My daughter decided to join me for some easy hikes in Contra Costa County one
Saturday, most of them inside Mt. Diablo State Park. It had been a few months
since she last joined me so I was thrilled to have her along. I imagine not too
many 17yr-olds would be so accomodating. It was expected to be warm today, so
we got an early start in an effort to beat the heat. Leaving San Jose around
6:30a, we got to the start of the first hike an hour later. It would be almost
noon before we were done, by which time the day had warmed considerably and we
were glad to call it day.
The Dougherty Hills are located east of Interstate 680, between the cities of
San Ramon to the north and Dublin to the south, in the Mt. Diablo foothills.
Most of this collection of hills, really a single 4mi-long ridgeline, have been
set aside as open space as the surrounding valleys continue to be developed.
While one can make a much longer hike of this by starting at the southern end
at the corner of Stagecoach Rd and Amador Valley Blvd, we chose to use the
easier approach from a TH near the end of Bridle Ct. A paved
access trail goes between two homes in this upscale neighborhood, open
to both pedestrians and bikes (and probably equestrians). The pavement soon ends
where it meets a gravel road rising to a couple of water tanks on the ridge as
well as the Dougherty Hills Trail that follows the crest of the ridge for most
of its length. A cattle gate lets you know the hills are still used for
grazing purposes and other signs let you know a gas pipeline has been
buried underneath the main trail along the ridge. The hills are almost
entirely grass-covered with almost no trees or shrubs, leaving views open
across the southern part of the county. We reached the grassy knoll
marking the highpoint in less than half
an hour and soon thereafter returned via the same route.
Fossil Ridge is located in Mt. Diablo State Park just past the pay booth on
South Gate Rd. An old road
serves as a trail that follows along the north side
of the ridge and appears to see little traffic. Unfortunately the trail does
not go over the highpoint, nor does any semblance of a use trail. Jackie took
a look at the tall grass I was about to plow through and declared she wasn't
going join me for the 2-3 extra minutes to climb to the top. I blamed her not
in the least - if I wasn't so obsessed myself I would have said the same thing.
I knew I would pay for this with another hundred stickers to be removed from
my shoes and socks immediately afterwards. I wallowed through the grass up the
south side of the highpoint, took a few photos
from the top and then started
down the northeast side of the ridge where I ran across Jackie
on her way back.
She patiently waited while I took off my shoes and socks to pluck the stickers
from them, resigned to the fact that her father was sort of an odd bird. We
spent just about 30min on this one.
One of the most popular parts of the state park is Rock City,
adjacent to where
we had parked for Fossil Ridge. Rock City has a collection of sandstone rocks
that are a hit with kids of all ages. Sadly, they have been loved so much over
the years that there are countless names and dates carved all over them. The
most impressive of the lot is Sentinel Rock which can be reached by a
variety of trails that permiate the oak-studded hills here. Almost none of
these trails are marked, but they all seem to be interconnected.
Stairs have been cut into the sandstone in places on the main trail
which we used to walk the ten minutes out to Sentinel Rock. Steel railing
protects the ascent and summit to keep
the unnerved from falling to their doom (it would probably be rated class 3
without the steps and handrails). Afterwards, we visited a few other Rock City
features including Big Rock and the Wind Caves. Jackie had
fun climbing the rocks and into a few of the caves, really
just a big kid at heart, a trait she
obviously get from her father. Of all the places we visited we today,
we both thought this was easily the most fun.
Moses Rock Ridge
Futher up the road towards Mt. Diablo is Moses Rock Ridge. We parked at the
Diablo Valley Overlook and hiked the Juniper Trail up to the ridge.
The highpoint is found off the spur Moses Rock Ridge Trail,
a short distance to the northwest. The oak and pine woodlands open up to a
grassy ridgeline providing open views from the highpoint. And best of
all, no stickers to contend with on this one.
One might think that this point has a colorful past, but the name comes not
from a kidnapping for money scheme, but for a Col. Leander Ransom who first
established the Mt. Diablo survey point back in 1851. Ransom Point
is a small collection of rocks off the north side of Mt. Diablo without an
established trail reaching it. We parked at a small lot just below the summit
and took the Fire Interpretive Trail out to a view spot on
the north side of
Mt. Diablo, several hundred feet above Ransom Point. A use trail runs down the
ridge and the two of us immediately went over the low concrete wall and
started down in front of a few perplexed visitors. The trail splits at
places and we tried to take the most prominent fork. I missed a turn at one
point and we ended sidehilling steeply down on the west side of the ridge to
which Jackie soon cried uncle. She wasn't liking this any more, so she stayed on
a small rock outcrop to await my return in about 15min. I continued down,
eventually finding the use trail again, but it grew thin, terribly overgrown
and there was some crawling through brush and dancing around poison oak - I
later told Jackie she'd chosen well not to continue. Still, the old trail kept
it from being a bushwhack nightmare and I eventually landed myself on the
Ransom Point rocks. I took a few pictures looking north, east
to North Peak, and south back up to Mt. Diablo before beating a
retreat. I picked up Jackie
along the way and we made it back to the view platform on the Fire
Interpretive Trail. We continued southeast on the trail around the east side
of Mt. Diablo, scrambling to the top of what I thought at first was
Devils Pulpit. Our perch
was every bit as good as the named one, but Devils Pulpit was
still almost a quarter mile further down along the ridge. Jackie was ready to
be done by this time so I didn't press us to continue down. We returned back up
a trail along the SE Ridge of Mt. Diablo to the summit where we milled about
the visitor center
briefly with the other tourists before returning to our car.
It was noon before we were done and she'd been a good sport - time to find
ourselves some lunch...