The browning of our hills is underway. Spring is fading, and summer is on the way. If you are not ready to give up cool day hikes among blooming wildflowers, there are places to go where spring lingers. Mount Diablo is one.
Mount Diablo is one of the Bay Area’s most visible landmarks. It is said that from its summit, one can see more of the Earth’s surface than from the top of any mountain in the world except Mount Kilimanjaro. Yet, for all of its notoriety, few of us venture up the mountain. We pass it again and again on our way out of town thinking, “I gotta go up there someday.”
On a late May day, I decided “someday” had arrived. When spring’s vitality drains from the hills surrounding our valley, it is time to start chasing it up mountain slopes. At nearly 4,000 feet, the summit of Mount Diablo is the same elevation as Yosemite Valley. Would I find a high mountain landscape within easy driving distance?
I did. At the top of the mountain, I stepped from the car into a rush of brisk mountain air, a good deal cooler than the tepid temperatures in the valleys below. Under ideal conditions on the summit observation platform, one can see Lassen Peak, Yosemite Valley and the Farallon Islands. While not perfect, the morning was clear and the view amazing. Toward every compass point, the Earth plunges down for a vertigo-inducing experience.
It was early and quiet in the visitor center, though the volunteer there said school buses were on the way. I snagged a park map and quickly noticed an irresistible sequence of trails encircling the top portion of the mountain.
Though it was late May, spring was still busting out on the high flanks of Mount Diablo. Lush flower gardens reminded me of early spring in our local hills, including a number of flowers we don’t often see here. Among the usual California poppies and Chinese houses, bright red larkspur and brilliant wind poppies brightened the trail. On the drier chaparral covered slopes, I passed a chaparral pea shrub awash in purple blossoms.
Look down, beautiful flowers; look up, a constantly changing succession of distant views: the distant Sierra across the Central Valley, the Sacramento River delta, the entire Bay Area. As I looped around the mountain, the show never lagged.
The seven-mile loop I walked is called the Grand Loop. It goes out the North Peak and Bald Ridge Trails and returns via Meridian Ridge and Deer Flat Roads. It is a moderate hike, but you will remember that you are alive as you make the final ascent back toward your car.
It looks like summer near home, but it is still spring on Mount Diablo. It is probably just as lovely in the Sierra foothills, but at Mount Diablo, you can go to the high country and be home for dinner.