Tag Archives: WPA

Sausal Creek ~ Canyon Trail

This is a good story.  It’s got it all.  Adventure. Discovery. Danger. Sex (well… kissing). And more.  It’s the story of my Sausal Creek exploration last week.  I had hoped to share it last Friday but couldn’t pull it off and still do it justice. I hope you’ll join me now.

First, some background…

I went to my neighbors’ BBQ about a week ago and was speaking with some of their friends about the local area (Upper Dimond/Lincoln Heights)… I had recently discovered a small creek trail and gorgeous greenbelt just a few blocks from our houses on an old closed road that was shut down over a decade ago, thanks to a landslide during the El Niño winter of ’98.

Having lived in the neighborhood for years, and also being outdoorsy hiker-types, one of them asked, “Well do you know Dimond Park?” Sure I know Dimond Park.  I’ve played tennis there, picnicked there, checked out the pool, etc.  “Yeah, but did you know there’s a creek that runs into that park and there are trails you can follow all the way up the canyon that eventually connect to Joaquin Miller?”  No, I did not know this.

So a few days later I set out on my mission of discovery…

I followed my normal route to Dimond Park at the end of the workday – it’s about a 10 minute walk from my house.  But first, I popped down Fruitvale a couple blocks to get a delicious ice cream cone from Flavor Brigade (I was going to need sustenance afterall)…

All kinds of folks were out – playing tennis, walking dogs, strolling with strollers… kids were playing basketball, toddlers were climbing and swinging in the playground, and adult swim lessons were going on in the pool. It was a beautiful slice of community.

I kept walking and spotted the mural featured last week, and then seemed to come upon the end of the park. At least it was what I had always thought of as the end of the park…

Just past a patch of grass beyond the playground area there seemed to be an opening into the woods. As I walked towards it, casting a quick glance over my shoulder, I felt like the parents in the playground were watching me… “now where does she think she’s going?”

I stepped into the forest, and immediately felt like I was in a different world… all woodsy and canopied and dark. From the bustle of an urban park on Fruitvale Avenue to the quiet realm of bugs and newts and trolls, I seriously felt like I had walked through the closet door in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

dimond park, sausal creek trail

The creek ran along the left side of the trail, water gently trickling over exposed rocks. Old growth oak trees loomed overhead and yellow and brown laurel bay leaves dotted the ground and swirled in the water. Birds chirped and flies buzzed, and there literally was not another human in sight. I followed the path a short while before crossing a small road where the signs (above left and below) were stationed. The trail ducked back into the growth on the other side, and so I followed…

sausal creek hiking, dimond park recreation area

The creek, though low which is normal for summer, was lovely… delicate bright openings in the canopy reflected in slow moving waves. Blackberries and wildflowers grew trailside. Someone had scrawled a message in chalk along the wooden fence marking the edge of the trail… “Where is the LOVE?”
chalk art, graffiti art in nature
Followed by this…
graffiti art in sausal creek

I walked for what seemed ages… I came across no one, except for a young couple making out while standing under a tree about 50 feet to the right of the trail. They didn’t seem to register my presence at all, as their lips were fully locked.

As I continued along the trail taking photos and noting plants and critters, I wondered how far I would have to go in order to get up to Joaquin Miller. I was in an adventurous mood and was willing to press on without knowing for sure how long it might take… it was still early and our July days still long, and I hoped to make a large loop out of my hike, rather than having to backtrack the same way I had come. I pressed on…

Sausal Creek, sausal creek hiking trails

I noticed that parts of the creek had been built up with concrete, stamped “W.P.A. 1939”, yet another project resulting from heavy government stimulus funding post-Depression…
WPA 1939, works progress administration

I know now that the W.P.A. did a number of projects in the canyon including the stabilization and channelization of the creek thanks to A Short History of Dimond Canyon and Sausal Creek by Eleanor Dunn, provided by the Friends of Sausal Creek, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the creek and promoting watershed awareness.

