Saturday, November 8, 2008

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

I hadn’t expected to hike Black Diamond Mines on Saturday (9/27/08), but that’s what I wound up doing. I had originally wanted to do a 4 peaks of Mt Diablo hike. I guess my second weekend in a row of hiking solo had me feeling my oats. It’s been awhile since I hiked at Mt Diablo, and I was thinking that the weather had begun to cool off. So, after fishing out my old map, off I went hoping for clear views.

When I arrived at The Mitchell Canyon trailhead, with exact change in hand believing I would be early, I was confused to see a parking lot full of cars, and people milling around all over the place. Turned out there was a garbage removal project underway that day. I flirted with the idea that I would join them, and spend the day helping with the trash. But I had driven too far for volunteerism. I needed a hike. I couldn’t find a regular parking place, so I went into the visitor’s center to ask whether my parking job was ok. They were fine with my parking, but while inside I noticed a map on the wall which showed a trailhead just down Clayton Road that provided a passage through to Black Diamond Mines from Clayton. I did not know this trail existed, and never having hiked BDM before, my interest was peaked. I didn’t feel like dealing with all the activity at Diablo. And it was becoming apparent that the day would be sunny and hot after all. A little too hot for trekking up all 4 of Diablo’s peaks anyway. So for the second week in a row, I changed by original plans.

The Cumberland Trail does not necessarily add to the experience of hiking Black Diamond Mines at all. The trail is unremarkable, not to mention uphill for 2.6 miles just to reach the preserve. That’s 5.2 miles added to the hike. But it is available if you would rather hike in from Clayton rather than drive all the way around to Pittsburg, or wherever else there may be trail access from the north or east. It’s really a dirt road with limited access for property owners. There are a few junctions which are not specifically marked. There are however closed gates, and nice “no trespassing” signs to mark the way not to go. Works either way. Along the way there are marginally interesting views of Mt Diablo’s North Peak, and the Sacramento River.

Having reached BDM, I was again confused to discover that Black Diamond Trail is actually a paved road, at least at this point. But I thought it couldn’t continue like that. Turning right and following the road uphill, I soon surmised that this was also an access road to the antenna farms I could see up on top. Having reached yet another gate with a “no trespassing” sign, I could see the trail veering off the pavement and continuing off to the left; a more natural surface was a welcome sight.

Continuing on, Black Diamond Trail rolls along grassy hillsides with some fairly interesting views. I took the junction down Manhattan Canyon Trail to the Somersville Townsite. They call it a townsite because there really isn’t any trace of the town left. Otherwise it would be a ghost town. I met some people who told me they were on their way to do a mine tour, and asked if I wanted to go along. By this time it was getting hot, and it sounded interesting, so I went along, paid the 3$ charge, did the 1 ½ hour tour. The fee was well worth it just to get out of the heat. In the mine shaft it was actually chilly. This was a 1930s era sand mine (cilia for glass), not an 1800s coal mine like the namesake of the preserve suggests. The coal mines are all closed up. I enjoyed the tour even though it wasted some time. I knew I really did not have enough time left to hike the majority of the preserve. I meandered along the Nortonville Trail past the cemetery and the Nortonville Townsite, and then turned up the Coal Canyon Trail. Rested in the shade a bit, and met some ladies who were locals. I Hiked and talked with them back to the Cumberland Trail to return to Clayton.

I will probably want to return here sometime in cooler weather to check out the eastern end of the preserve, and check out the views I heard about from the student ranger who led the mine tour. There are lots of other trails I did not have time to even consider. Click here to see my flickr pix.

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