Marsh BM P1K
Oyster Point P300

Mon, Jan 21, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is located in Contra Costa County, southeast of, and connected to Mt. Diablo State Park. I had never heard of it until I was looking at a nearby P1K that lies just outside the park boundary. At the last minute I decided to make an outing to visit it and a few points inside Diablo State Park on Martin Luther King Day. I couldn't talk any of the family into joining me though they all had the day off. I just don't understand how other people could want to do something other than go for a hike on a day off. Crazy.

It took about an hour to drive from San Jose, exiting I-580 at North Livermore Road and taking it to Morgan Territory Road which runs through the park. The staging area is located at the crest of the hills at just over 2,000ft elevation. The park is multi-use, popular with hikers, equestrians, cyclists and cattle. In fact, the only thing the park seems to really be 'preserving' is the extensive ranching on all the lands. That's certainly better than a sprawling suburban development, but if cow poop bothers you, this park is not for you.

I crossed to the west side of the road and started on the Clyma Trail. The west end of the park is dominated by the long Highland Ridge running from the northwest uphill to the southeast where it culminates at Marsh BM, just outside the park. The Clyma Trail heads up the west side of the ridge but stops short of the ridge itself because of the boundary. Views of the surrounding grassy hills are obtained shortly after starting up, stretching east across the Central Valley to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra. The views also stretch north across Suisun Bay and the Sacramento River delta, but these were almost completely washed out by smog and marine haze (as was the Central Valley). I left the trail a few minutes later when it turned to the north at a bend. Cross-country in the area is not hard, but one must watch out for poison oak, hard to see at this time of year when there are no leaves on the branches. I wanted to head more or less directly to Marsh BM, but a ranch home blocked the route, requiring a slight detour to the north around it. At the park boundary they've posted Area Closed signs, ostensibly for "resource protection." This land outside the park is managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, so it is also public lands. I really couldn't understand what resource was being protected because ALL the hillsides have been extensively grazed by cattle. There wasn't anyplace I could walk that wasn't already divoted with cow hooves. It really was a puzzle to me, not just a rationalization for ignoring the sign (I would have hiked up the hill regardless).

It took about ten minutes to climb the hillside behind the signs to the highpoint. I found the benchmark at the highest peaklet in a flat clearing west of the tall relay towers found at the summit area. A paved road leads to the top from along Morgan Territory Road, but I had ruled that out on the drive in because there is at least one home along the road. The approach from inside the park worked out quite nicely. There is a fine view of Mt. Diablo's twin summits to the northwest. Lower on its southeast flanks could be seen the other points I was interested in: Oyster Point, Cave Point, and Windy Point and it was to these I next turned my attention. The first summit had taken little more than half an hour but the next would be more work - the nearest was some 4 air miles away. There is an easier approach to this side of Diablo State Park by driving to the end of Tassajara Rd, but I decided to do the hike from where I was to give me a good tour of the regional preserve.

I headed northwest from the highpoint, following a combination of cow trails along the crest and a dirt road that runs below the crest on the northeast side. Along the crest I spotted a bobcat who appeared to see me at the same time. I paused to get a picture, but it was too hidden from view. Moving closer caused it to move off, but I got a zoom of it just before it went over the crest and disappeared into the chaparral on the other side. Once inside the park boundary again, I followed the Highland Ridge Trail for a couple of miles. I ran into several small herds of cattle along the way. It looked like the cows had given birth in the past few months and their young charges were already looking quite hefty. The little ones were skittish and would hide behind mom when I approached, but the bigger cows had very little apprehension about my being there. They would get up and move to the side of the road, but barely. They'd easily let me pass within a yard of them, just keeping an eye on me in case I turned out to be after the children. These cows were obviously very used to people.

At a junction I turned south and followed a series of trails (Jeremiah, Grizzly, Sulpher Springs) to the southwest corner of the park. I passed by an old building alongside a creek near Sulphur Springs at the lowpoint before climbing up and over a minor ridge. At the crest of the ridge I found a pig trap, one of many I saw throughout the park, though none of them were currently set. I dropped down the west side of the ridge, part of it cross-country to get get me down to Riggs Canyon and the start of the Oyster Point Trail. There is another unoccupied building found here, an old homestead set on an overlook above the creek. I found the trail easily enough along with more cows including one that looked to be guarding access across the creek. On the other side of the creek I passed by a sign marking the boundary between the two parks, then started up the narrow trail towards Oyster Point.

The Oyster Point Trail for the most part follows along the northeast side of the ridge whose highpoint is Oyster Point. I had hoped it might actually follow the ridge for better views, but alas, no. The northeast side is heavily wooded and brushy and though I couldn't be sure, it seems likely to be rife with poison oak. As the leaves are off the branches at this time of year, I just avoided contact with any likely-looking branches. There was some snow dustings in a few places higher up, a surprise, considering Oyster Point barely 2,000ft in elevation. I was dismayed to find the trail actually going past Oyster Point, some three hundred feet below, according to the GPS. How could something called the "Oyster Point Trail" not actually go to Oyster Point? It turns out it does, I just didn't hike far enough along the trail to find out. I left the trail and climbed steeply up the hillside, half under forest (and the dangers of poison oak all around!), half grassy. I reconnected with the trail, now more of a use trail, as it climbed the final distance to the southeast and the summit. There is a small post at a viewpoint, about 30ft from the actual highpoint which is located under some dense brush. Yay. Even the view was a non-plus because the haze washed out much of it.

By now it was 1:40p. I would have to hurry if I was going to make it to Cave and Windy Points and still get back home anywhere near a reasonably acceptable "dinnertime" return that I had given to the family. I went back down to the trail near where I had left it earlier, then continue west looking for some sort of connector trail to get me to Cave Point, the next summit to the north. I didn't have a trail map for Diablo State Park with me as my last-minute preparations had left a few things undone. If I had looked at a map, I would have found that there is no reasonably direct way to get from one to other, but instead I discovered this with a field study. I found the junction for the Oyster Point Trail on the northwest side near a saddle, but I found no trail, maintained, use or animal that could get me to Cave Point. The intervening terrain looked to be horribly dense chaparral. I would have to do this another time, probably approaching from the northeast where trails can be used to reach both points.

I returned to Morgan Territory and Old Finley Road, turning north to make a loop of my hike for the middle portion. I was navigating with the aid of a map I had picked up back at the trailhead, but the trails on the left margin are compressed and a bit confusing. At least that's my excuse for missing a turn and ending up on Riggs Canyon Road, heading deeper back into Diablo State Park than I had intended. It wasn't all bad - though I'd get back later than I'd hoped, it was a nice hike. Some reasonable guesswork at various trail junctions off the edge of my map eventually got me headed back towards Morgan Territory along the Highland Ridge Road/Trail. It was 3:10p by the time I reached the park boundary. Because I had spent more time than planned in the state park, I decided not to make a bigger loop inside Morgan Territory since it would likely take yet more time that I was already short on. I hiked the Highland Ridge Trail back up to its apex at the southern boundary, down the other side a short distance and some easy cross-country to get back to the Clyma Trail and the staging area. I ended up only about half an hour behind schedule which would be easy to blame on traffic if needed (it wasn't). I'll have to make another trip out to explore the trails and roads in the eastern half of the park. Aside from the rampant cattle grazing, it's a very scenic park and a most worthwhile visit.

Anonymous comments on 01/30/13:
East Bay Regional Pastures
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