Friday, June 16, 2017

Madrone Canyon Trail

Thick, peeling madrone branches next to Madrone Canyon Trail at Lower Rock City

The one-mile-long Madrone Canyon Trail in Mount Diablo State Park lives up to its name. Alongside this trail you will find old-grown madrones on the steep canyon sides reaching for the sky . Unless you start climbing the granite walls of the Boy Scout Rocks at Lower Rock City, you will find yourself in the shade of evergreens all the way through Madrone Canyon. At one point a bridge crosses the creek at the canyon bottom.

Bending trunk of a Pacific Madrone
Madrone Canyon Trail

Madrone Canyon Trail connects the Rock City Area with Devil's Slide Trail. In Lower Rock City, you will find a picnic table next to an old madrone tree with one heavy branch supported by a post (top and bottom picture). As you continue downhill through Madrone Canyon, you will immerse in a jungle of peeling bark and waxy green leaves.

In the canyon, the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) trees rarely grow a straight trunk. The tall trees display bending, often slightly winding trunks and branches. Many of them survived on slopes with slowly sliding ground, depending on rain fall and water flow. Over time, the trees that slowly moved along with the soil—or shifted downhill during an avalanche—and so got out of balance, may have adjusted their growth from tilted to upright in trying to maximize their capture of sun light. If this is the case, each tree has conserved its own canyon history in the trunk curvature. Whatever the reason, standing or walking in a madrone forest with curved and sometimes entangling trees, which feature peeling red-brown bark and expose the inner, pinkish green wood with a satin sheen, is a unique, almost haunting experience.

Climber exploring a Boy Scout Rock on the west side of Madrone Canyon Trail


Getting to the Madrone Canyon Trail

Drive South Gate Road uphill to Rock City. Find parking at Lower Rock City in the Rock City Live Oak area. Walk downhill to the Trail Through Time or to the picnic table with the post-supported madrone branch, from where a single-track trail continues downhill into and through Madrone Canyon.
Little Rock City picnic table with supported madrone branch

Keywords: hiking; madrone grove; Arbutus; Ericaceae.

More to explore

The Outbound Collective: Hike in Mount Diablo's Madrone Canyon [].

Monday, June 12, 2017

Peak to peak: from Mount Diablo Summit to North Peak

North Peak Trail between Devil's Elbow and Devil's Pulpit
From the Observation Deck of the Mount Diablo Summit Visitor Center, one has—on a clear day—the perfect view of North Peak and between-peaks Prospector's Gap. Farther northeast one can see the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. To get a closer look at this expansive inland estuary—also known as the California Delta, or simply the Delta—the three-mile-long hike across the Diablo slopes and ridges to North Peak is a worthwhile exercise.

From the visitor center, the Summit Trail leads you to the Mary Bowerman Trailhead, where, across the Summit Road near the Lower Summit Picnic Area, a short downhill trail connects with the Devil's Elbow.
Summit Road with Devil's Elbow
The elbow tip is the trailhead of North Peak Trail. You will see the pleasant path of the single-track trail traveling eastward, traversing an open slope with occasional gray pines toward Devil's Pulpit. Once half around this Franciscan-chert monolith, you will enter chaparral and then a low forest of oak, bay laurel and pine trees.

Gray pines partially damaged by a wild fire
On a cold and windy day in May 2017, a hummingbird was “greeting” me at a point where creek water was still flowing over the trail. Nearby, I saw red larkspur flowers, “trying” to attract hummingbirds for pollination. Various other flowers, including California poppies and Chinese houses, displayed their vibrant spring colors alongside this lush section of North Peak Trail.

The northbound trail descends in switchbacks to Prospector's Gap. From this trail junction, North Peak Road ascends to North Peak. After half a mile of climbing, you will arrive at a V-junction, from which North Peak Trail continues to Mount Olympia.
Rusty graffiti tank between Prospector's Gap and North Peak

On the left side of the trail you will be face to face with a rusty tank featuring white graffity. To get the top of North Peak, stay on the right-side gravel road and follow the steep incline up to the rugged top with its transmission towers. The posted elevation for North Peak of 3557 feet matches the number given in my “Trail Map of Mount Diablo State Park” designed by Rita Ter Sarkissoff, 2012.

At the northeast corner of North Peak you may want to carefully climb onto “vista rocks” that allow undisturbed views of the Delta and the ridges of the Diablo Range edging Central Valley.      

Northwest-facing slope of North Peak's rugged ridge

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Prospector's Gap

View from Prospector's Gap into Mitchell Canyon toward Clayton (Mount Diablo State Park, California)
Prospector's Gap (often written Prospectors Gap) is a trail junction between Mount Diablo Summit and North Peak. Several hiking paths are coming together at this point, which can be considered as an intersection of Prospectors Gap Road and North Peak Trail; the latter leading from Devil's Elbow around Devil's Pulpit and continuing on North Peak Road to the summit of North Peak and to Mount Olympia. Bald Ridge Trail connects Prospector's Gap with Eagle Peak Trail and Back Creek Trail—all within the Mount Diablo State Park.

An interpretive board at Prospector's Gap informs about what prospectors once had in mind before the ridges and canyons became recreational open space: Mining at Mount Diablo. Mercury (quicksilver), copper, coal and travertine (a form of limestone) were mined around the mountain peaks. Traces of gold and silver were found, but not enough to also find investment. A few quarries still provide rock for construction work.

According to the board, during World War II, when the demand for mercury increased, the Diablo quicksilver district became the 9th most productive U.S. source of the slippery metal. The mining activities left their traces:

While mercury mining on Mt. Diablo stopped by 1952, residues remained—mercury, lead and arsenic used to extract the [other] metals [such as gold elsewhere]. The hazardous byproducts still leach from the mines or from mine “tailings,” piles of broken rock or gravel left behind. The materials break down, ecpecially in the rain, and contaminate some park streams and near reservoirs.

And the winter of 2016/2017 saw a lot of rain, which also broke down sections of park roads and caused wash-outs along hiking and biking trails.

Keywords: Mount Diablo, mining history, mine tailings, quicksilver, environmental pollution.

Cones of gray pines at Prospector's Gap in Mount Diablo State Park

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hunter Creek Falls

Bottom of Hunter Creek Falls
Wild water at the bottom of the Hunter Creek Waterfall
Hunter Creek Falls, near Reno in Nevada, are the northernmost falls in the Carson Range. Other scenic waterfalls, farther south and arguably easier accessible, include the Tamarack Peak Waterfall southwest of Mt. Rose, Kings Canyon's Lower and Upper Waterfall west of Carson City and the serene Genoa Waterfall in Genoa Canyon—all with their falling water rushing down into the Great Basin.

Hunter Creek Falls hidden within bushes and trees
Many years just a trickle, even in spring, this year the waterflow is spectacular everywhere. The Hunter Creek crossing downhill from the Michael D. Thompson Trailhead is still flooded by forbiddingly surging water. I am not even sure if we are past peak surge.

Hunter Creek Waterfall Trail impassable near its trailhead
To cross the creek, you will find a provisional footbridge with no handrails about a quarter mile uphill. Follow one of those tracks along the leftside sagebrush slope and you will see the bridge to your right in the lush riparian band of green.

Crossing over surging Hunter Creek
More water, more people! Wild water and splashing falls always attract crowds. On weekend days, the Hunter Creek Waterfall Trail can get busy. Currently (early June, 2017), there are still a few trail challenges ahead as you get close to the main waterfall: slippery rocks or logs to cross side creeks without getting your shoes wet—maybe.

Hunter Creek Waterfall Trail in the Mt. Rose Wilderness
When the water is not blue (but white or muddy), the blue belly's bellies are.  

Find more waterfalls on my Pinterest waterfalls board.