If you're making plans for the Memorial Day weekend at this late date, the bad news is that all campgrounds in the East Bay Regional Parks have been booked for months. This is probably true of state and national parks as well.
However, there's good news, too. So much is going on in the regional parks during the holiday and beyond, that you can find lots of fun a short distance from home, no matter where you live in Alameda or Contra Costa County.
Let's take a lap around the park district:
At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, the Hazel-Atlas silica sand mine will offer tours on Saturday and Sunday by advance reservation. There will be first-come, first-served tours of the Hazel-Atlas silica sand mine starting at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Sign up at the Greathouse Visitor Center at least an hour before tour time.
Mine tours are restricted to ages 7 and older, due to safety regulations. Tickets cost $5 each, and can be purchased at Greathouse, which is also underground. Greathouse is open to all ages, free of charge. It contains artifacts and displays relating to the region's fascinating mining history.
Black Diamond Mines is at the end of Somersville Road, four miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
OAKLEY: Naturalist Mike Moran will lead another of his birding
Everyone is welcome; no experience is necessary. It's free of charge, too, but registration is required. To register, call 888-327-2757. Select option 2 and refer to program 29445.
Mike is also teaming with naturalist Kevin Damstra to lead two beginning kayak trips on the waters of Big Break, both on Saturday, June 9, designed for ages 8 and older.
The first excursion is from 8:30 to 11 a.m., the second from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kayaks and instruction are provided. Registration is required, and there's a fee for either trip of $20 per adult, $15 per child ($22 and $17 respectively for nondistrict residents).
For information and registration, call 888-327-2757. For the early trip, refer to program 29462. For the later trip, it's 29463.
sUNOL: Sunol Regional Wilderness in southern Alameda County will host a Memorial Day open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday. Drop by the Old Green Barn Visitor Center to plan a hike, identify a flower or see the critters-in-residence.
Special activities will include a tarantula talk (not a talking tarantula, though) at 11 a.m., meet a snake at 1 p.m. and old-fashioned ice cream at 2 p.m. I recommend the ice cream.
The park is at the end of Geary Road off Calaveras Road, five miles south of I-680. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For information, call 510-544-3249.
FREMONT: Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont plans an admission-free day and open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 28 with a full schedule of activities. Visitors can help with the morning chores from 11 a.m. to noon, taste farm-baked cookies from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., play old-time games from noon to 1 p.m., take a guided history walk from 2 to 3 p.m., and feed the animals at 3 p.m. Train rides, tours of the Patterson House and blacksmithing demonstrations also are on the program.
Ardenwood is a restored 19th Century farming estate. It's located at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard, just north of Highway 84 in Fremont. For information, call 510-544-2797.
ALAMEDA: There's also a Memorial Day open house scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda, with bay ecology-themed fun for the entire family.
Beach exploration will be from 11 a.m. to noon, a pond walk from 2 to 3 p.m., and fish feeding from 3 to 3:30 p.m., all free of charge.
Crab Cove is located at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue in Alameda. For information, call 510-544-3187.
BERKELEY: Do you sense a trend here? You're right! The Little Farm at Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley plans its Memorial Day open house from noon to 3:30 p.m. You and your kids can hold a chicken, walk a goat, plant a seed, and generally visit all the domestic animals at the Farm, all with naturalist James Wilson as host.
It's free of charge. The farm is at the north end of Central Park Drive in Tilden, right next to the Environmental Education Center. For information, call 510-544-2233.
AREA SWIMMING: East Bay Regional Park District plunges into swim season on Memorial Day weekend. There are two regional park beaches where you can swim in San Francisco Bay (no lifeguards are on duty). In addition, there are eight lakes and three outdoor pools around the district with lifeguard service, when weather, attendance and staff availability permit. At the guarded beaches, please swim within your ability, and abide by any and all instructions from the lifeguards.
Detailed information on locations, fees and swim hours is available at the park district website, www.ebparks.org. But one of the best bets is Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area in Walnut Creek. Located at the end of Castle Rock Road past Northgate High School, the park has a swimming pool, picnic grounds, a ball field, two basketball courts and trails up scenic Pine Canyon past the Castle Rocks. It's not usually crowded, but arrive early just in case.
In general, all the regional parks will be open on Memorial Day weekend. On Memorial Day itself, all picnic tables will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. If all are taken, you can picnic on lawn areas. Portable barbecues are OK on the lawns, but not in the tall, dry grass. Please dispose of coals only in the concrete receptacles, not in the regular trash cans. Dogs must be leashed on lawns and in picnic grounds.
And finally, please be careful with fire. It's getting dry out there. Have a happy Memorial Day weekend.
E-mail Ned MacKay at firstname.lastname@example.org.