I continued following the trail and came across the only other individuals I would see for the rest of my journey… two goth teenagers running down the trail towards me, chasing each other and laughing.  I asked if they knew where I’d end up if I kept going, and they said they weren’t really sure.  Where did I want to go? I told them I was hoping to make it up to Mountain Blvd or Lincoln or somewhere near the Mormon Temple.  They stammered a bit and said I’d better go back the way I came.  It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, and I decided to dismiss their youthful inexperience…

A few minutes after passing them I spotted something enormous overhead… some kind of landmark.  A bridge.  A big bridge. I was trying to get my bearings and figure out where the hell I was when I spotted the colorful markings of graffiti taggers on the concrete and steel above.  I decided to get a closer look…

Leimert Bridge, Sausal Creek, leimert bridge graffiti

It reminded me of my trip to Amsterdam with friends when we were out bicycling in nature and came across the most amazing batch of graffiti under a highway bridge (Under the Bridge in Amsterdam). I climbed up the steep and dry gravelly banks of the canyon to see if there was anything equally interesting here… Most of it was simple letter writing, which was somewhat disappointing, especially since I was scaling steep and treacherous terrain…

graffiti writing, leimert bridge

But there was one piece that looked amazing. You can see it small in the images above, and a little bigger below as I climbed up under the bridge, rather impressed with my climbing skills, and seriously impressed with this painter’s skills…
Graffiti Face under bridge
I managed to make it safely down from what I know now was the Leimert Bridge.

The bridge, conceived by developer Walter H. Leimert, was completed in 1926 and was the largest single span bridge of its time. “From its intersection at Park Boulevard , the bridge spanned over Sausal Creek and the 325 ft Dimond Canyon. After completion it brought commuter streetcars (the Park Boulevard #18 Car Line spur off the Key System) as well as automobiles into the heart of the new business center and the residential development [at Oakmore Highlands].” (The Leimert Bridge: Historical Background)  Cool, eh?

So back on the trail again, it seemed that hours had passed… the sky was growing dimmer, and I had no idea (despite my bridge landmark) how far I had come or how far I had to go.  I pressed on, but wasn’t entirely convinced of the shall-we-say “smartness” of my plan… the words of the goth kids were echoing in my brain… “you should probably go back.

I kept going but the trail seemed to be getting smaller and the thicket of growth surrounding it, denser. I was torn.  It seemed like it must be shorter to go forward, rather than all the way back that I had come. But I just wasn’t sure. I came to a point where trees had fallen across the trail and I had to crawl under them to keep going.  My sense of doom was growing.  And as I walked on I realized that either the trail had ended, or it was following the creek bed, which was not exactly my idea of casual hiking.

sausal creek hiking, sausal creek culvert

I decided that instead of pushing on through the creek, I would find a shortcut! Yes, intrepid traveler that I am, I would find a way to bypass the whole retracing-my-footsteps-back by cutting up the side of the canyon to the road above. I could see the open sky off to the right and even a house up above a concrete culvert designed to divert water into the creek (see photo, right). I would simply climb up it and pop on out to the road where it would be obvious which way was the shortest way home. Right? Ahem.

Thank god there was no one else hiking that trail that evening because I would have died from sheer embarrassment. I hiked up the culvert to the right and got stuck. I jumped across it (thinking WTF am I doing?!) and tried climbing up the left and got stuck. I was being a complete idiot. I couldn’t help but think that if I lost my footing and crashed my head on the concrete below, despite being free from embarrassment, no one would be there to save me. And my iPhone would be of no use thanks to AT&T’s wonderful reception, despite the exorbitant fees I pay them every month. No… I would die a slow and painful death, immobilized by concussion and broken bones, as possums gnawed my face off in the dark of night.

I carefully made my way down, incredibly grateful for flat ground, and decided to follow the goth kids advice. The kids are our future afterall…

The crazy thing is, I had entered some kind of time warp from Inception where each minute of time in the real world was transformed into 20 minutes of real time in this “canyon world,” because what seemed to have taken me hours on the way in, took about 6 minutes on the way out! I’m not kidding. All of a sudden, in about two blinks of an eye, I was back before the signs at the road crossing, just a short stretch from the playground. Phew, I thought.

