Angel Island with Teenagers

Quality time with our granddaughters

We are on a bit of a roll with the Nifty Ninety, so we decided to take our granddaughters, Madison and Lucie, to Angel Island State Park. Once there, Ralph and I hoped we could convince the girls to climb to the peak of the island’s Mount Livermore, but we weren’t too sure how that plan would go over with a couple of teenagers!

Angel Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is sometimes called the Ellis Island of the West because it served as an immigration station at one time. The island is a very short ferry ride from the small, upscale community of Tiburon. The island offers hiking and biking trails (as well as a tram for non-hikers) and has a small restaurant and other visitor amenities. The views from the ferry and the island are top-notch — the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Marin County, and the East Bay among them.

Once we arrived and mentioned climbing the mountain as a possibility, the girls took off uphill requiring us to do the fastest pace we’ve ever done on that particular hike. It was obvious they were not just humoring us — they were chatting and taking photos the entire way. As climbs go, the trail is not terribly difficult — but its elevation of 790 feet is equivalent to climbing 79 flights of stairs and by day’s end we had covered more than seven miles.

Coming down from the peak was much faster. Rather than winding its way around the hills, it is pretty much a straight route down to the Perimeter Trail (the five-mile trail that circles the island).

A bit of a problem!
We did have a bit of problem on this return, however. We missed a turnoff that would have taken us on a much shorter route back to the ferry dock. We were further back from the ferry dock than we wanted to be and had to pick up our speed so that we would get back to before the ferry made its final return to Tiburon.

Camping is allowed on Angel Island, but not only did we not have reservations, we also didn’t have our sleeping bags! Luckily, the girls still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm, so we made the 2.4 miles in record time with no complaints and no lagging behind.

What a gorgeous way to spend time with teenagers!

Date hiked: Feb. 24, 2018 (peak #21 for us)


Olompali’s Lovely Mount Burdell

Rainbow from top of Mt. Burdell, Marin County


Doing the Nifty Ninety is even more fun now that we are “enlisting” some family and friends to go with us! Instead of having to choose between going out for a meal with people or going for a hike, we can have our cake and eat it too. 

This time we went across the bay to Novato to climb Mount  Burdell in Olompali State Park. Our friend, Patricia, who has become as serious about this challenge as we are, went with us. That meant that her lively dog, Boo, went with us too. It wasn’t just the view from the peak that was great — this hike was lovely the entire way — with green rolling hills and wildflowers starting to  open.

Bay Area hiker gives these directions to the trailhead we used. “From US 101 in Novato (Marin County) exit #463 (San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue). Head west on San Marin Drive for about 2.5 miles. Turn north (right) unto San Andreas Drive, and continue about 0.5 mile.”  

Rainbow from atop Mt. Burdell, Marin County

We were quite pleased when we reached the peak because our timing allowed us to see rain in the distance, and a gorgeous rainbow, but we weren’t getting wet. Of course it was just luck that we didn’t get caught in a deluge, but we liked taking credit for staying warm and dry.

Walking back to our car, I loved watching Boo run full tilt through the open fields. Dogs are allowed in the park (with leash required on some trails), but on this weekday there weren’t many around. We decided that finding a brew pub  after our hikes should be part of the outings, so we stopped at Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant in Novato for some liquid refreshment.

Hiked: Feb. 22, 2018 (peak #20 for us)  

Black Diamond Mines and Rose Hill

A lot of history at Black Diamond

 Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, which is near Antioch, can be a lovely place to hike. This early February day was just about perfect for another Nifty Ninety Peak hike — sunny, perhaps a bit on the cool and breezy side. Be forewarned it you consider doing it  mid-day in mid-July — it can easily reach into the triple-digits. 

Our goal was to climb Rose Hill (not to be confused with a much more strenuous hike on the list to attain Rose Peak near Livermore). Rose Hill is only 1,506 feet in elevation, but we found that not all of the informal trails (vs. signed, official trails) to the top were created equal. We started out on a lesser trail and I had to turn back because of a couple of steep spots. I should have known better anyway, because “social trails” cause erosion.

