Hike 36 – A Stroll With Dynamites & Mosquitoes, April 9, 2010
You might recall that I had enjoyed a hike in February this year with my wife so much that I had vowed to give up long hikes if she’d join me on all my hikes. She prefers shorter hikes up to about 4 miles long. Today was my lucky day and we planned to hike together again.
Winter sunsets around the Bay Area are special and I wanted to hike at least once this year in the fading light. We picked a short section just over 4 miles long in Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in Richmond, California. At 6:15 PM, we pulled into the parking lot along Giant Highway. The temperature was a mild 69 degrees.
The plan was simple. We would hike the length of the Bay View Trail which faces west and goes up to the fishing pier and then turn back. This is a gentle walk with about 250 feet of total elevation change.
Unfortunately, the photographs from this hike won’t be able to tell the fascinating history of this park because few traces remain. But anyone interested in it should click this link to download a brochure that goes into more detail about the history of the park. Here’s a summary for your pleasure:
- This area was home to four different explosive manufacturers from 1880 to 1960 when the last operations shut down. Those companies were Safety Nitro Powder Company, Granite Powder, Giant Powder Company and Atlas Powder Company.
- About 2 billion pounds of dynamite were produced here during that period.
- Giant Powder apparently did not have a great track record with safety and was often forced to leave it’s former locations due to public outcry over large explosions. Their previous locations included a couple in San Francisco and one in Berkeley before they finally landed at Point Pinole.
- They renamed everything around with the Giant name including Giant Station, Giant Village, Giant Highway, Giant Park, etc.
- It was the only company in the U.S. licensed to use Alfred Noble’s patent for producing dynamite. Their competitors got around the patent by varying the formula enough to satisfy legal requirements.
- Atlas Powder bought out Giant Powder in 1915 but kept the name and significantly improved operational safety. Among the many changes they implemented, they also planted eucalyptus trees and constructed embankments around buildings to reduce the effects of accidental explosion on the surrounding areas.
- The women that worked here during the second world war were know as “Dynamite Dorothy’s.” I had hiked very close to Rosie the Riveter Memorial a few weeks ago.
- New forms of munitions developed during the second world war eventually led to a decline in business for Atlas Powder which eventually shut down in 1960.
- In 1961, this was one of the sites considered for NASA’s Mission Control Center which was eventually located in Houston, Texas.
- The narrow-gauge railroad used here was sold for use at Disneyland.
- Bethlehem Steel purchased the property to build a large steel plant here but when the plans fell through, they sold the property to the East Bay Regional Park District.
Our hike began along an open meadow with views of Marin County and the bay. Soon we entered a eucalyptus grove and were attacked by thirsty mosquitoes. This is a rare occurrence in the Bay Area and we were not prepared for it. We were badly bitten by them on our faces and arms and had large welts that stayed on and hurt for days. These were the same eucalyptus trees planted by Atlas Powder Company to protect local residents from fallout of explosions.
Then we started encountering some other ghosts from the past. These were foundations and remnants of walls and embankments from the dynamite manufacturing facilities in this area, and the skeletal remains of old piers. We hiked up to the pier and saw the bluffs and beaches below us.
On our return journey, we noted that the water level had risen over a foot or more and the wooden posts in the bay were less exposed. Since we were intruding on their property, a squadron of mosquitoes escorted us back from the eucalyptus grove to the car. We got back to the parking lot minutes after 8 PM. The temperature had dropped down to 63 degrees.
Note: Most, if not all of the photographs posted here, were taken by my wife.
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:
Here’s a slideshow of these and other photographs from the hike: