ewhightower

Searching for Sibley

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 7:12 am

My nephew came with my fiancee and I yesterday in search of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. In my mind, it was in Berkeley somewhere above the Lawrence Hall of Science. I don’t trust my GPS to get me to the right spot these days, so I thought I should ignore it and ask my nephew, a Berkeley High (keyword: high) alumnus. He said he knew how to get there. So we went to Berkeley, took a right on Claremont and climbed the tiny, winding, steep streets in the fiancee’s 2010 Honda Civic until the nephew deemed it appropriate to turn left. This initial left turning was at the intersection of Claremont Avenue, Fish Ranch Road and Grizzly Peak Blvd.

Locals will know that we were wrong. Chuckle at our expense as you read further: it seemed to me that we were headed in the right direction. However, at the moment when the nephew said to turn right and we’d be there, I couldn’t help but notice that we were driving into Tilden. Not Sibley.

My first clue came from the sign that said STEAM TRAINS, before we even reached the official entrance. There is only one park with Steam Trains in the East Bay Hills: Tilden. We drove toward the golf course, ended up back on Grizzly Peak Blvd., and I realized that we were indeed in the wrong region. “Take Grizzly Peak,” I said. “Back toward that crossroads where we left Claremont. I know where to go, now.”

The fiancee did just that. I followed our progress on the GPS. It told me, eventually, that we were inside Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. I watched us drive over the double red lines of the Caldecott Tunnel. Right around the time that we reached the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Skyline, I became frustrated and re-set the GPS to take us to Sibley. Following its instructions, we then took a circuitous, labyrinthine course through the residential streets below Grizzly Peak and Skyline, eventually ending up back on Grizzly Peak, heading back to the first crossroads of Claremont, Fish Ranch and Grizzly Peak. This time, still following the GPS instructions, we turned right on Fish Ranch Road. It took us down the back side of the ridge to the Orinda side of the Caldecott Tunnel, over the tunnel to … a creepy back entrance to the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. We followed the road a little further past a parking area on what I have since learned was the eastern approach of the original tunnel, known variously as the Kennedy Tunnel, the Inter-County Tunnel or the Broadway Tunnel. Before seeing that road and getting curious about it, I had been told — and believed — that this tunnel was originally part of the pre-BART Key System.

The Key System, for those of you who don’t know, was a system of electronic trains and streetcars that served the East Bay and, to the best of my knowledge, connected with various other local electric streetcars and trains in the greater Bay Area (I’ll update this as I learn more). The lower deck of the Bay Bridge originally had two railroad tracks on the south side for this specific purpose. (My mother used to take those trains to San Francisco with her friend Barbara. They smoked cigarettes and were tres tres chic.) GM pulled some major shenanigans in the late 1950’s, basically buying the Key System through a front company, replacing its board of directors with GM cronies, and cutting back service until they’d replaced everything with buses. For a more detailed history, check here. Guess who fought this transition? Every city council in the East Bay. Guess who won?

If you’re the kind of person who likes moving pictures (and if I have whetted your appetite with all these words of electric trains), you might enjoy this short film.

So: the old tunnel is said to have been open to pedestrians after the Caldecott Tunnel opened in 1937, but closed in 1947 for safety reasons. This is fascinating to me, because I know that my older brothers were exploring the old tunnel as recently as the early 1970’s. Apparently the western end has been completely sealed — we drove right past it in our GPS-led wild goose chase — but the exact condition of the eastern end of the old tunnel remains, as of this writing, a mystery.

Attentive readers will ask the question, “How is it a mystery if you were on the eastern side of the ridge, on Old Tunnel Road?” Thank you for being attentive, attentive readers. The answer is simple: the approach to the tunnel is fenced off, as that area is controlled by the East Bay Regional Parks District. And since the original purpose of our quest was to explore the Sibley Volcanic Preserve, we parked near that back entrance and started walking up a very well-paved road.

Friends, sometimes I have trouble breathing. This was the case a ways up that road, so we turned back to the car and I talked the nephew and the fiancee into indulging me: “You have to pee, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, let’s find the entrance I was actually looking for.” By the time we reached the Skyline Boulevard entrance to Sibley, my lungs were doing just fine. Here’s the kicker: when I reverted to the GPS for directions at the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Skyline an hour or so before, we were literally a couple hundred yards from the Skyline entrance to Sibley. Annoyed as I was at having chased the wild goose via my fuckmook GPS, I now know many things of which I was previously unaware. Thanks, Garmin! You suck, but it’s educational.

I felt amazing after our sunset hike, but the entire reason that I wanted to go to Sibley was to do some research for Notes From The Future. There is a specific entry that uses Sibley, but I had never actually been there before yesterday. I had used the Interwebs to get a view of Mt. Diablo from the Berkeley / Oakland hills, and thanks to our friends at Google Maps, I was able to get a general idea of how things would look.

Specificity is preferable to generalization. And, while we made quite a nice bit of progress into Sibley, we were forced to return to the car when the sun had set. I was unable to reach the spot I sought, thanks in large part to the educational tour led by our GPS. So I will be heading back there this week, with plenty of water for Maxwell and a camera for tasty goodness. Any local geologists care to join me? I’m just a little bit obsessed with geology and volcanology and will make you talk for hours.

[Update: Apparently there is a separate tunnel, known as the Train Tunnel, somewhere on or near Pinehurst Road. I have yet to see or even approach either end of that tunnel, but will make a point of exploring a bit next time I’m in the vicinity. Perhaps that was the tunnel my brothers explored. From what I understand, it is just as thoroughly sealed as the Kennedy Tunnel.]

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