A stroll up Indian Gulch, or Trestle Glen

Once upon a time there was a thriving native encampment near the head of San Antonio Slough, tucked under bountiful oak trees in a valley with a permanent stream. Then the padres of New Spain put the natives behind walls to earn their bread with the sweat of their brows, and a generation later the Mexican rancheros converted them to secular laborers. The valley, which took on the name Indian Gulch after the Indians were gone, has remained significant. The property line between the lands of the Peralta sons, Antonio on the south and Vicente on the north, ran directly up its streambed.

On the map, the valley with its tributaries looks like a long feather, arcing across the bottom of this map from Lake Merritt (the former slough) into the hills of the Piedmont bedrock block.

Today the valley is an Eden of the suburban sort, well worth a walk for its natural and human sights. These sights do not include the stream, now called Trestle Glen Creek and mostly culverted or hidden in back yards.

The lowermost part of the valley, going up Trestle Glen Road, has a very gentle grade, taking well over a mile to climb 100 feet. The sides of the valley rise a good hundred feet on either side.

The stream here is at grade, meaning it has cut down about as far as it can. The ground it has eroded is the sediment of the Fan, not bedrock. See it here on the geologic map.

This stretch of the valley ends just past Norwood Street as we enter bedrock country.

The grade steepens slightly, and the valley walls close in a little. The power line towers in the back of this view sit on bedrock.

Two very unobtrusive footpaths lead from here to either side of the valley where you can encounter the bedrock. The one on the south side is particularly discreet; you might have better luck coming down from Park Boulevard via Elbert Street to see this exposure.

It’s your standard Franciscan metasandstone, the same stuff that was quarried in Piedmont before it incorporated in 1907. There’s also a nice exposure on Trestle Glen Road a little farther up.

By now the valley has gotten distinctly narrower and steeper. Right at the city line at tiny Valant Place, Trestle Glen Road leaves the streambed and climbs up to Park Boulevard. Seen from Valant Place, the valley is a real ravine now.

You can’t walk up the valley any farther; it’s all on private land. But from the Piedmont streets that flank the valley — Indian Road, La Salle Avenue, St. James Drive — you can catch glimpses of the living stream.

The Uptown to Montclair ramble I posted a few weeks ago goes through higher parts of Indian Gulch. But the longest stretch of the unspoiled stream, the western branch, is totally secluded in private hands. That branch is where the rancho boundary went. You can spot it from the 33 bus, on Hampton Street, if you know where to look.

So is this a glen, or is it a gulch? Both terms refer to small, steep-sided valleys with running streams in them. However, a glen is typically wooded — the word comes from the Gaelic — and implies a green, secluded place. A gulch not only has steep sides, but also a steep slope with a rushing mountain stream, and the word is widely used in the Southwest. A gulch is forbidding, but, especially in California, it’s well suited for gold panning. This valley offers both wealth and seclusion today, so I call it a toss-up.

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3 Responses to “A stroll up Indian Gulch, or Trestle Glen”

  1. Kimberly Moses Says:

    So sad to think that the history of the native people who lived here is invisible beyond the name Indian Gulch. I’m curious about their name and language. How long had they lived here before the Spanish enslaved them? Was their stay seasonal? I read a book named ‘Bad Indian’ last year. It gave me a much clearer idea of what the native people in Carmel lost.

  2. George Says:

    The indigenous peoples of this region belong to the same major group as those discussed in “Bad Indians” – they are the Ohlone peoples. Among the Ohlones, there were eight different language groups. Those in Carmel belonged to the Rumsen language group; those in the East Bay belonged to the Chochenyo group. You can glance at the language groups here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohlone_languages

    The Ohlones lived here in very stable communities for somewhere around 10,000 years. Each tribelet had a stable and relatively small territory—residences were built to last for a year or so, and the tribelet would move to a couple of different locations depending on the seasons and conditions.

    A decent introduction to the Ohlone people in general is Malcom Margolin’s “The Ohlone Way”: https://www.amazon.com/Ohlone-Way-Indian-Life-Francisco-Monterey/dp/0930588010/ref=sr_1_1

    There are still Ohlone people living here in their native land, and there are a lot of great ways to help them recover important pieces of what was taken from them.

    There is activism and education surrounding the West Berkeley Shellmound all throughout this fall – see: ipocshellmoundwalk.homestead.com

    You can also choose to contribute to a local “urban indigenous women-led land trust” that is working to acquire and preserve land (to buy back what was stolen from them). That is called the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust: http://sogoreate-landtrust.com

    Lastly, if you are interested in indigenous history, there is a fantastic book that is very much worth a read—”An Indigenous People’s History of the United States: https://www.amazon.com/Indigenous-Peoples-History-ReVisioning-American/dp/0807057835/ref=sr_1_1

  3. Bruce Tutcher Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    A few years back I walked along Trestle Glen looking for bits of the creek showing blue.

    Though the area up from Trader Joe’s is all private homes, one was going reconstruction and the owners were not there, nor were the workers one day. I stumbled and fell down the driveway and nearly tripped into the creek. They really should have been more careful ;-)

    Not very exciting pics, but precious nevertheless.

    Cheers, Bruce

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