This was a continuation of a previous hike which had taken me through part of the Pinole Valley Watershed section of East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) lands and Fernandez Ranch on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. For this hike I started at a trailhead on Coach Dr east of El Sobrante; the trailhead provides access to EBMUD lands via a short stretch on Sobrante Ridge Trail in Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve. There is an additional segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in this preserve. It is worth noting that hiking in the EBMUD lands requires a permit; see the EBMUD web site for more information.
Even a quick, cursory look at my GPS track suggests that I had an off-trail adventure on this hike, since – as usual – I was planning an out-and-back hike.
The trailhead is in the small triangle at the lower left of the track. First I had some confusion sorting out the Sobrante Ridge Trail from an access road to a small communication facility on the adjacent hilltop. More importantly, though, only about 0.1 mile after entering the EBMUD watershed I failed to take a(n unmarked) left turn and continued along another trail until I reached Castro Ranch Rd and convinced myself I was quite a ways off-trail. I was glad I had some maps with me – although they did not show the many former ranch roads on the EBMUD property, they did show the paved public roads and helped me to see where to go to get back on-trail. Eventually I got back on-trail and hiked up to a power-line crossing where I had turned around on my previous hike.
The terrain covered in my “scenic detour” is similar to that on the Ridge Trail, and the elevation gain and loss weren’t significantly affected. The lowest elevation on the trail is in the vicinity of the “Y” intersection of Pinole Valley Rd, Alhambra Valley Rd, and Castro Ranch Rd.
Although my hike took place in summer, just a week after the summer solstice, the weather was uncharacteristically grey and drizzly. In fact, I started out in light rain sprinkles. Other hikers and dog walkers came prepared for rain.
My backup plan was to abandon the hike if the weather got too wet. Fortunately, other than remembering to clean off the end of my camera lens once or twice, the sprinkles were only intermittent and lent an unusual atmosphere to a summer hike. This was the beautiful view just after I passed through the gate into the EBMUD property, looking to the north/northwest. The cloud cover prevented me from figuring out whether I was looking over San Pablo Bay (more to the northwest) or Carquinez Strait (more to the north)
The EBMUD property is made up of former ranch land, and former ranch roads criss-cross the property (and do not seem to be on publicly available maps). The route I took passed numerous such roads/trails. In many cases the only indication of the intended “through” route is that the other roads are marked with small sign posts indicating “fire road closed to public.” I did not notice such a sign at the place where I failed to turn left. In any case, I proceeded roughly east, then southeast, along the fence line marking the edge of the EBMUD property. Along this fence line I found some unusual and beautiful thistles. The typical flower part is proportionally shorter, and the base much bigger, than most other thistles.
The fire roads are not marked with road names, although trail maps do indicate some names. So instead of following Sobrante Ridge Rd I was following an unnamed road, though I did not yet know that. About 1 mile after going off-trail I encountered a barbed-wire fence at a paved road, with signage across the road indicating continuation of EBMUD watershed lands. The road turned out to be Castro Ranch Rd. The most expedient thing to do was to get through the fence, figure out which road it was, and then walk along the road to rejoin the Bay Area Ridge Trail. As it turns out, a couple of EBMUD workers drove down the other watershed road just after I got through the fence, and I was able to go over and talk to them about where I was. Then I walked northeast along Castro Ranch Rd until I got to the “Y” intersection mentioned previously.
As I walked along the road I saw several killdeer flitting around and calling. These distinctive plover-like birds do not stand still, especially when a person approaches, and I was lucky to get just this one photo.
At the “Y” intersection the Ridge Trail follows the shoulder of the road for less than ¼ mile, then crosses Alhambra Valley Rd, re-enters the fenced EBMUD property, and follows aptly named Windmill Rd.
Throughout the EBMUD property, here and there, there were several different types of wildflower. One of the most common types was one whose identity I don’t know, but I’ve seen them along several other trails in the Bay Area. Here are pink and white examples, with a few raindrops captured in the petals.
The Ridge Trail continues to pass through cattle gates and past fire roads closed to the public. Where the fire road posts are present, way-finding is rather straightforward. When I arrived at the distinctive turnaround location from my previous hike, where the trail passes under a significant set of power transmission lines and through a gate, I turned around and headed back to the trailhead. As the afternoon progressed, the cloud cover became heavier and the skies greyer, but the sprinkles were still spotty. There really wasn’t any point when I was tempted to abandon the hike due to the sprinkles. As I came down Windmill Rd I was passing nearby hillsides dotted with oak trees. This watershed property has a sense of openness, and that’s a great resource for residents of nearby communities.
On the return trip I had no trouble finding the eastern end of Sobrante Ridge Rd near the “Y” intersection, so my return trip was accurately along the Bay Area Ridge Trail route. About 0.6 mile past the Y I suddenly heard some rustling and squawking, and momentarily I saw a small flock of wild turkeys running single-file along an invisible track up a nearby hillside, just below a tiny ridge where a cow rested, oblivious to the commotion. The turkeys quickly topped the ridge and ran out of sight.
As I approached the EBMUD property boundary I took a last look in the same general direction I had enjoyed a view at the beginning of the hike. The cloud/fog layer was considerably lower in the sky, essentially obscuring any distant view.
In a way I considered myself lucky to complete a 4-hour hike in sprinkly June weather without being seriously tempted to abandon the hike. It would be interesting to return another time when the distant views are visible; I bet they are fantastic!