Hike 24 – Black Diamonds in the Fog, January 10, 2010
For my second hike of the year, I woke up early again; minutes before 6 AM on a Sunday morning. A quick peep out of the window had me jumping back into my warm bed. The roads were wet and the fog outside was heavy. The kind of fog that shuts down airports and grounds even rescue efforts. Instead of sleeping, I logged online and checked the weather. The National Weather Service had put out a dense fog advisory until 10 AM for the area. I decided to postpone the hike for at least 30 minutes hoping that things might brighten up by then. Meanwhile, I occupied my idle mind with the internet.
While things did not look good outside, I still wanted to hike today if possible, for two reasons. First, I was once again falling behind my target to hike 52 times within a year. Second, and more importantly, I had been really looking forward to this hike because I planned to hike through Black Diamond Mines and parts that I have not hiked before. From what I’d read about this hike, it was supposed to be an enjoyable one. Also, I would be able to cover some of the sections I’d missed on my last hike here because of poor maps.
At 8:20 AM, I pulled into the parking lot at the end of Frederickson Lane in Antioch and jumped out of the car excitedly. Yes, I was starting about an hour later than I had planned to but under the current weather conditions, this was the best I could do. Leaving the warm and comfortable confines of the car, my glasses fogged up immediately as a blast of cold and humid air greeted me. Temperature at the trailhead was 39 degrees and humidity approached 100%.
The trail in heavy fog looked inhospitable but I was sure that the weather would turn around and that it would turn out to be a fine hike. The fog meanwhile would surely make for dramatic photographs. It was cold and my fingers longed for a pair of warm gloves, and my eyes and nose started to run. Still, I took a deep breath and was glad to be outdoors.
The climb initially was gentle, and I was able to walk at a brisk pace to try and warm myself up. The trail was exposed so the wind made conditions more uncomfortable. Since I couldn’t control the weather, I focused on warming up as quickly as possible.
For cattle management, the park service had sections of the park fenced off and access controlled through gates. Passing through the third gate, I stepped on some cow poop. It was nasty and I had to spend several minutes cleaning it off. Cows tend to hover around the gates looking for a way to get to the forbidden side where the grass is greener. So the areas around gates tend to be especially hazardous.
I realized that my glasses were fogged up which explains why I did not spot the poop. I cleaned them up again and could see a lot better now. I really don’t like to encounter cows on trails mainly because of the mess they make. It is not fun picking one’s way through a minefield of cow poop. The Stewartville Trail was particularly hazardous.
Meanwhile, the fog was still heavy and visibility pretty low. It was impossible to tell where the sun was in the sky. The light was diffused so everything was evenly lit and flat. I had a vague idea of where the sun might be, but that was only because I had a map and compass.
The Stewartville Trail brought me to Prospect Tunnel. This tunnel was built in the 1860’s for coal mining and the first 200 ft of it are open to the public for exploration. I was looking forward to exploring the tunnel and dug into my backpack for a flashlight. Unfortunately I could not find it. I must have taken it out sometime and forgot to put it back again. It was disappointing, but not the end of the world.
The tunnel was warm and I went in as far as I could without a light and then reluctantly turned back. I vowed to be back again sometime to explore it in detail. I stopped outside and took pictures of Om Nom Nom the Screennoms Monster at the entrance of Prospect Tunnel. A friend works for a company called TechSmith in Lansing, Michigan, and she recently sent me an Om Nom Nom mascot to take on hikes. I promised her I would take pictures of Om Nom Nom and post them online.
I took the Star Mine Trail next heading towards the entrance to Star Mine. A few bikers passed me and I overheard their conversation. One of the guys mentioned that he did not want to see some movie because the leading man was an African-American actor. He said he did not have a problem with the acting, just a problem with the actor’s race. He even used to “N word” to describe the actor.
I was shocked to hear it and it bothered me awhile. Usually I brush these things off but this time, perhaps because we have an African-American President in the White House, it bothered me more. Besides, this is the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the last places you’d expect anyone to use that term. But, I realize that racism can exist anywhere and I had only heard a snippet of a conversation. I could be jumping to wrong conclusions. Eventually, I forgot about it and got back to enjoying the hike.
The Star Mine is not open for exploration but the area around it is serene. There are a lot of trees here and some rusted, abandoned mining gear, lying next to dead trees. I wondered if the rust killed the trees. The land around the mine had a few large limestone rocks scattered around as well.
I continued on the Star Mine Trail until I got to the Stewartville Trail again. Meanwhile, the road which ran along a limestone ridge, got a little steeper. At the top of the climb, I was rewarded with a viewing bench. Unfortunately, there was nothing visible through the dense fog, so I skipped taking a break on the bench.
I missed the Stewartville townsite because I was not paying attention and stopped at the Central Mine site next. I love American history, especially of the west. Towns sprout quickly, boom, peak and then die and even totally disappear, all within the span of decades. This has been a recurring theme in the history of many small towns of the American West throughout the 1800’s. I find it fascinating and wonder if some of America’s largest metropolitan areas someday might suffer the same fate.
A lone African-American biker passed me and once again the conversation I’d overheard earlier started to bother me. Fortunately, around 10:40 AM, the sun started to come out a bit, I saw a faint shadow and even blue sky. I love the fog, but I guess I love blue sky even more and I forgot about the conversation I’d overheard. Cows mooed at me and I burped back in response.
Mary Gauthier’s word’s “I remember blue sky, I remember company…” came to my mind. It’s a beautiful song called “Soft Place To Land” and you can hear it here.
I took many pictures now as the sun was out and the fog was moving. Soon I was on the Ridge Trail and heading back towards the car. I could see Mt. Diablo and the fog rolling through. It was a very pretty sight and I hope some of the pictures convey the magical atmosphere. The valleys opened up as the fog rolled away and I prayed that I was able to capture the beautiful landscape.
About half an hour later, the fog rolled right back. The Ridge Trail brought me to the Contra Loma Trail which descended down into the valley. At this point I lost all hope of seeing the sun again on this hike. Eventually the Contra Loma Trail started to flatten out as it exited the valley and the wind picked up again. It was almost noon and I began feeling cold again.
The visibility had improved considerably since the morning but it was still impossible to tell where the sun was. Dense fog was still everywhere and even though conditions were cold again, I had enjoyed this hike a lot. Looking back at the trek, I realized that other than on the Stewartville and the Star Mine Trails, I did not hear any birds twittering or chirping at all. This hike had been extremely quiet.
I was back at the car by noon. The thermometer had edged up a little and the temperature now was 47 degrees. Depending on the map and software used, I came up with a distance of between 8 and 9 miles and elevation change between 1,300 and 1,800. I suspect it was about 8.5 miles with 1,500 ft elevation gain overall.
Here’s a slideshow of pictures from the hike: