Sunday, September 28, 2008

Point Pinole - Bay View Trail Loop

"It's two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home
Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay..."
- Otis Redding (Lyrics to Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay)

Locale: Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Richmond/Pinole, Contra Costa County, CA
Date: Sunday, September 28, 2008
Price: $3
Duration: approx. 5 miles (2.5 hours)
Activity Level: Easy
All in All: A diverse and easy hike that is available for bicyclists, hikers, strollers, fishermen and picnic-ers.
Rating: ***1/2
Maps & More Info:

Hiking trails this close to Chevron oil refineries? Right next to Richmond? And near the interstate? These three facts are a few reasons why the park is mainly utilized by locals to Contra Costa County. And all three facts are no reason to stray from it either. Getting there is quite simple, from I80 (coming from SF) take the Richmond Pkwy exit, turn left at the light and follow about two miles until the Giant Hwy turn. Turn right here and follow the signs to Point Pinole. It'll eventually be on the left with a big sign, kiosk and lot.

I actually live on the northern edges of the San Pablo Bay. Our apartment complex had a small picnic area that overlooks the bay in fact. I couldn't think of a better song then Otis Redding's posthumous released "Sittin on the Dock by the Bay" to encapsulate any sizable body of water and its view here. Since this was our first place since moving 2,000 miles away from home, again, the lyrics are symbolic.
Like many of the hikes we've trekked this past year, many are quite historical. This hike was once a dynamite base. In the 60's, it was actually contemplated for NASA's Mission Control center which was eventually based in Houston. This was all interesting to me - and all of it can be found in the brochure. The decision of NASA's to not build Mission Control at the shoreline may have been a relief to natives but perhaps not as well.

The hike is fairly easy. There are few if any elevation changes on the trails and poles are quite unnecessary. Start from the lot towards the bridge that goes over the railroad tracks. After the bridge get on Bay View trail on the left. Oil refineries will be on the left, Mt. Tam on the right. As you walk closer to the water you will see many signs warning to keep out of it. It's a resource preserve and dogs and humans are not allowed to go into the water no matter how hot the day may be. After about two miles on Bay View Trail comes my favorite park of this hike. Take the narrow trail on the left down to the fishing pier. The pier is 1/4 mile long and if you love to fish this may or may not be a great place. No license is needed but take note of the signs for which fish you are not allowed to take home with you. Also note that eating only a couple meals of the fish a month is advisable due to mercury and other chemicals the fish may take in.

As you walk down the pier, you will notice on the right the old fishing pier. There were at least a dozen or more people on the pier fishing as we strolled. My boyfriend asked a man if he caught anything, "Not a thing all day," he replied. As we reached the end of the pier, the contrary seemed the be occurring. Just in time, we saw a man pull out a sting ray - barb and all! This was something I'm not used to seeing everyday. A few minutes later, a man from the same party caught two fish on the same line. Fishing, something I haven't done since moving from Wisconsin to Minnesota over six or seven years ago. It was something I used to enjoy in local lakes and rivers despite my distaste for most fish and seafood. Time to finish the hike, we thought as we stopped briefly for a snack.
Leaving the pier, you'll pass the bus depot. Yes, there's a bus depot in the middle of the park for those who fish and would like a ride to and from the pier. It's a dollar to go the mile or two back. Turn left onto Owl Alley trail. You shouldn't be on the blacktop anymore. The rest of the hike has a more Sunday picnic feel to it. You'll pass many benches and grills and even a pond. After a .25 mile, turn onto Marsh Trail. After another .48 miles, turn right on Cook's Point trail.
Planes, trains and automobiles... and boats - we saw these quite frequently on our pleasant little hike. Not much wildlife seen on this hike but I didn't care. It was enough to suffice my intermittent addiction to the great outdoors. For some, Pt. Pinole may not be isolated enough and may not have the awe that Point Reyes has but whether you are coming or going, it'll always be there for people to enjoy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hiddenbrooke - Bay Area Ridge Trail

Locale: Hiddenbrooke Community, Vallejo, CA
Date: Sunday, September 21, 2008
Price: Free
Duration: approx. 5 miles (2.5 hours)
Activity Level: Easy/Moderate
All in All: A lesser known trail which is a great way to burn off calories in Solano County.
Rating: ***
Maps & More Info:

Living in Solano County for two years now, I figured that hiking would involve a lot of driving. After checking out local hikes, I realized this was only a few miles away from where I lived and didn't know it. Conveniently, it's right off of I-80 E coming from San Fran/Oakland and Vallejo. Just passed Vallejo and shortly before Fairfield, look for HIddenbrooke/American Canyon Rd exit on the right. Take it and take the first right off the exit right before the Hiddenbrooke exit. There's a little parking lot alongside the highway. This will be the nearest parking.

Head onto the sidewalk along the road going through the entrance of Hiddenbrooke. Unfortunately, you'll have to walk uphill on blacktop for about .5 miles to get to the trailhead. On the right will be a sign of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Start here just left of the fence. You'll be climbing upwards initially on cracked soil.

The trail continues mainly uphill for 2.5 miles or so before reaching a dead end. You can alternately go on some of the trails off of the main trail but these also become dead ends. Not too much wildlife on this hike. Simply come cattle in the distance and feisty meerkats.

But yet the hike like all hikes, is rewarding. Though the sound of the highway traffic may seem inescapable and the affluent neighborhood of Hiddenbrooke is nearby, the hike offers sun, excellent breezes and different terrain for this time of the year. Most of the hike is easy but there are a couple of steep uphill sections which can be taxing. I opted for poles though it was a short hike and I was glad I brought them for the steep sections. For those of you who are lucky enough to live in the heart of the Bay Area and have hiked plenty of the well known park hikes, then this may be a nice change of pace. We only saw one other hiker with his small sons and other then them and some golfers down below, we were completely isolated, well, to some extent - civilization is still within the naked eye. And for those of you, like I, who live on the edges of the Eastern North Bay and dislike commuting, this lesser known hike is simply in your backyard waiting for you to take advantage of it.