Discovering Sunol Regional Wilderness

cows

Last Friday, in a breezeless, 80-degree heat wave, I pulled into a dusty parking lot at Sunol Regional Wilderness. The park, located on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, had looked so idyllic in pictures: a valley floor dusted with a cocoa barn, a domino run of cattle gates, and tiny turtle ponds. It had been high on my wish list for a while. When the wind gusts had died down and the meadows turned an effervescent green, I knew it was the right time to hike it.

And it turned out to be a beautiful hike, with cows grazing in pastures, shady woodlands, and delicate, trickling streams. In that moment though, while I was organizing my gear and scanning the parking lot for the trailhead, I felt what I can only describe as "moving fatigue." Bay Area traffic, urgent drivers, a curious tangle of highways, windy mountains, warm Santa Clara Valley temperatures, even not knowing which ranger stations have the best restrooms. The newness of each thing, happening all at once, was getting to me.

There is no script for how to navigate changes in your life, and so you do what you think is best. In my case, it was doing this hike. So, I told myself a few things:

  • It was okay to leave my tripod in my car because trying to take high-quality photographs while hiking a new trail, on a hot day, just felt like too much.
  • It was okay to feel afraid hiking over seven miles in 80-degree weather in unfamiliar terrain.
  • It was okay to feel embarrassed not knowing which direction I was facing, what mountains were in the distance, and forgetting the name of the trail I was on.
  • It was okay that I was hiking at a slower pace than normal.
  • It was okay to stop a lot and take lots of pictures.
  • It was okay to just be.

I gave myself permission to be content with who I was able to be and what I was able to do in that moment. I was able to hike. I was able to say hi to other hikers. I was strong and capable of climbing steep parts of the trail. I was able to take pictures, even without my tripod. And, four hours later, I finished the 7.5 mile loop I had set out to do.

At its heart, moving is a humbling experience. You're a new kid at school, trying not to trip over yourself, trying awkwardly to make new friends, trying to establish a new routine and trying to make your way in a new reality. The way I'm getting through it is by showing up, allowing my best effort in the moment to be good enough, and finding the good in the things that I love.

Here are some of my favorite moments from Sunol Regional Wilderness:

 A vista from the Canyon View Trail, about a half mile into the hike.

A vista from the Canyon View Trail, about a half mile into the hike.

 A lovely tree.

A lovely tree.

 The sun peaking out to the east.

The sun peaking out to the east.

 Two cows grazing on the hillside below.

Two cows grazing on the hillside below.

 One of several small ponds. 

One of several small ponds. 

 A stone marker at Cerro Este Overlook, elevation 1,720 feet. 

A stone marker at Cerro Este Overlook, elevation 1,720 feet. 

 Looking down from Cerro Este Overlook. 

Looking down from Cerro Este Overlook. 

 Descending the Eagle View Trail into a canyon.

Descending the Eagle View Trail into a canyon.

 Encountering a cow in the middle of the trail. The only thing I could think of doing was the same thing I did for mountain goats: clacking my hiking poles and yelling, "Go, cow!" It worked, and the cow moved. Later, I was telling my friend Bobbi how these cows kept eyeing me, almost aggressively, and she explained that they were likely beef cows, not dairy cows. Dairy cows, apparently, are used to being handled by people, and don't mind so much if you pet them. These guys...nope! 

Encountering a cow in the middle of the trail. The only thing I could think of doing was the same thing I did for mountain goats: clacking my hiking poles and yelling, "Go, cow!" It worked, and the cow moved. Later, I was telling my friend Bobbi how these cows kept eyeing me, almost aggressively, and she explained that they were likely beef cows, not dairy cows. Dairy cows, apparently, are used to being handled by people, and don't mind so much if you pet them. These guys...nope! 

 Climbing out of the canyon, following the Eagle View Trail along the ridge. This view was looking back towards Cave Rocks Road and Cerro Este Overlook. 

Climbing out of the canyon, following the Eagle View Trail along the ridge. This view was looking back towards Cave Rocks Road and Cerro Este Overlook. 

 Approaching Vista Grande Overlook, elevation 1,680 feet, looking down at the barn in the valley. 

Approaching Vista Grande Overlook, elevation 1,680 feet, looking down at the barn in the valley. 

 A view from the other side of Vista Grande Overlook, almost as equally stunning. 

A view from the other side of Vista Grande Overlook, almost as equally stunning. 

 Hiking down into the valley. Believe it not, the barn is now used as a group campsite.

Hiking down into the valley. Believe it not, the barn is now used as a group campsite.

 Just past the barn, enjoying the views from the valley.

Just past the barn, enjoying the views from the valley.

 Turning right onto Indian Joe Creek Trail and descending in the shade. Just before the junction, I passed a couple who tipped me off to dozens of tiny turtles swimming and sunning themselves in High Valley Pond. (Alas, too tired to take a picture. Next time, little turtles!)

Turning right onto Indian Joe Creek Trail and descending in the shade. Just before the junction, I passed a couple who tipped me off to dozens of tiny turtles swimming and sunning themselves in High Valley Pond. (Alas, too tired to take a picture. Next time, little turtles!)

 Indian Joe Creek flowing through the trail.

Indian Joe Creek flowing through the trail.

  Enjoying the greenery before returning to the parking lot.

 Enjoying the greenery before returning to the parking lot.


Hike Info:

Sunol Loop Tour (Moon 101 Great Hikes San Francisco

7.5 miles roundtrip, 1800 feet elevation gain

Sunol Regional Wilderness-East Bay Regional Park District

Trail map (East Bay Regional Parks)