Sunday, April 27, 2008

Briones Regional Park

"Never kick a fresh turd on a hot day."
-Harry S. Truman

Locale: Briones Regional Park (North Section), Martinez, Contra Costa, CA
Date: Sunday, April 27, 2008
Duration: 7 miles (we actually did 7.5 or so in 4 hours)
Price: Free
All in all: A grassy getaway on an immensely hot spring day
Rating: ***
Maps & More info:

I could not find anything more fitting then the amusing President Truman quote to describe our day at Briones. I would describe our four hour plus hike as a successful letdown. Do not get me wrong, Briones Regional Park offers acres upon acres of lush landscapes filled with lagoons, wildlife, grazing cattle and preying vultures flying overhead. The mishaps on our journey were to the fault of our own for we should have hiked much earlier in the morning or perhaps not on such a hot breezeless day and paid better attention to the trails (we actually had to backtrack twice - both times steep uphill sections). So I will attempt to give the few of you reading this the adequate information needed to have a actual successful loop tour of the northern and less traveled end of Briones.

Getting to the northern end is a breeze. Simply go on Hwy 4 into Martinez, take the Alhambra exit and take a right. Then go right on Alhambra Valley Rd, after a mile turn left on Briones road and drive the remaining 1.5 miles til you get to the dead end. Got it? If not, just look for the signs guiding the way. The many trails of Briones are populated by hikers, bikers, equestrians, dogs and cattle. So as you can imagine in the winter, the trails are muddy and are full of animal and footprints. Today in the hot dry air of late April, the trail was completely dry but was rough terrain from all the footwork of last winter and the previous years. In reading about Briones, I found that over a century ago, a man named Felipe Briones ranched the land with his family before being killed on the land. Decades later, the park became an official regional park, more recently Briones Regional Park hit news when this man died:

Ivan Dickson donated nearly half a million dollars to the East Bay Park District when he died, in return they named this loop trail after him at Briones as well as buried his favorite beer and food by a park bench.

Start out this loop at Old Briones road (it'll be at the right of the parking area/or straight through the cattle gate). After a half mile of pretty flat terrain, you will go through another gate - turn right to stay on Old Briones. On this trail you will pass natural ponds and here will be the beginning of the grasslands on this hike. Beware: it was extremely hot and dry in the sun today with very little breeze so either wear a bunch of sunscreen or all white clothing because it would put Dante's Inferno to shame at times so if you know it's going to be hot be prepared. I'd say about 85% of this loop was in the hot sun. After another .3 miles bear a right on Briones Crest Trail - be careful for those cow or horse pies!! At the top of the hill you'll see to your right the Benicia-Martinez bridge as well as the Mothball fleet (aka old warships at bay that have been put to use in many of the Earth's bodies of water). At 1.5 miles, join Mott Peak Trail which is to the left. You'll start to climb before seeing a gate at the top. Ascend to the left first to get a full view of Mt Diablo, the bay, the fleet, and the acreage of beautiful grasslands.
Back at the Mott Peak Trail, go through the gate and descend. You will see cattle and for those of you not too friendly with cows, they are more scared of us then you are of them that's for sure. You should be heading west now and in about .75 miles turn right on Abrigo Valley Trail. You'll pass 2 camps and as the trail starts to go steeply and curvy you'll hear a faint brief waterfall.

But oh fore where art thou trail to reach it? We could not find out. We just saw the creek which was a trickle. We couldn't find the waterfall but found a small fountain like area which was too far away (due to thick poison oak and weeds) to reach.
How lovely it would've been to cool off with cool running water. Out of breath, we continued to climb up past more cattle to yet another gate. Here turn right until you get to Lagoon Trail, now turn left. The majority of the rest of this hike is all downhill. Lagoon trail will continue for a mile and then proceed left onto Toyon Canyon which is very downhill for another mile. At least here there is some much needed shade. Lastly, turn right to Pine Tree Trail. Pine Tree Trail climbs alongside the road you drove in on. At this point in the hike I'd normally be content but today I was just too damn hot and was out of my 2 liter camelbak water. My boyfriend and I took frequent stops (I was nearly hyperventilating unfortunately) even though we were almost back to the car. As we drove back into Martinez and then onto Hwy 4 I did not regret our weekend hike at Briones Regional Park even though we had experienced a bit of a drawback, instead, I decided to marvel it because it is natural, it is beautiful and like John Muir might have thought, it is a wonderful place of open wilderness.

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