Back in September 1775, the same year that the American colonies began their war of independence from Great Britain, a Spanish officer named Juan Bautista de Anza led a multiethnic contingent of soldiers, friars and colonists on an overland trek from northern Mexico and present-day Arizona to the mission settlements in California.

After a long and sometimes arduous journey, the group reached Monterey in March 1776. From there, de Anza led a smaller party north to explore what is now San Francisco and the East Bay. They traveled as far as present-day Antioch.

Commemorating their journey more than two centuries later, East Bay Regional Park District naturalists will host a series of free programs April 7 at various points along de Anza's route, highlighting de Anza's experience and that of the Native American cultures he encountered along the way.

First on the schedule is a program from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Contra Loma Regional Park in Antioch. Meet at the park's de Anza information panel just past the park entrance kiosk to see how the Indians used soaproot and made brushes from the plant. The park is located at the end of Frederickson Lane off Golf Course Road. There's a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.


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Ohlone Indian food and folkways will be showcased in another program from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park in Hayward, led by naturalist Beverly Ortiz and three generations of Ohlone/Bay Miwoks: Ruth Orta, Ramona Garibay, Sabrina Garibay and Rita Rodriguez. They will show visitors basketry and other aspects of Ohlone culture. Meet at the de Anza information panel by the parking lot at May Road and Mission Boulevard in Hayward.

And from 1 to 5 p.m. April 7, naturalist Michael Charnofsky will lead a car caravan from Mission San Jose to Oakland, retracing the de Anza trail and stopping at four historically important points along the way.

Registration is required for Michael's program. To register, call 888-327-2757, option 2, and refer to program number 1552. For information on Michael's program, call 510-544-3183. For more expedition information, visit www.ebparks.org/activities/naturalists/anzahistoric.

POTPOURRI: Whatever your interest, there's likely a program to please you scheduled in the near future at a regional park in southern Alameda County.

Dog walkers will enjoy "Canine Capers," a dog-friendly hike from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park near Pleasanton, led by naturalist Kristina Parkison (course number 1500). It's for ages 8 and older -- people, that is -- and registration is required.

"Living With The Earth" is a series of free programs for families and individuals ages 7 and older who want to reconnect with nature and learn survival skills. Naturalist Cat Taylor leads the activities.

Wood ducks will be the stars of a "Living" program from 9 to 11 a.m. April 6 at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore (course 1620).

On Saturday, Cat will lead a springtime hike to the Little Yosemite area of Sunol from 8 to 10:45 a.m. It's a 2.5-mile hike to view wildflowers and talk about the Calaveras dam project. Steep in places, the hike is designed for ages 7 and older (course 1597).

Then on Easter Sunday, Cat will lead a strenuous but slow-paced hike to the top of Sunol's Flag Hill, from 8 to 11:45 a.m. (course 1634). For ages 9 and older.

All these south county programs are free, except for parking fees, and registration is required. For registration and information, dial 888-327-2757, option 2, and mention the program course number, name and date. Or you can register online at www.ebparksonline.org.

Contact Ned MacKay at nedmackay@comcast.net.