made of this stuff, we found and vein of dark yellow dirt. Some of us rubbed our feet on that for a rather interesting two-tone effect.
Just after passing over a short stretch of gravel, we reached the entrance of the sand mine. It's carefully barred up, but you can look inside and see the pipes, lighting and an old clipboard on the wall, with a long passageway disappearing off into the darkness.
The way onwards, involved climbing up a steep gully, the floor of which is composed of soft, sculpted sandstone. It's the sort of ground where you really feel your feet and toes conforming to the cool, convex and slighty gritty surfaces.
There followed a short side trip to explore a small underground powder magazine. It's a sort of man-made cave. I told people about my visit many years ago to the Troglodyte dwellings in Tunisia which are built in the same way ... "You want a bigger bedroom, son ? ... there's the pick".
We climbed on up the hill, enjoying a wooded landscape studded with improbable-looking rock outcroppings. We paused to drink water and take photographs. Several people took a side trip to clamber up a small steep hill composed mostly of more of this soft sandstone. I was happy to see Dina (one of the beginners) climbing so comfortably in her bare feet.
The trail climbed for a while longer and then leveled with views of golden grassy hills on our left and the wooded canyons on our right. We found another vein of deeply colored dirt and added red to the mix. At the trail junction to Manhattan canyon, Teresa took a short-cut back (time constraint) and thanked us for the experience before marching off (still barefoot). The trail from there on was shady and followed the canyons gentle slope. A short, sharp climb brought us to a high, wide trail crossing the top of the canyon. It was very sandy and soft and we broke for lunch about a half mile further on. Eating is always a social occasion and we lingered for quite a while enjoying the "top of canyon" views. Gareth and Darren used hiking sticks to play baseball with some of the soft, light sandstone pieces.
We headed back to the trailhead along similar surfaces. We had to be careful of star-thistles in one section. This very popular hike finished early (about 1pm). We plan to return in the near future.
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