A minute later I popped back out of the woods and walked across the grass, pass the playground & towards the pool, and I swear those parents were saying “Now, where did she come from???

Woodminster Theater: Cathedral in the Woods

Ok kids… it’s time for our summer musical kickoff!!!

Uh oh, I can hear a few of you groaning already…

I’ll admit it… I have a few friends (not to be named) who’d rather have splinters driven under their fingernails than be forced to sit through hours of song & dance.  But I feel bad for them.  I really do, because for me (someone who saw Grease at least 14 times and, decades later, still knows every song word for word), this is pure summertime bliss…

Imagine  yourself perched above the fray of the city, nestled into a 1940’s amphitheater tucked into the redwood forest of Oakland’s hills, the sun is sinking low, and you see the first twinkling star pierce the indigo sky as the actors take the stage… this is the scene every summer at the Woodminster Amphitheater (dubbed Oakland’s Cathedral in the Woods) located in Joaquin Miller Park.

joaquin miller park, art deco outdoor amphitheater, woodminster theater

The Woodminster Summer Musicals

“The Woodminster Amphitheater is a classic open-air performance facility that seats 1500. In its early years, it was host to a variety of performances, pageants, and events. Then, in the summer of 1967, a fledgling Oakland arts organization called Producers Associates began to produce Broadway musicals at the Woodminster Amphitheater. A beloved Oakland tradition was born. ”

For  those who haven’t been to this hidden spot, the venue is quite similar to the Greek Theater in Berkeley, though smaller, more comfortable (real seats rather than concrete), and quite a bit more picturesque.

Woodminster Cascades, woodminster amphitheater and cascades, joaquin miller

Built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project (I’ve been covering a lot of these lately, eh?), the art-deco amphitheater and its associated “Cascades” (a stunning series of waterfalls, fountains, and reflecting pools built into the hillside) were dedicated as a memorial to California’s writers.  In fact, “the trees and other vegetation along the Cascades… are designated Writers Memorial Grove, and individual plantings are dedicated to California’s great authors, including Joaquin Miller as well as Bret Harte, Jack London, Mark Twain, Dashiell Hammet, Ina Coolbrith, and many others.”

Woodminster Amphitheater, Joaquin Miller outdoor amphitheater

Joaquin Miller Park, Woodminster Theater, woodminster amphitheater

A portion of the park was originally land owned by “Poet of the Sierras” Joaquin Miller, who “settled on 70 acres of grassy hillside, which he purchased parcel-by-parcel in the hills above the ‘City of the Oaks.'” He built numerous structures and monuments on the land (still present today) and coordinated the planting of over 75,000 trees (many also still standing today, though we now know these to be non-native and not necessarily ideal… eucalyptus, monterey pine, etc) all in an effort to create an inspirational artists’ retreat.

After his death, the Oakland Parks Department purchased the land from his estate, later adding adjacent redwood groves.  “Today, Joaquin Miller Park covers more than 500 acres. Many of its trails lead to adjacent Roberts and Redwood Regional Parks, which are part of the East Bay Regional Park System. ”  But I digress.

joaquin miller park, cascades, east bay outdoor amphitheater

east bay parks, oakland parks

Back to our summer musicals…

The opening show of the season is going to be fantastic… John Waters’ classic Hairspray.  Waters has been touring the PR circuit recently (NPR, Colbert Report, etc.) touting his new book Role Models so he’s been on my mind a bit, and I’m excited to see this revival.

woodminster amphitheater

woodminster amphitheater

Tonight is the final dress rehearsal at 8pm… get your sneak preview on for just $10. Otherwise show officially opens this Friday, July 9th and will run through July 18th. Adult tickets run from $25 to $40 (depending on seats), but group discounts are available, and all kids 16 and younger are admitted FREE (with paying adult).  Ticket info here.  Don’t forget to dress warmly… bring layers and blankets; it can be quite chilly at night.

See you at the show!

More info…
Woodminster Theater on Yelp

Burns and Byron
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.

~ Joaquin Miller