South Red Hill

Jun 20, 2016

With: Don Brunnett
Jim Burd

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My brother was in town for a few days, so we made plan to join our cousin Don on a mountain bike ride. Don and I had ridden our road bikes over the Dumbarton Bridge a month earlier and had noted the opportunities to ride along the levees on the east side of the bridge. The Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge can be found to the south while the Coyote Hills Regional Park is to the north. The levees were once an integral part of the salt ponds that were extensively used to harvest sea salt around the South Bay, one of only two such areas in the US. It takes some pretty unique geography and climate to make this work: large, flat areas with open access to the sea; low rainfall; lots of sun and wind to promote evaporation. On the other hand, the commercialization of large tracts of shallow wetlands is a serious disrupter for the migratory birds and other animals that have traditionally called this place home. Once a patchwork of small businesses, Leslie Salt bought up all the other operations over a period of decades and eventually sold out to Cargill's Diamond Crystal Salt Co. in 1978. After negotiations with the US Fish and Wildlife Service around 2003, a 50yr plan was put into play to fully restore the marshlands. The areas we were to ride around are part of that plan to decommission most of the salt ponds.

We parked in the large lot at the visitor center off Marshlands Rd on the south side of the bridge and started our ride from there. We rode a five mile loop around levees south of the bridge in a clockwise fashion, passing by an old homestead (from an early salt harvester), a dredging barge and other interesting sights. A large gopher snake was found sunning itself on the levee, forcing us to pick it up to play with it before letting it slither away into the reeds. After completing the loop we rode the bikeway over SR84 and the toll plaza to visit the larger Coyote Hills area to the north. We rode by a quarry on the south side of the hills and over to a small spur trail leading to an overlook bench above the bay. We'd been riding for only an hour at this point, but it was already more biking than Jim had done in the past 20yrs. He decided to take a break while Don and I rode off to explore the highpoint of South Red Hill. As the name suggests, it's located at the south end of the Coyote Hills. I had been to two other highpoints at the north end on a previous visit, but this one had escaped my notice.

South Red Hill is home to a decommissioned Nike missle site, surrounded by an imposing perimeter fence. While much of the site was bulldozed and buried, a few structures remain, both inside and outside the fencing. The area inside the fence has been converted to a telecommunications site, part of which services the Alameda County Sheriffs' radio communications. Outside the main fence is a large water storage facility occupying several football fields in size, most of it underground, surrounded by a separate fence. While it would not have been too difficult to breach the main fence at the locked gate, the actual highpoint appears to be found outside the fenced areas to the south. A trail around the west side of the fence can be used to easily reach it. There are fine views around the South Bay to be had from the rounded knoll.

We rode back down to sea level and picked up Jim near the start of the No Name Trail. This five mile trail loops west to the edge of the Bay and north to Alameda Creek before returning to the north end of the Coyote Hills. There were more birds to be found in this section and we enjoyed watching some of them wading for food, the more exciting terns hovering before sharply diving into the waters, and others just chilling on the flat expanses of calm water. There are more relics of the salt ponds to be found as well, including dilapidated walkways, eroding levees and other items. We spent some additional energy exploring more of the Coyote Hills and the surrounding marshlands before returning to our vehicles on the south side of SR84. In all we spent about three hours on what at least two of us would have described as a leisurely ride. We drove a short distance to downtown Newark where we found a taqueria serving excellent mexican fare for lunch - just the thing...

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