The Bay Area Ridge Trail is an ambitious goal. As envisioned, it would circumnavigate San Francisco Bay with a continuous trail — for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians — of 550 miles. Currently, 390 miles have been acquired and made available to the public.
2021’s Ridge to Bridges Because of precautions and restrictions due to due to COVID-19, the annual Ridge to Bridges this year is self-guided. Participants choose from “curated Ridge Trail options in 4 locations around the Bay Area” and complete their outings on their own schedule, at their own pace. Read More
Here in the S.F. Bay Area, the days have been so mild with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. However, when it starts getting dark at 5 PM, and colder, we realize we have to work a bit harder to fit hikes into our shorter daytime hours.
This reminds me that I have much to appreciate about where I live, why I try to support environmental causes, and how grateful I am for the thousands of people here who work to protect our environment.
In particular, I am reminded of the importance of the regional parklands around me, which…
provide hundreds of miles of trails that I can hike.
bring ever-changing displays of flowers, trees, and other plants.
have quiet places to clear my head and exercise my body.
inspire my writing and photography with its scenic beauty.
support wildlife—from ladybugs covering entire branches; herons stalking their prey; hawks soaring overhead; flickers hammering cavities in tree branches to build their nests.
offer the opportunity to gain perspective on our place on this earth.
allow free, or inexpensive, visits to all who want to come.
And, people are instrumental in what happens…
by envisioning the setting aside of parcels of land to create parklands.
when they work to acquire properties that would otherwise turn into developments.
by volunteering to help with fund-raising, to interface with the public at the kiosks and gift shops, and by organizing work parties for weed control.
when they become park employees that build fences and picnic tables, clear out invasive plants, repair storm damaged trails and roadways, and educate park visitors.
by voting in tax measures to support and improve our parks
Galen Rowell, photographer, climber, author (1940-2002) in Bay Area Wild: A Celebration of the Natural Heritage of the San Francisco Bay Area wrote, “The San Francisco Bay Area holds the most extensive system of wild greenbelts in the nation, with more than 200 parks and other protected areas lying within forty miles of the city.”
On Tuesday, Ralph and I headed out for Sunol Regional Wilderness in Alameda County —eagerly looking forward to climbing to two peaks in the park — Flag Hill and Vista Grande. These would be #41 and #42 for us on the ‘Nifty Ninety’ Peaks challenge that we have been pursuing since the Sierra Club Bay Chapter issued their challenge back in December 2017.
Sunol Regional is a popular destination on the weekends, but rather quiet on weekdays. In fact, we saw no one else on our trails during our 7+-mile hike.
The S.F. Bay Area weather has been quite varied the last couple of weeks. Sunol can easily climb into the 90s and even 100s during hot spells, but on this particular day, it stayed comfortable. It was 70s during most of our hike with a cooling breeze while we were on the peaks. As we came back down from the hills, the temperature rose, but by that time we were done with our explorations.
Our route: The climb to Flag Hill (1,360 ft) is described as steep and strenuous. The Flag Hill Trail (which starts just behind the Visitor Center on a small wooden bridge) climbs about 900 feet in 1.26 miles. We reached the marker, then walked to the top of the hill right behind it — and in the process picked up dozens of stickers in our socks!
The rewards were several however — the workout itself, of course, but also views of the park and Calaveras Reservoir. The occasional giant Oak trees provided welcome shade as we switch-backed through grassland on a narrow, dirt trail (with a few rocky sections).
From Flag Hill, we followed a more moderate route going north and then east onto Flag Hill Road for .78 miles where we reached an intersection and went straight onto the Vista Grande Road (another wide dirt road). I enjoyed looking over to the Northeast and seeing the challenging Maguire Peaks that we had hiked a couple of months back.
Finding the peak of Vista Grande, at 1840′, was a bit more difficult than finding Flag Hill had been. There wasn’t a signpost or survey marker to show the point, but our GPS located the spot we wanted—the highpoint in the middle of a grassy mound. The hazards: Our two peaks located, we doubled back on Vista Grande, and stopped to eat lunch with views and a bench at the intersection with Eagle View.
As we proceeded down onto Eagle View, we were startled to find a sign that urged care. The “No Bicycles or Equestrians” wasn’t unusual to see, but the “Steep and Hazardous Terrain, Use Extreme Caution in This Area” was a bit ominous. As we rounded a curve and saw what lay ahead, I considered turning back, but I didn’t want to climb back up the hill and figured that if we were careful, we would be ok.
As I led the way, I had two concerns. The first was that the hillside was very steep and a fall would lead to a tumble a couple hundred feet down the slope. Secondly, we were in prime rattlesnake and tick territory. As I proceeded, I used my hiking poles to keep me steady and I scanned the grassy slopes to spot any snakes. I kept telling myself that if I were to see a one, I should not jump or lose my balance. Bee nest ahead: I was very happy, and relieved, when we finished that section of the trail and descended to cross a small creek. We continued our descent on the Rocks Trail and Indian Joe trail. We’d planned to continue on Indian Joe, but a hand-lettered sign, “BEE NEST AHEAD” convinced us to turn onto the wide Hayfield Road the rest of the way down the hill where we crossed on the wooden bridge again and returned to our car.
This was a wonderful and exhilarating hike with enough challenge to leave me feeling I had worked to complete these peaks! Grateful for a break in the hot spell; generally this hike is best done in the spring or fall. (You’ll enjoy more wildflowers in the spring.)
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.
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 miles—including 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.
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.
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.