This was the climb.

We found a better trail a bit farther on; it had only a couple of slippery spots. I had my hiking poles, and was glad to have them because of the loose grit and occasional pebbles on the trail, but younger hikers probably wouldn’t need them. 

The views were far-reaching
We could see over to Mt. Diablo and north toward the delta. The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. And the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot.  The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. We saw that the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot —which reminded me that I like supporting Save Mount Diablo because they really work hard to “protect, preserve, and restore” land that surrounds Mt. Diablo. That often means that further development is reduced, slowed, or stopped.

From the 1850s to early 1900s, the chief activity in “Black Diamond” was coal mining  and there were several towns here — of which Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville may be the best known. The miners, their families, and others lived here. When production costs and competition became too great and Americans found other sources of energy, the mining towns because deserted.

I’ve heard that some of the houses were moved downhill into what is now the city of Antioch and elsewhere; the wooden slats of the houses were numbered so that the houses could be more easily reconstructed in the new sites. Sand mining began in the 1920s and continued into the 1940s. Underground mine tours of the sand mines at Black Diamond are available with reservations. 

Today’s visitor/hiker is likely to see grazing sheep or cows that are used by the EBParks to help reduce fire hazard and increase plant diversity and help native plants.

On our hike, we saw sheep as well as ground squirrels and raptors. On other visits, we have seen coyotes, and mountain lions are known to frequent the area. 

The old Rose Hill Cemetery still exists. It’s only a short walk uphill from the parking area and is well worth a visit. Especially poignant are the grave markers of “children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters.” (info from the park’s brochure).

The park is 8,349 acres. Our hike was approximately 9,500 steps and 3.5 milesincluding the false start up the hill. Most of the park’s trails are rated moderate to strenuous, but worth hiking to see not only views, wildflowers, seasonal streams, but also various mining features such as Jim’s Place and tunnels.

There is also a visitor center, a group and backpack camping area, picnic tables, and exotic vegetation to enjoy.

We hiked this on Feb. 12, 2018 and it was our 17th Nifty Ninety peak. 

Briones is a favorite with us!

Peak Walk in Briones

I really didn’t expect that we would be this far along on the list of 90 peaks when we started out because I thought we would have to fit the challenge in with all of our other activities—however, doing as many peaks as we can make time for has become somewhat of an obsession. Today we did #16 on the Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge with our friend Patricia Schaffarczyk, who has become as crazed as we are.

The four of us, including her dog, Boo, returned to Briones Regional Park to climb Briones Peak. It’s elevation is 1,483 feet with good views of Mt. Diablo and the green hills surrounding the park. There are several trail heads into the park; we took our usual one, off Bear Creek Road near Orinda. 

We are continuing to have sunny, clear skies with temperatures in the mid-70s. Fine for hiking, but a bit eerie when we think about the fact that what we really need is some rain.

My fitbit read 14,000 steps and 5.25 miles at the end. I’d rate it as a easy-moderate hike with a level start and then a gentle climb to the peak. From the parking lot (which has a water faucet and porta potties), we took the Old Briones Road to Briones Crest Trail, and looped back on the Valley Trail to join Old Briones Road again.

Safety tips around cows

The cows, that keep the weeds and other vegetation somewhat mowed, were out, but not in great number. For those that have concerns about cows on the trail (and I sometimes am one who does), keep these park district guidelines in mind: “Safety Tips for Hiking Near Grazing Animals.” To summarize, the cows are usually docile, but it is wise to avoid getting between the mother and her calf and just keep moving slowly along the trail while talking normally and allowing the cows to get off the trail. It is also important to have control of your dogs and not allow them to harass the cows.

Likewise, though I have yet to see anyone on horseback in Briones who seemed fazed by hikers, we should remember some simple guidelines when encountering equestrians on trails: they have the right-of-way, and it is advisable to ask if their horse is ok with passing those on foot (especially with hiking poles). If necessary, hikers should step off the trail — and on the downhill side.

mushrooms/fungi at base of rotted tree

Briones, even without climbing the peaks, remains one of our favorite regional parks. If you hike there during the week, you pretty much have the trails to yourself.

Carry water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and as the season progresses, go early in the day before the temperatures start to climb.     

Hiked Feb. 8, 2018. Peak 16 for us.

John Muir’s legacy in Martinez

Hike to Mt. Wanda in Muir’s historic site

Miners Lettuce is edible

Our  hike led to not only a peak, but also some confusion — which I’ll go into in a bit. 

As hikes go, the one to Mt. Wanda, part of the John Muir Historic Site off Highway 4 in Martinez, CA, was short and moderate. It was less than three miles round trip, and involved a steady climb to the highest peak.

While enjoying our current trend of sunny skies and 75-degree weather, we ascended through oak, buckeye, and bay trees on a wide, fire trail. Because we had some rain a couple of weeks back in late January, the hillsides are still a luscious emerald green.

Buckeye Tree
How the grasses will look in a couple of months

It’s wildflower season

Miner’s Lettuce (indeed helpful for California miners back in Gold Rush days) was abundant trailside. Wildflowers — lupine, poppies, fiddleneck — should be out in a month of so.

About a half mile along, we reached open land where views of the surrounding area opened up. The parcel is only 325 acres, so the industrial areas and housing developments aren’t far away, but looking farther to the east or north one can enjoy seeing Mt. Diablo, the Benicia–Martinez Bridge, the Carquinez  Strait, the wind turbines along the ridges near Rio Vista, and, faintly, 125 miles away, some remaining snow on the Sierras.  

Most of the signboards were stripped clean of information (probably as a result of vandalism, but maybe a lack of funding to keep them updated), but there were  a few picnic tables and benches along the way. We stopped to check our GPS in order to locate Wanda Peak, which is on the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge.

 The GPS indicated the peak was nearby and so we climbed a small rise and reached the indicated point. There wasn’t any kind of marker or post at the top, but the GPS was happy and Mt. Wanda’s elevation was listed as 640 feet, so we assumed we were in the right place.

Coming back down to the main trail, we stopped at a crossroads, found a bench and sat to eat lunch. Then we turned right for a short distance and found a sign board with a torn page with some information about the Nature Trail. We continued on the dirt path indicated for a very pleasant loop around the hilltop. It descended gradually, eventually dropping down to a couple of wooden foot bridges that would be useful when the creek was full. We rejoined the fire road to continue back to the trailhead and our car. 

Yet, we were still a bit perplexed by the lack of identification or information on Mt. Wanda. Wanda was one of John Muir’s two beloved daughters — how could the NPS not have some sort of monument at the summit? 

Which peak is Mt. Wanda?
We had read a story that John Muir had written about taking “my babies” on a walk one day. He told Wanda, his the elder daughter, that he had named a peak on the property after her. And when the Helen, his younger daughter  protested, he named another peak (very nearby) after her.

Our confusion grew because we had seen a higher peak while on the hike we did. We did some searching and found that it was 660 feet. To compound our confusion, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) showed the peak we had reached was 640 feet and marked it ‘Mount Wanda’. However, the National Park Service sign at the start of the trail showed the nearby peak, which we hadn’t climbed, was 660 feet and had labeled that peak ‘Mount Wanda’. 

Clearly there was some problem with the signage, but with the help of David Sanger, who has climbed this peak and hundreds more, we sorted it all out and now know that we can check Mount Wanda off our list of peaks on the challenge! 

Don’t worry about the confusion. All Trails shows it all very clearly here, so get ready to enjoy a nice hike and views in the park.  Wanda is 643 ft., Helen is 659 ft. Enjoy!

If you decide on a hike in the Mount Wanda site, be aware that there are no restrooms. You can find them across Hwy. 4 at the John Muir House. The John Muir House is a delightful place to visit, so I recommend you take the tour. You can wander around the grounds on your own, but reservations may be necessary to tour the house itself because the site is popular with school groups. 

Bring water and sunscreen; this area can be very hot during the summer. Dogs are allowed, on leash.

Hiked: Feb. 6, 2018. Our 15th Nifty Ninety hike.