MT. DIABLO — It was only supposed to rain Saturday.
Hail and then snow wasn’t in the forecast.
But that’s exactly what fell just before noon with the vernal equinox less than 70 hours away near the 3,849-foot summit of Mt. Diablo some 33 miles northwest of Manteca as the crow flies.
Hiking the 10-mile loop on Saturday from Regency Gate in Clayton to the summit was intended to give a 22-year-old visitor from Georgia — Moises Duarte — the chance to see Mt. Diablo’s fabled view of nearly 200 miles that pops up in the window after a storm has cleared the skies in either winter or early spring.
My timing was off, but it really didn’t matter.
There’s something magical about hiking up into low hanging clouds and then suddenly the temperature dropping and being gently pelted with hail before giving way to snow flurries.
The trip was well worth it even before we made it a quarter of a way along the Donner Creek Fire Road just inside the Regency Gate. A large cat crossed our path just 30 feet away and quickly disappeared into the lush brush. Moises asked what it was, noting it looked like a cat but was too big to be one. Since I caught more of a rear view I ventured it was a mountain lion cub. I’ve seen mountain lions before but wasn’t sure it was one but noted if it was to be on the lookout since mom would likely be near.
After we checked out the museum displays at the summit, we were able to verify what we saw — a bobcat. It was a first for both of us.
The dearth of hikers and lack of mountain bikers due to the inclement weather and muddy conditions made hiking in the 20,000 acre state park an incredible experience. Except for the visitors who drove to the top via the South Gate entrance in Danville, we passed only 16 other people and seven of them were hardcore trail runners. That’s a small fraction of the usual late winter weekend crowd.
Having large swaths of Mt. Diablo to one’s self makes it even more stunning.
And with the weather staying rainy for most of this week, you’d be remiss in the coming weeks not to schedule at least a drive to the top of Mt. Diablo — it’s 64.8 miles or 90 minutes over the Altamont Pass, north on Interstate 680 and through the Town of Danville.
The reason is simple. Not only will you be treated to once-a-year mega views enhanced by extended rain, but the wildflowers have been kept in check. That means once the temperatures start warming into the 70s in earnest, the rolling hills will burst into color and — barring a heat wave — shift through various spring bloom times of flowers that come to life later in the season well into mid-May.
It’s not that nature below Mt. Diablo wasn’t a sight to behold Saturday. The grass was a lush green and the leaves of some trees were deep while others were a vibrant bright green. Then there were the trees just starting to bud that were laden with drops of water pooled from the rainfall.
Rabbits seemed to be everywhere. Hawks could be seen in flight. There was even a flock of wild turkeys making their presence known with incessant gobbling near the Regency Gate along Black Creek.
You don’t have to hike the trails of miles of trails to take in the splendor of Mt. Diablo State Park. You can see much of it from a car or the summit observation deck. However, short walks from various pullouts from the South Gate to the Summit will delight nature lovers and photographers of all abilities. Mt. Diablo is open to vehicles from 8 a.m. to sunset. Visitors should plan to be in their vehicles by sunset and headed out to avoid being locked in. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle.
The Mt. Diablo Summit Visitors Center and Museum built during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features an observation deck where, once the storms clear as early on Friday or the window that is open today if it is sunny and not cloudy, it will afford you incredible views.
After Friday for a few days or so you should be able to see the 211 acres that comprise the Farallon Islands 27 miles outside the Golden Gate, Mount Shasta’s 14,180-foot peak some 240 miles to the north, Mt. Lassen at 10,463 feet to the northeast, and Loma Preita 58 miles to the south. If you have binoculars you’ll be able to make out Half Dome among the clutter of granite surrounding Yosemite Valley 135 miles to the east.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org