Sunday, January 6, 2013

Far and Wide: The rolling hills of Briones Regional Park

Date: November 13, 2012
Place: Briones Regional Park, Martinez, California
Coordinates: 37.92741, -122.15872
Difficulty: moderate. 

A beautiful, warm day of fall and I am checking out a potential trail for group hiking. I have never been to Briones Regional Park before, and I was excited to discover an area that's new ground for me.
It took me a while to find the right staging area. After parking by Oak Grove picnic area I took my camera and headed north on Abrigo Valley trail. 

A portion of Briones Regional Park map, containing the trail I hiked (labeled yellow).
Abrigo Valley trail is a wide, packed-gravel road that leads to two of Briones Park group campgrounds, and is very convenient to walk. It begins in the shadow of large oak trees but soon enough the view opens to reveal the smooth hillsides, left and right.

And the wide, blue sky. There were many vultures about. This one, in the picture below, swooped gracefully by me. I assured it I was not dead yet, and it flew away.
Turkey Vulture
After inspecting the Wee Ta Chi campground, where I spotted a late flowering California Poppy, I turned west unto the Santos trail, connecting to the Briones Crest Trail. Unlike Abrigo Valley trail, Santos trail is a narrow path nestled in a hidden valley and trodden mostly by bovines. At times it was hard for me to make out the hiking trail from the numerous cow trails, or to see it at all under the fresh growth.
California Poppy
I trusted my instincts and climbed the creek westward where it seemed the trail was going. On the eastern side of the valley I saw an opposing creek, nourishing a number of trees. In the more arid, eastern side of the East Bay hills, creeks such as this are the main supporters of tree life and all animals that depend on them.

Here's the view of the valley from the hilltop where I connected to the Briones Crest Trail.  The trees peeking from the creek folds of the hills. 

Briones Crest Trail is well marked and easy to walk. The view from there - all around -is wonderful. To the east - Mt. Diablo.

And to the south-east, a peak I did not identify. Isn't it a great reason to go back with a wider map and a compass?
I left Briones Crest Trail to hike the Deer Creek loop trail - the trail I actually intended to test for the group hike. The loop is fairly short but involves a 600 ft elevation change. It encircles the creek near its bank and along the crest of the hill to its west. The creek itself was flowing nicely, but the cattle pond on one of its little tributaries was empty and overgrown with vegetation.

A mile-long trail connects the Deer Creek Trail with the parking lot. It runs between the sloping hills and the Bear Valley Road that borders Briones on the west. A little pond surrounded by a ring of tule grass was alive with sparrows. One of them stood long enough to be photographed:

The entire hike was a little over 5 miles long and took me, leisurely, about 3 hours and was very enjoyable. I am looking forward to my next visit of Briones.


  1. Nice views and a very good picture of the vulture.
    It was a good think to assure him you're not dead :-)

    1. Thank you! I love the vultures, they are such graceful birds! They get a lot of bad rep in folklore, which they really don't deserve, as they play such an important role in our ecology, and they are completely harmless.