High in the Oakland Hills, with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding cities, is the beautiful 500-acre Joaquin Miller Park. The Park is home to one of the only urban second-growth redwood groves in existence, as well as miles of trails, odd stone and concrete monuments, and a WPA-era art deco construction that includes pools, cascades, and the Woodminster Amphitheater.
500 acres of rolling hills covered in oak trees and native brush are punctuated with small hand built monuments of concrete and rubble stones.
These follies were created by the eclectic poet Joaquin Miller. Born Cincinnatus Heine Miller in Indiana in 1837, Miller later reinvented himself in California.
He was, at various times in his life, an explorer and a miner, a writer and a Pony Express rider, a horse thief and absentee father, a lawyer and a judge. He is best remembered as a poet, styled the “Poet of the Sierras”. He dressed the part of the western ruffian, and travelled and spoke in England as a sort of a walking California oddity.
In 1886 he moved onto the property now known as Joaquin Miller Park, built a home and began constructing weird little monuments on his land.
Miller planted the original 70 acres in Monterey pine, cypress, olive, and, reportedly, the first eucalyptus trees in California. Today’s tree plantings in Joaquin Miller Park, which is owned and operated by Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation, involve many national, state, and civil organizations. They include the Sierra Club, California Writer’s Club, California Conservation Corps, East Bay Conservation Corps, and the 415 Society.
The story is that Miller fell in love with the view at this spot, where Fremont supposedly stood when he named the view “The Golden Gate.” Sadly, trees now obscure that view.
When Joaquin Miller first set foot on the hillside that would one day bear his name, Oakland was nothing more than a quiet suburb of San Francisco. Centuries later, Joaquin Miller Park is a favorite getaway from the concrete jungle of the city below. On the backside of Woodminster Amphitheater are the Woodminster Cascades – a series of stone staircases flanking a meandering man-made waterway that falls 100 feet through a series of reflecting pools. The cascade and theatre were conceived by Juanita Miller, daughter of Joaquin Miller, and were constructed by the Works Progress Administration [WPA] as a memorial to California writers and poets. Along the way, the concrete stairs afford downward vantage points to view the black rocks that make up the waterway’s bed.
Today, the serene steps are more for the joggers, dog walkers and those in deep contemplation than the frontiersmen of Miller’s poems, but the same aura of unbridled nature permeates the place. With its panoramic views, cloistered benches and grassy hillsides, the cascades truly live up to their unofficial title, the “cathedral in the woods.”
At the top of the trail one can take in the high relief sculptures etched into the towering back wall of the amphitheater.
This relief was found far away from the theater, all alone, propped up against a derelict building. Hopefully its weight will discourage theft.
The Browning Monument was created in 1904 by Joaquin Miller to honor his fellow poets, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is built in the shape of a rook chess piece.
Joaquin Miller erected this funeral pyre for his own cremation, however, the city of Oakland dashed those hopes. It’s rumored that a friend of his did indeed scatter his ashes nearby though. RIP J.M.
The Pyramid to Moses was built by Joaquin Miller in 1892 to symbolize his belief in the Ten Commandments. On a clear day it offers up amazing views of Oakland and the entire bay area.
It stands around 10 feet tall.
At its base is the inscription: “To Moses” – The poet explains that the world has been very careless about building monuments to the first law-giver, and that he feels that he owes it to Moses that there should be a pyramid to his honor somewhere else other than Eqypt.