Backroads: the wild East Bay, alive with wildlife, hiking, scenery, history!

Rose Hill Cemetery is final resting place for over 100 miners and their families in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

View from Mt. Diablo, looking west from Northgate Road.
Wildflowers just off the Hardy Canyon Trail in Round Valley Preserve.
Hikers descend from the native oaks in Round Valley Regional Preserve.
Spouse Susan ascends the Hardy Canyon Trail in Round Valley Regional Preserve.

Backroads in the wild East Bay, alive with wildlife, hiking, scenery, history!

Fellow hiker on tree beside Marsh Creek in Round Valley Preserve.

I inherited my love of backroads from both my parents. On weekend drives in Ohio, my dad would spot a road he’d never been on and say “let’s see where this takes us” – off we would go. My mom packed my two brothers and me in the back of a Ford station wagon in 1962 towing a tiny tent trailer, and set off from Ohio across the US, down to Texas and the Grand Canyon and on to California (where my dad flew in and joined us). As we continued on to Yellowstone, the Black Hills and home, we explored almost every back road in the west on that trip – and it hooked me on the Western states.

Today we headed for favorite backroads in Northern California, heading west of Stockton on Highway 4, south on the Byron Hwy. to Byron, then west on the backroads of Camino Diablo and Marsh Creek Roads to Round Valley Regional Preserve.

Located between Mount Diablo’s dual peaks and Byron, CA, Round Valley Preserve is a lovely foothills park in the coastal range, with hills and canyons turned emerald green after recent rains. It offers 30+ miles of hiking trails through old oaks: blue, valley, live and black oak along with California bay laurel and buckeye trees. The park is open for hiking, horseback riding and bicycling (with some restrictions); no dogs allowed.

From the parking lot, we crossed a foot bridge over Marsh Creek, turgid with runoff from recent rains, crossed a field with grazing cattle and ascended the Hardy Canyon Trail into the foothills beside High Creek. Along the creek we saw signs of deer, pawprints of either bobcats or cougars, and saw hawks lazily circling on high. With more time, we might’ve seen San Joaquin pocket mice, Audubon‘s cottontail rabbits, red fox, coyotes and endangered San Joaquin kit fox. Golden eagles also patrol the reserve.

Had we boundless energy, we could’ve connected with the Miwok Trail and toured all the way into the adjoining Los Vaqueros Reservoir/Watershed to the south. That much longer trek, alas, must wait for another day.

If you’re seeking a place for lunch between Round Valley, try Wild Idol, a biker bar and grill in what remains of historic downtown Byron, or, Union Point Marina, Bar and Grill, on Hwy. 4 headed back to Stockton. Both offer good food in unique surroundings.

Within a few miles of Round Valley Preserve are other favorites destinations, including Los Vaqueros Reservoir with hiking trails and marvelous fishing, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Mount Diablo State Park and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir and Watershed is a few miles off Camino Diablo Road; the lake was recently increased in capacity to 160,000 acre-feet by raising the dam 35 feet, storing water pumped from the Mokelumne River for Eastbay residents. The impoundment is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth and striped bass, catfish and more (a daily fee and CA fishing license is required).  The park is also a hiking and bicycling Mecca; with a variety of trails/roads in the hills surrounding the reservoir.

To reach Mt. Diablo, continue west on Marsh Creek Road to Concord, turn left on Ygnacio Valley Road, then left on Oak Grove Road to the park’s North Gate Road entrance. North Gate Road into Mount Diablo State Park yields an incredibly scenic drive with some of the best views in all of Northern California. Try to make your visit on a day where the skies are clear – smog will detract from the experience.  Ascend North Gate Road, offering fine views from every turn to reach Mt. Diablo’s 3,849 foot summit, where the Summit Visitor Center offers insight.  The North Peak is about a mile distant, reaching 3,557 feet into the sky.  The park offers three campgrounds (Juniper, at 3,000 feet, offers spectacular vistas and star gazing), gorgeous picnic areas and over 150 miles of hiking trails.  Of course, the view from the twin Diablo peaks are sublime.

Just seven miles northeast lies Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, preserving the history of California’s lively coal mining district, active from the 1850s to early 1900s. By the late 19th century, several towns within the current preserve were the center of Contra Costa population, with several thousand miners and their families mining deep veins of coal, shipping the black diamonds to Pittsburg where the coal powered steamboats, railroads and heated homes. Hike to Rose Hill Cemetery above the parking area, to tour the final resting place of over 100 miners and their families, where the voices of the past seem all too real.

On your East Bay tour you’ll spot plenty of additional back roads…”let’s see where that one goes”!

For more info: For Round Valley and Black Diamond Mines, go to East Bay Regional Park District’s website, ebparks.org or 1-800-EBPARKS; for Los Vaqueros Watershed, ccwater.com/losvaqueros, 925.240.2440; for Mt. Diablo State Park, parks.ca.gov, 925.927.7222. Both Los Vaqueros and Mt. Diablo State Park charge an auto admission charge. For camping in Mt. Diablo State Park, www.reserveamerican.com, or 800.444.7275.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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