Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Nice Spring Retreat Hike in the Dublin Hills

Date: April 25 and May 9, 2020
Place: Dublin Hills Regional Park, Dublin, California
Coordinates: 37.700124, -121.974887
Length: 4.3 miles
Level: moderate

The days are Shelter-in-Place days. The parks are open for hiking and we make the best of what's possible. We yearn to see friends but gathering is forbidden. The solution: going on a simultaneous hike while maintaining safe distance.
Taking a friend's recommendation, we agree to meet late in the afternoon at Dublin Hills Regional Park.
Our hike as captured by my GPS
The first time I went there was on April 25. The air was cool and breezy, and the hills all green. We got there late and were advised that the parking lot's gate would close early so we didn't get very far before having to return. We resolved to try the entire Donlon Loop Trail on a different day, and that came about three weeks later, on May 9. By then, most of the bloom was gone and the hills were drying out and turning yellow. It was still breezy and nice though, and we did hike the entire loop. Most of the photos posted here are from the later hike but I did incorporate some from the earlier hike, especially those of wildflowers.
The first colorful thing we saw however, was not a flower but a male Anna's hummingbird standing guard watching his territory atop of a tall bush by the Donlon Point Trail.
Anna's Hummingbird, male
Although most of the blooming was done by our second hike, there was much to see still. The grass was drying out but the brilliant poppies still going strong.
California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
The trail trail leading from the parking lot to Donlon Point is a wide gravel road worn down in places to the bedrock. A short distance into the path the kids discovered that the bedrock is a conglomerate of fossils. Once seen, it could not be unseen. Each rock we saw poking through the grass after that was a source of joyful exploration of the fossils.
Fossils, April 25
The area where this park now stands used to be ranch area. Part of which was developed into a neighborhood of Dublin and some of the area became the park from which we could look unto the big and fancy development houses.

The annual vegetation of the East Bay hills is of vastly invasive old world species. Grasses, mainly, but not just. Some of these weeds are quite beautiful.
Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum. Non-native. April 25
On the way up to Donlon Point I had the chance to take a closer look at some of these blooming weeds, invisible from a distance because of the tall grass.
Mediterranean Lineseed, Bellardia trixago. Non-native. April 25
There's a short loop that diverts from the main trail and goes up the ridge to the top of Donlon Point. naturally, we went on it, enjoying the breeze and the great views.

From a distance all the vegetation appears to be just grass. A closer look between the grass blades revealed a few wildflowers closer to the ground.
Hill Morning Glory, Calystegia subacaulis 
By May most of the tall crucifers were already done with their bloom but in April the ridge of Donlon Point was covered with the feral radish plants and the hum of the honey bees was a dominant sound.
Jointed Charlock, Raphanus sativus. Non-native, invasive. April 25
Donlon Point is the high point of this park. There's a bench there, and a fantastic round about view of the area.
Dublin, April 25
On both times we were there the bench was already occupied by other people. Keeping the social distancing rules we stayed away from the bench and didn't linger at the Point itself. Besides, it was too windy there.
View to the Bay, April 25
I was amazed by the great difference in vegetation and color between the north-facing slope south of the freeway and the yellowish, grass-covered hills we were on.
It was also nice to have a direct view of the most prominent peak in the Bay Area - that of Mount Diablo. Second only to Mount Hamilton in height, but singled out in topography, geology, and natural and human history.

Pappa Quail did not follow us up to Donlon Point - he found something else to look at while the rest of us did the little detour up there.
Cliff Swallow
A few more low wildflowers caught my attention as we were walking down from Donlon Point back to the main trail. It was nice to see some representation of California native wildflowers there still, among all the invasive weeds.
Red Maids, Calandrinia menziesii, April 25
Naturally, I saw more of them on my April hike.
Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor, April 25
But even my May hike was not devoid of bloom - the common yarrow, which was only beginning to bloom in April, was now at its prime time.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium 
Back on the trail - wildlife easier seen when unhidden in vegetation. I guess not everyone would get as excited as me for seeing a centipede but wildlife it is, and an interesting one to look at.
Centipede, April 25
We continued on the ridge toward the Donlon Point Loop trail. The poppies were quite a sight on the highest ground, forming beautiful mats on the otherwise uniform green of the hilltop.
April 25
Looking down to the northeast I could see the top of the next hill - it was a rocky mass adorned with a few live oak trees. It seemed like it would be a nice place to explore but unfortunately we didn't get close on the first hike and on the second hike no one else wanted too. I guess I'll have to go there on my own some time.
April 25
The gravel road we were walking on started descending toward the neighborhood where the map implies there was another park access point. Next to our trail was a cement drainage ditch, exposed to the late afternoon sun. Exploiting the warmth of the sunny cement were many fence lizards.
Western fence lizards, April 25
As we came down and around the hill the north-facing slope came into view and grabbed my attention - it was covered with silver bush lupine in full bloom. A very impressive sight.
Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons, April 25
Everything was green way back in April, but on our May hike I noticed something interesting - the east side of the fence was yellow whilst the west side still green. I posed this question to the chikas and their friends: how come? They came up with several interesting theories. One of which however, was spot-on.

