Hike 34 – The Rolling Hills of Round Valley, March 28, 2010
Early Sunday morning, I jumped out of bed excited to be hitting the trail again. This time I was planning to hike some new sections of Round Valley Regional Preserve. I had first hiked here a couple of years ago and since then, this park has become one of my favorites among the East Bay Regional Park system. This was the best time of the year to hike here since the hills in the area were lush green after the winter and spring rains.
I enjoy driving along Marsh Creek Road where the park is situated, and watch the landscape unfold as the miles roll by. The fun begins after crossing the small city of Clayton which rests peacefully under the shadow of Mt. Diablo. Steep hills and equestrian farms line the winding two-lane road for a while. Then the landscape begin to mellow out and canyon walls open up to reveal gently rolling hills. Eventually the hills flatten out completely and give way to some of the most fertile farmlands in the nation.
But today I was lucky to get to the trailhead at all. I avoided a near collision with a car driven by a semi-awake zombie along Marsh Creek Road. He had drifted on to my side of the road but was able to correct his mistake in time. I figured it was just as well. A near-death experience would certainly add to my appreciation of this hike and beautiful day.
At 8:25 AM I took my first step on the trail. Temperature outside was 50 degrees and there were six other cars in the lot. I was surprised to see so many cars but was glad nonetheless to note that other folks too were out enjoying this park. One of the cars there, a silver Acura, looked familiar. I thought I had seen it at the parking lot at yesterday’s hike as well. What I noted about both the cars was that the front passenger’s seat was folded down. It could be a coincidence or a like-minded person. Anyway, I had some trails to check out and miles to eat, so off I went.
Once again the forecasters had called it wrong. They had predicted nearly 60% cloud cover and what I was experiencing was significantly less than that. This was a very sunny spring day perfectly suited for hiking.
I crossed a bridge over Marsh Creek and picked up the Hardy Canyon Trail. A charge of electric anticipation flowed through me as I was taking this three-mile section for the first time. If maps could be trusted, this single track trail would climb about 900 feet to reach an elevation near 1,100 feet. The views no doubt would be spectacular, I figured.
The path followed Marsh Creek for a short section before veering off towards High Creek. The trail here was steep and single-track, just the way I like it. Trail planners and designers had done a good job with this one. It was challenging but never over-taxing, and offered rewards and relief at appropriate levels. The rewards were the views of hills, ponds, canyon and creek and the trail eased up occasionally to give the legs a break. And there was plenty of shade too.
Unfortunately there were a number of side trails waiting to lure the curious explorer. These were no doubt created by grazing cattle since they aren’t very good at following park maps or regulations. I stuck to the main trail, or whatever made sense based on the map and common sense.
There were a number of cows in the park, and they stared at me with alarmed eyes. Their warning moos echoed through the low rolling hills. I felt important in the world of cows and wondered what they thought of me. As I got to the top, I looked over to the other side of Round Valley and Mt. Diablo. I had not seen this stunning view before. There were rounded hills, a tree-lined creek and a trail snaking through the park.
The other side of the trail was mostly exposed as I headed down. At the Miwok Trail junction, I turned away from the parking lot and hiked towards Mt Diablo. The valley was covered with wildflowers. About a mile and a quarter later I turned right, or north, and took the Murphy Meadow Trail. This took me past an old homestead.
This was the home of Irish immigrant Thomas Murphy who purchased this land in 1873 and used it for ranching. The foundation of the home is still there along with other signs of ranching including a windmill, farming equipment, vehicles, etc., all hanging around in a rusted and twisted metal graveyard. While I was checking out the ruin, a coyote on the hill was foraging for food.
The story of how this park came to be is rather interesting. According to the book “Living Landscape” by Laura McCreery, the county planned to use it’s power of eminent domain and acquire this land to use as a landfill. Meanwhile, Thomas Murphy’s grandson Jim Murphy who owned the land, did not want to see that happen at any cost. He was almost 80 years old and reputed to be an eccentric throwback to an earlier time, often shooting at or chasing off trespassers with a rifle and some unpolished language to go.
When Bob Doyle, the assistant general manager for land acquisition for the East Bay Regional Park District went to meet Jim Murphy to discuss converting the ranch to a park, Mr. Murphy greeted Bob in full uniform. This included his cowboy hat, boots and rifle because he was not sure about the intentions of the representative from the park. When the two men met, Jim paused a moment to size up Bob, cradled the rifle across his chest and asked “What do you think of mountain lions?”
Bob had carefully planned out the meeting and did as much homework as he could to prepare for this meeting. But this question threw him off. Was this a trick question? Could the wrong answer kill this deal? He thought for a moment and fired back, “What do you think?”
Mr. Murphy relaxed, smiled and leaned back and said, “I kind of like them.” Bob could now breathe again and the two men found common ground. Eventually, Mr. Murphy sold his land for under $1.4 million; a huge bargain just so that the land could be preserved. Over the years other family members contributed their land to the park as well, bringing the total to about 2,000 acres. Interestingly, the cover of the book “Living Landscape” features a beautiful photograph of Round Valley Regional Preserve.
I continued on the Murphy Meadow Trail until it ended at Round Valley Creek. At that point I turned back and retraced my steps. Except that on the return, I’d continue on the Miwok Trail back to the car instead of taking the Hardy Canyon loop.
On the Miwok Trail, I met a hiker who looked like an aging rock guitarist. He was wearing a rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt, had long curly hair, supported a pair of Bono-like glasses, and had a beer gut too. On top of that, he gave me one of the best greetings I have ever heard on a hike, a long “Heyyyyy Maaaaaan…” and a nod. I love the wide smiles, big hellos, howdy pardners, good mornings, great conversations with strangers, etc., but I will take this greeting any day. Don’t get me wrong, I had loved every minute of the hike, but this greeting made my day. 🙂
It was time for me to do some good deeds, and I decided to pick up some trash littering the trail. A tall Coors Light can had to be picked up. I emptied it into the trash can at the trailhead along with some other litter that caught my eye.
At 12:15 PM and a sun-warmed temperature of 74 degrees, I got back to the car. On the drive back I saw lots of wild flowers along Marsh Creek Road. It was like they were out parading their beautiful colors. There were California poppies, lupines and various kinds of yellow flowers. I even spotted a peahen crossing the road. I had heard one when I was hiking too.
The best way to do this hike is to come here in spring, hike up the Hardy Canyon Trail and get to see the scale and the beauty of this place from up top, and then come down and get more intimate with the land. This is a rather sensitive habitat and is home to a number of endangered species including the San Joaquin kit fox, bald eagles, frogs and toads, etc., so the rewards include not only great hiking but also the opportunity to see some rare wildlife.
Here’s a map of the hike courtesy of Google Maps:
Here’s a link to a brochure and trail map from the East Bay Regional Park District website:
More information on the book “Living Landscape” by Laura McCreery is here:
Here’s a slideshow of pictures from the hike: