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On a Sunday in late June 2022, I went on my twelfth bike ride on my quest to travel 350 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail – those miles completed so far of the total of 500 miles planned, this time continuing north on the east side of the Bay, following Map 14.
After taking a hiatus from rides over the winter to help my Mom with some things, I expected to continue my ride north from Point Isabel (see Ride #11). Trail closure for surface restoration caused me to change my plans and ride a section a little further north, this time along the south edge of San Pablo Bay. This is a name change for the San Francisco Bay as its waters extend north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
On the day of this ride, the temperatures in my town, Campbell, more than 60 miles to the south, were projected to hit 91 degrees. By contrast, the temps for Point Pinole were forecast to reach 75 degrees. I took an extra layer to wear in case it was foggy when I got there. On my drive up, I was hoping the sun would break through for better photos.
Driving north on 880, as I approached Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley, to the east the sky was blue with occasional clouds. To the west lay a blanket of fog, covering everything from the east shore of the Bay to the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge was completely hidden.
North of Berkeley, as I passed the city of Albany, I drove under the fog blanket which obscured any blue sky. However, as I reached the north edge of Richmond and Pinole, I drove out of the fog layer, which remained intact just a little south for the rest of the day.
At the Dotson Family Marsh parking area, while unloading my bike, I heard steady popping sounds from the nearby Rod & Gun Club. Floating across the water came the two-toned moan of a long, low fog horn, bellowing its warning to frequent water traffic passing through. I saw ferries and tankers with tugboats pass several times over the course of the afternoon – possibly serving the Chevron refinery just south of where I parked or the oval-shaped oil refinery storage tanks overlooking the north shore of San Pablo Bay across the water from Point Pinole.
I wore my brushed cotton, rose-plaid-colored overshirt throughout my ride. Although the sun was bright and warm, the wind was strong and quite cold — much preferred to the heat I had left behind in the South Bay.
The Dotson Family Marsh habitat restoration was funded by more than ten agencies to address anticipated sea level rise and coastal and inland flooding. The restored San Pablo Marsh was been renamed in honor of the Dotson family, longtime residents of adjacent Parchester Village, for their environmental legacy to save the Richmond shoreline from development.
From the Dotson Family Marsh, I followed the Bay Trail north towards Point Pinole. Shortly after crossing the Rheem Creek foot bridge, I took the China Clipper Spur Trail to the Cordgrass Jetty Trail to the water’s edge, then rode back and north alongside Giant Marsh, crossing a second pedestrian bridge that spans part of the marsh.
I reached the peninsula of the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. Map 14 says this area is “one of the largest waterfront parks in the entire Bay Area, with some 2,315 acres on the Point Pinole Peninsula and adjacent marshlands.” The park land borders the cities of Richmond, San Pablo and Pinole.
Just before turning west along the Bayview Trail, I came upon a sign talking about the Hayward Fault which passes directly where I stood. A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake along this fault shook the San Francisco Bay Area in 1868. At the surface, ground rupture was observed from San Leandro south to the Warm Springs District of Fremont, about 20 miles. Nearly every building in the City of Hayward was destroyed or badly damaged. Damage was reported as far north as Santa Rosa and as far south as Santa Cruz and Gilroy. It was considered one of the most destructive earthquakes in California history and was known as “the great San Francisco Earthquake” until the famous quake of 1906. The Point Pinole bluffs were uplifted by this fault, seen clearly from the Pinole Fishing Pier.
The Bayview Trail hugs the shoreline, one of many trails on the Point Pinole Peninsula. At the intersection of Packhorse Trail, a sign warned that the next portion of the Bayview Trail was rough and steep. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check it out. Since most of the trail so far had been unpaved, the next portion wasn’t any worse. One part of the trail was extremely narrow with a steep cliff descending to the shoreline below. I walked my bike along that section.
I came to a trail option that allowed bikes to access the Pinole Fishing Pier and rode to the end of it. The 1,250-foot pier was built in 1977. Funding for the restoration of this area was provided from the Cosco Busan Oil Spill Settlement Recreational Use Grant Program. (The environmental disaster occurred in 2007 when a container ship spilled heavy fuel oil into the Bay after running into one of the support towers of the Oakland Bay Bridge in thick fog.)
Many families had arrived before me. Fishing poles leaned against the sides of the pier, flanked by open ice chests, friends exchanging pastimes, a few radios blaring.