We reached down to where the second park access gate was, and there we turned east to where the loop trail begun. Below us was a cable watering pond, which in April was full, belted with lush, green vegetation, and harbored a pair of mallards.
April 25
On our May hike the view was very different: the water level was somewhat lower and the vegetation around the pond was all gone - eaten or trampled. Needless to say, the mallards were gone as well. I just hope they didn't lose a nest in the process.
The cause to all of this and also to the striking color difference between the two sides of the fence was the herd of cattle that was released to graze in this area of the park.

East of the pond there there was a small area fenced off to hikers and cattle. There was water there still and tall vegetation, and a nice place for birds to be.
Red-winged Blackbird
There also was where we started on the loop trail, going counter clockwise. We followed the strip of dark live oaks that lined along the creek that furrowed deep into the valley downstream to the cattle pond.

At some point we diverted from the trail and went to sit in the shade of these trees for a short snack break. There, in the fallen leaves Pappa Quail found an interesting lizard. The lizard stayed put and collaborated with the camera. It was very much alive, but didn't make any effort to go anywhere. We took some photos and left it where it was.
California Alligator Lizard
It was also at this point that on our April hike we turned around to go back, so all of the photos next were taken on May 9.
After the break we continued down the trail. The wide dirt road continued straight ahead out of the park and into Dublin and we continued on the loop trail that turned to a narrow footpath and plunged into a deeply shaded oak-laurel grove.

At the edge of the grove I saw some hedge nettle blooming and paused to take some photos. Everyone else went on forward and I had to run and catch up with them.
Hedge Nettle, Stachys sp. 
All of a sudden, we were out of the trees and in a neighborhood street. This was a bit weird. I looked at the map I carried with me and found that yes, the loop trail does go for a few years through the neighborhood. I pointed to where we should reconnect with the loop trail and we all went there ... almost. Pappa Quail and the elder chika lingered in front of one of the houses and took their time before joining us: they found a water feature and a few dark-eyed juncos enjoying a late afternoon bath.
Dark-eyed Junco
On the other side of the street we picked the trail again and once more were under the trees. There trail on this side was drier and the forest floor nearly empty of undergrowth. A pretty scrub jay was hopping on the bare slope, searching for something good to eat.
Scrub Jay
The trail soon started ascending and when I could see through the trees I could tell that the south-facing slope was indeed much drier and yellower than the north-facing slope we walked on earlier.

We exited the shade and almost immediately regretted it, because the sun was now directly on us, and the heat became uncomfortable. The trail switch-backed upward and right above us I saw a carpet of blooming mustard - a sight brooch to the California coast by the Spaniards.

A hawk's cry pierced the air. I didn't need to look up to know that this was a red-tailed hawk, the bird that dubs the eagle in movies.
Red-tailed Hawk
Across the valley and the dark oak-lined creek I could see the green, north-facing slope of the ridge we came down on, and the round bump of Donlon Point.
Donlon oint
It was there we would return to, but we still needed to hike up along a narrow trail of trampled wild oats.

The trail led us up the ridge we looked down upon from Donlon Point. I could see now that the north-facing slope of this ridge too was lined with oak trees and lusher vegetation.

Although dry and past its bloom prime, I still could find some wildflowers even on this ridge long the hard dirt trail.
Purple Owl's Clover, Castilleja exerta
And when I reached the top point of that ridge trail I had a nice view into the next valley to the northeast, where a hidden nook of live oaks was revealed to the eye. I'm not sure of the grove is within the park's boundary and I couldn't see any trail leading to it.

The rocky top of that hill was just ahead but the trail was leading down back to where the cattle pond was, and everyone else had already walked down except for me and my young chika, so we followed them down and missed the opportunity to check out the knoll we saw from Donlon point.

As I mentioned before, there was a small fenced area downstream of the cattle pond. As I came down the trail I saw Pappa Quail and the elder chika busy observing something there. What they were looking at were birds. A bluebird on the barbwire fence.
Western Bluebird, male
Apparently it was also high time for chewing cud because all the cattle we saw coming down to the loop trail were now lying down, lined along the trail, chewing cud and following us with their huge, watery bovine eyes.

They didn't budge as we passed by them in a single file. Neither did the cowbirds that were riding their backs, making true their name. 
We completed the loop and started uphill along the main Donlon Point Trail, back toward the staging area. From there it was a fairly fast walk during which we had to practice a great deal of people-avoidance because while we were on the loop trail the Donlon Point ridge filled up with numerous hikers and dog walkers. I didn't pause at all on the way back but Pappa Quail did - he spotted a kite passing overhead. 
White-tailed Kite
Although nit much different from other like-East Bay regional park areas, Dublin Hills Regional Park does have its charms, and all its uniqueness in the form of interesting geology and a set of roundabout views hat certainly makes it a worth-while hiking destination fr a nice afternoon hike. 


  1. Another beautiful hike... It is strange that the path is passing through a neighbourhood

    1. Yes, I found it strange too. Fortunate people live there :-)