Saturday, January 11, 2014

Excitement at the Vista Peak Loop Trail of Garin Regional Park

Date: December 10, 14, 2013
Place: Garin Regional Park, Hayward, California
Coordinates: 37.62966, -122.02803
Length: nearly 3 miles
Difficulty: moderate

Vista Loop Trail. Map downloaded from the EBRPD site.
For its relative proximity to my home, I certainly don't visit Garin Regional Park often enough. Last December I did, though. My last hike of 2013.
I arrived at the old barn and headed south toward the Vista Peak Loop. The hills were at my right-hand side and on a small tree at the base of the hill I saw a lovely couple of kestrels.
American Kestrel
East of Dry Creek, the trail goes near the picnic area and crosses the creek, which wasn't at all dry following the rains of the week before. It took hopping on a few rocks but I managed to cross without wetting my feet. (This part of the trail isn't labeled on the park's map but is there).
Dry Creek, flowing
After passing the Arroyo Flats campground I entered the cattle gate and found myself facing the beautiful landscape of the east bay hills. It was a gorgeous day: sunny and warm.
For a quarter mile the trail continues along Dry Creek, on its north-west side. Then it splits from the Old Homestead Trail to the left and starts going up.
A view of the Old Homestead Trail that continues along Dry Creek
Another quarter mile uphill the loop begins (and ends.) I took the right turn and continued uphill. A little higher up the hill I got a clear view of a green pond that on the map is labeled The Newt Pond.
I didn't go down to see if there are any newts in the pond. That was a good thing, because what I did see there was much more exciting than any newt!
I saw a brown spot approaching the pond so I pulled out my binoculars to see what that was. My heart missed a bit when I recognized it:
Bobcat approaching the pond
Seeing wild cats in nature is very rare. These animals are largely nocturnal and always people-shy. I have seen them a few times before but always for a fleeting glimpse. This time I was very fortunate, because this individual was in no particular hurry. It was far enough not to have been concerned about me.
Looking around
I was also fortunate to have had my camera with me. I did regret, however, not having taken with me Papa Quail's big zoom lens. The images, therefore, aren't best of quality. But I do have pictures!
I kept switching between my binoculars and camera. The cat took its time drinking and looking about and I was transfixed, not wanting to miss any second of viewing this sleek, graceful animal.
Anyone around?
Eventually it went away. I fought the urge to call Papa Quail and all my friends to brag, took a deep breath and went on.
Into the bushes
I admit it was a bit challenging to get exited over other wildlife after the bobcat encounter. Nevertheless, I tried very hard to photograph the swifts that flew over my head in dazzling speed. All my swift images look like smudges in the sky but 4 days later Papa Quail managed to get a decent one in that exactly same spot.
White-throated Swift
The entire trail is completely in the open, under the sun. Except for these few yards under a lush grove of live oaks.
Live oaks shading the trail
I scanned the oak canopies very carefully but there was no mountain lion waiting for me there. I was done with cat surprises for that day :-)
So I went onward, up and between the hills.
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Papa Quail, 12/14/13
Vista Peak is a perfect name for the highest point of this trail. Standing up there (and also for a good part of the trail leading to it) one can see far and wide. Assuming the air is clear, of course. I aught to return to that place after it rains because on both days I was there the visibility was not great. Mission Peak appeared very hazy through the dirty air.
Mission Peak
At Vista Peak, a little off the trail, there is a small grove of low-hanging live oaks where I stopped for a short rest. When I returned there with the group 4 days later, the children had much fun playing under (and sometime on) these trees.
Coastal Live Oak
It is all downhill from that point :-)
The oaks on Vista Peak
The pretty views continue on the way down too. Like this moon over the hill:

Or a slanted tree, neatly trimmed by grazers:

And pretty birds on shrubs:

Yellow-rumped Warbler, 12/14/13, photo by Papa Quail

Western Bluebird

Black Phoebe, 12/14/13, photo by Papa Quail

I completed the loop and went down the trail toward the cattle gate. There was no trace of the bobcat, but my way was blocked by a pregnant cow who stared at me with hostility. Having faced a hostile cow in Sunol a few years ago, I didn't take any chances and made a large detour around the cow while constantly talking to her calmly and reassuringly.

I hiked this trail by myself on 12/10 and 4 days later I lead my chikas' 4H group there. Needless to say, the bobcat wan't waiting for us. Nonetheless, everyone had a great time, chidden and adults alike.


  1. I remember you posted the bobcat in facebook. this is SUCH a treat, I wish I could see one in the wild myself. this is really so wonderful!!!

    1. I was so hoping you'll see one when you were over here. It is a rare treat, though. You'll just have to visit me again :-)

  2. The bobcat encounter is amazing.

    I;m also amazed to see how many posts I missed...

    1. It sure was surprising, and amazing! Bobcats don't like to make public appearances, I feel very privileged :-)

  3. Hello - I am a fellow East Bay hiker out of the Castro Valley area. I came across your post of Garin Regional Park. I tried out the Chabot to Garin R.P. trail yesterday. I stopped at the border of the park. I will make the full journey one day soon. Awesome shots of the Bobcat. I came across one a month or so ago when hiking Anthony Chabot. Jeff

    1. Ph, nice to see you here! The Bay Area is such a wonderful place to be a hiker! I've been hiking here for years and I'm no closer to exhaust the possibilities. Thank you :-)