For nearly 80 years, from 1881 to 1960, the Point was the site for four dynamite manufacturing companies. These powder companies produced about 2 billion pounds of dynamite for mining and construction of roads and railroads, leveraging the easy access to water and rail transportation. This was the second time on my S.F. Bay Trail rides I had come across the history of this type of industry (see Ride #6, the Roberts Landing and Trojan Powder Works). The Giant Powder Company was one of the larger manufacturers, and Giant Marsh and Giant Highway bear its name.
Old wharf pilings from the Atlas Powder Company remain and run parallel the new Pinole Pier. In the 1950’s, the old pier supported narrow gauge railroad tracks. Electric locomotives pulled freight cars loaded with explosives to the end of the pier. 50-pound boxes of dynamite were loaded onto barges (2000 cases per barge) using a rolling conveyor system. Tugboats guided the barges south into the San Francisco Bay, where the cargo transferred to ships bound for the Philippines, Hawaii and South America.
In 1963, Bethlehem Steel bought the land and later sold it to the East Bay Regional Park District. The park opened to the public in 1973.
Before European explorers came to this area, the Huchiun Ohlone Indians managed and harvested shellfish here. In 1776, a Spanish explorer observed them catching sturgeon from boats made of tule reeds, journaling how they used nets tied between two poles to catch the fish. They used a type of fishing line with string made from dogbane (a local plant), a notched sandstone sinker, and a gorge hook made of deer bone.
In later years, Mexican ranchers ran longhorn cattle here. After 1832, local Native people became the primary labor force on a 17,939-acre cattle ranch. Croatian fishermen made their homes in the fishing village of Sobrante. The City of El Sobrante lies just east of Point Pinole. In the 1870’s, Chinese shrimp fishermen set up camp in this area.
The Bay Trail website says the pier “takes the adventurous angler into the deeper waters of San Pablo Bay. Kingfish, perch, smelt, flounder, sole, sharks, skates and rays are common; salmon, steelhead, striped bass and sturgeon have been caught, too. The pier boasts panoramic views of San Pablo Bay and Mt. Tamalpais.”
The Olympia oyster is native to the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico. Oyster reefs provide essential habitat for small fish and invertebrates. At low tide one can see “reef balls” made of shell, sand and concrete placed just offshore and near the pier, deployed to increase the oysters’ habitat. Alas, the tide was too high to see the balls when I was passing through.
Notice the photos of the Bay waters by the pier: when I wore my polarized sunglasses, the waters looked greener, with a definite line between lighter and darker shades. Without the sunglasses, the waters looked more blue.
As I left the pier, I came to a picnic area with several tables and stopped for lunch. I had ridden 4.14 miles.
Of the many trails in the park, I returned on Owl Alley Trail since it is designated on the park’s map as part of the S.F. Bay Trail. I detoured north onto Marsh Trail to stay closer to the water. The golden grasslands in this area, bordered by dense eucalyptus groves, were spectacular. Oval-shaped refinery storage tanks dotted the landscape across the water.
Common raptors seen in this area include the turkey vulture, osprey, American kestrel, prairie falcon, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and Cooper’s hawk. Shorebirds frequenting this area include the American avocet, Clapper rail, greater and lesser yellowlegs, willets, long-billed curlews, long- and short-billed dowitchers, killdeer, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, sanderlings, dunlins and sandpipers.
In this area I found my favorite interpretive sign yet: “A Desert Full of Water.” The sign advises that the plants that grow here use the same survival strategies as desert plants because the water that surrounds them is salt water and they lack access to sufficient fresh water. “Some salt marsh plants are succulent like a cactus; their thick, waxy leaves store water and prevent evaporation from the wind and sun.” The salty soil creates problems, too. Yet “salt grass absorbs brackish water and excretes a concentrated salt solution from its pores that then crystallizes, while pickleweed concentrates excess salt in its leaf tips. The tips then turn red and fall off, allowing the rest of the plant to regenerate. . . . [A] salt marsh is like a saltwater-filled desert.”
The Point Pinole Shoreline is home to over 100 species of birds: egrets, herons, hummingbirds, the rare salt marsh song sparrow, and many kinds of hawks. The protected California black rail and California clapper rail live here, as well as the salt marsh harvest mouse, black-tailed deer, and non-poisonous snakes. The eucalyptus woodlands are home to deer, owls, and Monarch butterflies.
