Date: March 10, 2020
Place: Black Diamond Mines, Somersville, California
Length: about 5.5 miles
For several years now, Black Diamond Mines Regional Park has been on my top wanna go there list. I even went there a few times before, but for various reasons I did very little hiking on those occasions. Eventually I figured out that if I wanted to truly hike at this place I needed to put it on my chikas' 4H Hiking Project list, and this year I finally did. As our 4H March hike date approached I needed to go there and do a scouting hike to check out a suitable trail. Escaping the onslaught of news about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus I went to Black Diamond Mines for the perfect nature escape.
|At the Nortonville trailhead|
|My hike as captured by my GPS. I remembered to turn it off about half a mile down the road after I finished the hike.|
Somersville and Nortonville shared some institutions, and one of the was the local cemetery, up the hill between the two towns. The cemetery is noticeable up and to the right of the big tree in the photo below, marked by the dark European cypress trees.
|The hills east of Nortonville Road|
I took the small detour to visit the Rose Hill historic cemetery. Information about the cemetery and the people buried there is posted on signs at the cemetery's gate. Throughout the years since the local communities moved away this cemetery fell into disrepair and vandalism, until the area became a park. It is now maintained and preserved. Many of the headstones have beautiful carvings and there is information about some of the people buried there. Apparently many of them died of smallpox. The Covid-19 was already a looming threat on the day of my hike. Looking at the young smallpox victims' graves does put some perspective on things.
Another interesting anecdote is that I didn't see in this cemetery and crosses - apparently that wasn't the custom of that community at that time.
|Rose Hill Cemetery|
Little orange flowers dotted the grass alongside the trail. These were fiddleneck plants at the beginning of their bloom season.
|Fiddleneck, Amsinckia sp.|
|Nortonville Road Trail|
I approached the tree to take a closer look. The color, it turned out, was the tree's bloom.
|Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni|
|Black Diamond Road|
|Coal-the black diamond|
At some point that trail may have led to another mining site - there were a few relics where the trail ended. The best part about this side trail however, were the gorgeous buckeye trees that enclosed the path in a brilliant green tunnel of their spring foliage.
The green carpet under the canopy was dotted with hundreds of little white stars - the blossom of miner's lettuce.
|Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata|
I started up the narrow trail and soon started seeing wildflowers. The ranger who recommended me this trail had said that spring bloom was only beginning and indeed, it was the first wave of spring bloom that had welcomed me up Coal Canyon.
|California Man-root, Marah fabacea|
|A thermal of turkey vultures|
It was a sunny day but the air was cool. Still, I welcomed the nice shade cast on the trail by the many oak trees that wrapped the canyon in their canopies.
The canyon was beautiful and the vegetation pretty, but most interesting was the colorful earth, alternating between white sandstone, red chert and black coal deposits.
The coal has been mined there, for sure. Part of the trail traversed a slope of fine black sand that was discarded from a mining site upslope.
Deep in the shade bloomed the early spring canyon flowers. My heart skipped a bit when seeing for the first time this spring the magnificent Indian warrior.
|Indian Warrior, Pedicularis densiflora|
|Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla|
|Padre's Shooting Star: primula clevelandii|
|Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.|
|Blue Witch, Solanum umbelliferum|
Near the end of Coak Canyon trail there is a mark on the map labeled: "Jim's Place". When I arrived there I found Jim's Place to be a primitive dwelling dug in the sandstone.
|View north at the Carquinez Straits|
|Black Diamond Way|
|Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum|
The pines I saw where at the onset of their bloom, not quite yet shedding pollen but very close to that time.
|Coulter Pine, Pinus coulteri|
In the far horizon the very tip of Mt. Tamalpais could be seen as well. So far, yet very characteristically recognizable.
|View to Clayton|
|Black Diamond Way|
|The Carquinez Straits|
Two little birds fidgeted on the dirt road ahead of me. I did not have a lens suited for birding with me but I did my best to capture a recognizable image of these birds. Indeed it was enough for the birders in my family to identify them from my photos.
To the northeast of my path bulged a butte that looked very different than the round, grassy-green hills all around. This one has sharper lines and was made of layers of light-colored rock, visible through the deep dark green of a thick live oak forest. The I had showed that my trail would take me closer to that hill. My watch however, told me that I wouldn't have the time to explore it better.
As I approached that dark looking hill hillside I was walking on became less forested and more exposed. Little wildflowers decorated the grassy slopes and as much as I was in a hurry, I did take a moment to stop and enjoy them.
|Owl's Clover, Castilleja densiflora|
|Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum|
As I turned the curve around this hill the view east opened up before me and the vastness of the East Bay hills struck me again with its beauty and richness, and promise of many secret nooks to explore.
|Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons|
|Red Maids, Calandrinia menziesii|
|Padre's Shooting Star, Primula clevelandii|
|Manhattan Canyon Trail|
In the shady part f Manhattan Canyon there were many wildflowers growing, but all of them I have seen earlier at Coal Canyon, like the shooting star and the Indian warrior.
|Manhattan Canyon Trail|
|Woolly Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa|
Being in a hurry and not as careful as usual, I took a wrong turn and ended off trail and in the creek itself.
The creek bed was dry and it was obvious that other people were walking through it on a regular basis so I continued down that path. On my way I passed by yet another man-carved sandstone tunnel but this time I did go inside to explore.
The canyon was short but I had to go down it carefully because the path involved some rock scrambling and poison oak avoidance. Eventually I came out the bottom and rejoined the main trail. Ahead of me, below the mine waste mounds I could see the Somersville Parking Area.
I hurried down the trail past the Eureka Sloe mining tunnel. On summer weekends this would be open to the public.