ADT7: Antioch to Walnut Creek 2014-01

Buckeye leafing out
Buckeye leafing out

This weekend I completed the Antioch to Walnut Creek segment of the American Discovery Trail, up and over Mount Diablo. This is the last of the California segments for me, so I’ve now walked across California. Though the ADT materials and I use the word “trail,” much of this route is actually fire and farm roads. These are still pleasant to walk, and there are some stretches of real trail interspersed.

I started out in Antioch, getting there on Amtrak and BART and TriDelta bus. The official start of the segment is up in Contra Loma Regional Park, but I’d finished segment 6 in Antioch Community Park, closer to public transit, so that is where I started again. The trail soon enters Black Diamond Mines Regional Park (East Bay Regional Park District) and heads up into the dry brown hills and eventually to the old town of Somersville. Scattered oaks and cows mark the hills, but gradually thicken to oak woodlands and chaparral. Some buckeyes are leafing out, and there is a bit of green grass in a few wetter areas, but mostly it looks like the end of summer, no new growth of winter or spring.

North Peak and toyon from the Prospectors Trail
North Peak and toyon from the Prospectors Trail

Leaving Black Diamond, the trail goes through the edge of Clayton, which has a small old town but is mostly a bedroom community. I recharged me with a beer and my iPad with a receptacle, then headed just up into the hills to spend the night.

The morning climb of Mt. Diablo is stiff, 3400 feet up from Clayton to the top at 3849 feet. Some parts along the Prospector Trail up to the saddle near North Peak are incredibly steep. Fortunately I was able to replenish water at Big Spring, which will definitely be seasonal this year but is perhaps year round in most years.

Passing the side trail to North Peak, the route enters the Morgan Fire burn from September 2013. Some areas were lightly touched with some trees unscathed, while in places everything burned. Some plants are re-sprouting, others not. Despite the obvious damage caused by this dry season fire, I saw no indication that the state park is acting to reduce fuel loads. The chaparral and some of the mixed forest are just incredibly dense, awaiting a spark to explode. It is not a question of if it will burn, but when, and cooler fires during wetter seasons would be preferable in my mind to dry season fires that sterilize the soil.

The top of the peak is a tourist destination, busy with people who drove up, but is still worth the visit, and certainly was for me since I’d not been there in about 30 years. Retracing steps and then following the Summit Trail steeply down the southern flank of Mt Diablo, the trail drops to 1770 before heading west on Wall Point Road and then eventually the signed Briones – Mt. Diablo Regional Trail. Up high the slopes are variously covered with oak – bay laurel forest, Coulter Pine forest, and chaparral, but eventually grassy hillsides become common. Chaparral is found here and there throughout the elevation range.

There were a few shrubs and herbs flowering, but very few. There will be more later in the season, but it is unlikely this will be a good flower year, even if rains return, since good flower years need several rains over a longer period of time, not a brief burst in the spring.

oaks and rocks at Wall Point
oaks and rocks at Wall Point

I camped along the trail near Wall Point. If you are wondering, camping is not officially permitted in the state park (except in the very expensive trailer campgrounds) nor in the regional parks, but it would be difficult and boring to do the ADT without camping, so I camp when and where I need to, though obviously with some care to visibility.

Cattle graze the regional parks and open space throughout this segment, as well as adjacent private lands. Though I understand there isn’t supposed to be grazing in the state park, there were cows in the western section. Some of the lands are responsibly grazed, with grass remaining, but some are just hammered down to bare ground. It would take several years of normal rain to recover these overgrazed lands. I’m not opposed to grazing, in general, if it is done responsibly, but not all of it is. Grazing can help keep fire fuel loads in control, and is important on these lands where the native grazers have been reduced and native American fire management eliminated.

Once the trail heads west, there are long views down over the hills into the valleys where Walnut Creek and other suburbs of Contra Costa county lie. There trail skirts and threads between developments, and then joins the canal system to end in Heather Farm Park at the Contra Costa Canal.

I walked to the Pleasant Hill BART station, only about a mile from the end of segment 8, and headed off to spend the rest of the weekend with a friend.

Though I’ve walked the Nevada section of the ADT from Virginia City to Carson City once, and the Carson City to stateline section more times than I can count, I did not do so with an eye to blogging, so sometime I will do the trail again from Virginia City, hopefully with GPS tracks to report, and one or more blog posts. I also intend to walk the entire 376-mile California section in one single trip of about 15 days, but that will not likely be this year as I have so many other mountain trips already planned.

Photos on Flickr

GPS track and ADT direction and signing problems

There are some problems with the official ADT directions. After entering Mount Diablo State Park from Clayton, the trail names and directions over to Mitchell Canyon are incorrect. I walked several miles out of my way up Back Creek Trail, which was beautiful, but not right. Since I didn’t realize this until afterwards, I wasn’t able to correct the waypoints but I did correct my track later (with Adze, a visual Macintosh application for editing gpx files).  Coming down off Mt. Diablo on the Summit Trail, there are several trail junctions without waypoints that could be confusing. Wall Point Road, where it leaves the south entrance road to head west, is called just that, not Briones – Mt Diablo Trail. Along Wall Point Road, the ADT directions missed a left rather than straight at Dusty Road. It is not until the trail leaves Wall Point Road that the first Briones – Mt Diablo sign shows up, leading west. I’ve added waypoints for some of these junctions, though more would be appropriate. Again, I went several miles off route down Dusty Road and Stage Road along Pine Creek, before climbing back to the route. Beautiful, though, along the creek and coming back up Little Yosemite Trail.

Way back up on the 3400 foot climb from Clayton to Mt. Diablo, Big Spring, the only water source between Clayton and the water in the new picnic nearly to the summit, isn’t even mentioned in the ADT directions. I waypointed it.

Part of what made this segment hard to follow is that the state park refuses to acknowledge the existence of the ADT, and the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail, which coincides in this segment, and even the Briones – Mt. Diablo Regional Trail, except at the very west end of the park. This seems strange to me, but was confirmed in an email conversation with the chief ranger in which he tried to deny that there were even any long distance trails in the park. The state park trail signs are confusing, with the destination in large letters and the trail name in small letters, and rarely a sign announcing when you’ve reached the destination which was signed for. I’ve never seen such poor trail sign design from any other land management agency.

I’ve realized that it is pretty much impossible to follow the ADT simply from looking at the directions in the state data book. Without a GPS to look ahead to waypoints further along, it would often be impossible to choose the right direction at junctions. That is in part why I created the tracks for some of the segments, in order to help other people find their way. I’m in general not a big user or supporter of GPS units (or phones or tablets with GPS) in the backcountry, figuring people should carry and use maps, but when there are gaps in the maps and confusing signage, a GPS is required to stay on route.

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