“I’ve always found the phrase ‘alone in nature’ to be a humorous oxymoron, an utter impossibility. When the garden is empty of people, I still consider it a social place where I spend time with jays, ravens, dark-eyed juncos, hawks, turkeys, dragonflies, and butterflies, not to mention the oaks, the redwoods, the buckeyes, and the roses themselves.”
Driving Lyft in different parts of California meant always being within close proximity to a new nature excursion. Whether it was a hike above a palm tree studded oasis in Palm Springs or a swim through a shimmering river in Sacramento with trains sounding in the distance, there was never a shortage of outdoor terrain to explore. Like Jenny O’Dell described in the passage above, I too felt connected to these natural surroundings—wherein cows grazed peacefully, turkeys walked in tightly-knit groups, and rock formations resembled a cross between The Lion King‘s Pride Rock and a gargantuan version of ET’s jutting finger.
Read about some of my favorite spots (and consider incorporating them into your next trip!) below.
*Huckleberry Regional Preserve (Oakland Hills, CA)
The trees here are fun, bending slightly backwards the way people do in action movies after the enemy has just fired a bunch of shots (and they’re trying to evade the bullets). Green moss covers them, creating a jungly feel in their shrouding of the trunks and branches. The path alternates from wide-open and expansive to narrow and cozily enclosed, with the tops of trees coming together and forming a canopy.
Single-file hiking paths have always appealed to me; I like how they bring the focus to one step at a time. Undistracted by sights of what’s to come, I stay present—and less overwhelmed by the enormity of the larger challenge, I’m also less inclined to give up (different from bigger, wider paths where I’m more prone to distraction). Lastly I love how running up and down them feels like riding a foot roller coaster!
Because many of the paths are narrow: take care to avoid head-on collisions with hikers approaching from the opposite direction. Once when barreling forward I almost collided with a man carrying a paper cup of coffee and his daughter in a baby backpack (both of us walked sideways to allow for each of our bodies to squeeze past). That said, this hike might be best reserved for after COVID times!
~17 miles from San Francisco. Parking is free, and there is also free street parking in the chance of spillover at popular times like sunny weekend days.
*South Fork American River (Coloma, Placer County, CA)
As you stay in one place while paddling against the stream, you find you’re getting a good workout—evidenced by the hammering of your heart against your chest, even though you’re not sweating or overheated. The 100 degree heat against your skin counteracts the icy chill the water might have otherwise wrapped you in.
Stop paddling and lean forward. The water holds you up, keeps you standing. The current prevents you from falling. Stones coat the ground beneath your feet, all different proportions and textures—some full-on inner tube sized rocks, others pebbles no bigger than a pinky nail. All gather to form this heterogenous pile of tan, brown, and white solidity.
Gaze ahead at the steel bridge connecting Coloma’s main street (peppered with Gold Rush era relics) to the roads winding through the parched hills that overlook it. One car crawls across, his driving careful and gingerly, while another waits its turn on the opposite side.
~132 miles from San Francisco. Street parking available on Mt. Murphys Road, then walk a few minutes down Levee Trail to get to the river beach.
*Blue Rock Springs Park Trail (Vallejo, Bay Area, CA)
The trail starts off in a pleasant family area, which includes a playground with wood-chips, a small wooden bridge over a creek, and a sign notifying you of the presence of peacocks.
Walking up the narrow dusty path, which coils up the hill and cuts through patches of tall grass that flow out and up from the soil like long green hair, feels like ascending a dragon’s tail. Grass and weeds loom above your head, not only making for a more adventurous hike but also putting human hikers in their rightful place (by reminding us that we don’t dominate the landscape). Occasional clusters of purple and orange flowers smatter the green.
You watch as a gecko darts from one side of the path to the other. Minutes later a squirrel does the same, kicking dirt that glints in the sunlight as it flies through the air.
Gaze up at the tan-colored rock jutting out from the top of the hill, which looks like several things depending on the lens through which you choose to see it: Pride Rock from The Lion King; ET’s finger pointing towards “home”; the stocky body of a small but beefily compact French bull-dog, paired with the head of a Stegosaurus.
Once at the top, different pieces of scenery light up your line of vision. To the right, past orange-red thatched roofs, the roller coasters of Six Flags clatter up and down coiling tracks colored yellow and teal and orange. To the left, little men resembling pepper flakes play golf next to a pond that contrasts stunningly with the green grass of the golf course, looking more like the smooth indented portion of a worry stone than an actual body of water.
Cars shoot down a sleekly serpentine black road that divides these two sights, while small people-specks move across it—walking, jogging, biking, standing still, it’s hard to say from so far above where it all looks the same.
~36 miles from San Francisco. Parking for the day costs three dollars.
*Bull Valley Staging Area (Port Costa, Contra Costa County, Bay Area, CA)
Hike above the blue water of the Benicia Strait and a view of the Carquinez Bridge, next to peaceful views of rolling green hills that, beheld from far back, look like giant horse’s butts dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day. The black coats of the grazing baby cows contrast exquisitely with them.
~30 miles from San Francisco. Free parking.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 with more California nature spots! Follow us on IG @lyft_tales