I rode my return trip on Cook’s Point Trail, picking up the Bay View Trail again to the Dotson Family Marsh parking area.
At the end of this ride, I decided to stop at the West County Landfill, called Garbage Mountain, just a few miles south of the Dotson parking area and in the City of Richmond. There is a trail loop that goes around the landfill that is part of the Bay Trail. Garbage Mountain is 350 acres, a hill rising 158 feet. The landfill has its own power-generating plant which uses methane gas discharged from the mountain’s decomposing waste. The electricity supplies all the landfill’s power needs and is sold to PG&E to power 1,500 homes.
I spent quite a bit of time the day before this ride researching where one could actually park and where the trails began. It seemed most logical to start on the Landfill Loop Trail (2.8 miles), which heads west and south along the shore of the bay before turning east and north around the manmade “mountain” to finish the loop. However, two signs said “No Bay Trail Access” beyond this point.
To be sure I had not missed an opportunity, based on the Bay Trail map posted in the area, I rode to where one would come out of the Landfill Loop Trail. There was a cyclone fence gate about the width of a wide door which usually indicates where a walking/bike trail begins. When open, bikes must stay on the trail going along the water’s edge. They are not allowed up to the top of the hill.
Next to the pedestrian entrance was a wider cyclone fence gate where vehicles could drive through. The vehicle gate was locked. The sign said, “Trail is closed if gate is locked.” It said to call 510-262-1660 for updated trail hours and “incidental closures.” Be sure to call the number before you head up there. If the trail had been open, the gates would have closed at 5 p.m.
My last option was the Wildcat Marsh Trail, which heads south past a solar panel farm of 89 giant solar panels, used to run water treatment equipment, and a fenced-off water treatment area. The West County Wastewater District sends treated water for use at Garbage Mountain, in cooling towers at the nearby Chevron Refinery, and for irrigation of 150 acres at the Richmond Country Club. The water treatment facility also generates electrical power used to run landfill treatment equipment.
The beginning of this trail looked so industrial I doubted it would be worth the ride. However, it skirted the Wildcat Marsh which provided views of the landfill area with Mt. Tamalpais rising up beyond, across the Bay. The marsh has the expected salt-tolerant plants, including pickleweed. One orange-colored plant is a harmless parasite that grows on pickleweed and other plants. Shorebirds and wading birds such as egrets and great blue herons rest and feed here. This trail is open dawn to dusk.
The trail dead ends at the Wildcat Creek Trail. To the right is a small observation platform for a higher view of the marsh. To the left, the Wildcat Creek Trail, which heads east and inland, is no longer part the Bay Trail. There are plans to extend this trail all the way up to Wildcat Canyon in the East Bay hills.
A portion of Wildcat Creek Marsh closest to the trail was mudflats crisscrossed with an interesting pattern of footprints. Some prints had dried into the mud. One set of prints was recent, with the marks still wet. I couldn’t tell which animal made them, but some type of creature bigger than a songbird. Marsh residents include the San Pablo vole, the ruddy duck, snowy egret, and black-tailed hare. Maybe those were hare prints.
On this ride, I traveled 10.07 miles. My odometer for total Bay Trail miles had reached 190 miles.
As I explore the Bay Trail, I drive further and further from my home to reach each new section. For this ride, I set out at 9:15 a.m. and got back home about 5:40 p.m. Three hours of the day was spent driving to and from this section of the Trail (130 miles round trip). 3.5 hours were spent riding/photographing in the Point Pinole area, 30 minutes for lunch, with another 30 minutes fussing around the West County Landfill. For those counting, the rest of the time was spent loading and unloading the bike twice.
With the price of gas still approaching $6 a gallon, I changed my plan to ride the Bay Trail to only twice a month.
Another fun ride, always worth everything it takes to get there!
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Information sources: S.F. Bay Trail website; the East Bay Parks website; brochures for Point Pinole and the West County Landfill; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail; Wikipedia; generic Google searches.
Funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners: San Francisco Bay Trail; Coastal Conservancy; East Bay Regional Park District (www.ebparks.org); East Bay Regional Parks – the Watershed Project; www.RegionalParksFoundation.org/mem; Republic Services, Inc.; Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC); West County Wastewater District; fema.gov/earthquake-safety-home.
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