Mt. Helen
Mt. Wanda NN

Wed, Nov 13, 2013
Mt. Helen
Mt. Wanda
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX


Finding a quiet place to spend the night in one's vehicle is not always so easy to do in an urban setting. I was in Martinez near the SR4/I680 interchange on my way home to San Jose, stopping to visit a small park that was once part of John Muir's estate when he lived here and operated an orchard ranch with his father-in-law. Around 11pm I had found a dirt lot near a busy intersection that serves as a trailhead, and after semi-carefully checking for signs indicating no overnight parking (and not finding any), had settled in for the rest of the night. I was awaken by the familiar flashing lights of a patrol car that pulled in sometime after midnight, the officer knocking on a window to rouse me out of my sleeping bag. I expected him to tell me I wasn't allowed to stay here, perhaps because I had missed the key sign indicating the illegality of doing so, but no, it was perfectly legal. But legal and usual are two different things and his job, in part at least, is to sniff out the unusual and detect bad things. As he explained it, the lot is more an informal ride-sharing lot than a trailhead parking. It is sometimes used for illegal activity - drugs and sex appear to be the key concerns - and he was checking to make sure none of this was going on. I think I detected some disappointment that all he got for his trouble was an old man sleeping in his van. Clearly he could have discerned this by looking in the window and simply leaving me without knocking, but I suspect rousing me in the middle of the night was the not-so-subtle hint for me not to make a habit of it on his beat. Sigh.

In the morning the lot began to collect cars from folks sharing rides on their way to work. This had me up by 7a because sleep is kinda hard with cars driving in, parking, doors slamming, and other sounds of bustle in the working world. I ate breakfast and then went off to explore the park. Oddly, the site is managed by the NPS, something usually reserved for the incredibly beautiful or importantly historic. This place seemed to fit neither category, but I suspect that because John Muir was such an important figure in the creation of our National Parks, the Park Service felt it fitting to manage his old home and ranch. The majority of the orchard ranch has long been subdivided and developed into the surrounding community, but this park, maybe a square mile in area, was part of the ranch that was never planted with orchards. Muir used to take his daughters Helen and Wanda on walks here to take in the natural scenery away from the bustle of city life. Two rounded humps at the top were named after the daughters and still appear as official names in the BGN database. There is nothing physical about them deserving the name "Mt.", but such is the whim of naming stuff on your own property.

The trails in the park are mostly old ranch roads nicely maintained by the NPS. There is a Nature Trail on the shadier north side near the summit and perhaps a total of three or four miles of trail all told. I spent an hour hiking up and back to the two summits in the early morning sunshine where one can get a view of the surrounding city and Suisun Bay to the north. Mt. Diablo rises up behind some other hills in the foreground to the east. To the south is Briones Regional Park, comprised of rolling grassy hills and oak woodlands, much like where I stood. The two summits are not well marked, so be sure to use a map to mark their location if finding the summit is important. Otherwise, a nice stroll through the park on a lovely fall morning will do just as well...

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