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This was my fifteenth 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 – continuing north along the east side of the Bay, following Map 15.
On a Thursday in early August 2022, once the Marsh Fire had been put out and the smoke had dispersed [see Notes below about the Marsh Fire, also covered in Ride #13], I decided to try the ride from Pinole to Hercules along the south shore of San Pablo Bay, the part of the San Francisco Bay north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Although summer temps were high around the Bay, the onshore breeze kept things so cool that I wore my brushed cotton mauve plaid shirt. I didn’t take it off until the end of the ride when I got back to my car.
On this ride, several shoreline parks flow into each other along the edge of San Pablo Bay: Pinole Shores Regional Park, Pinole Bayfront Park, San Pablo Bay Regional Park, and Shoreline Park. One covers five miles from the first park to the last, where this short section of the Bay Trail ends. In the future, another five-mile section of the Trail will be created to link the southern end of this part to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline.
In 1772, Spanish Captain Pedro Fages led an expedition from Monterey to explore the San Francisco Bay. The word “Pinole” is said to come from the Nahuatl word Pinolli, referring to toasted ground corn mixed with other seeds and spices. From 1774 – 1848, Ignacio Martinez held Rancho el Pinole in what is now Contra Costa County.
The history of manufacturing explosives around the Bay showed up on this section of the Bay Trail as well. In 1881, the California Powder Company built a plant to manufacture explosives on a remote peninsula extending from the shore. The product was called “Hercules powder” after Hercules in Greek mythology. Advertisements at the time promised that the powder “will break more rock, is stronger, safer and better than any other Explosive in use, and is the only Nitro-Glycerin Powder chemically treated to neutralize the poisonous fumes, notwithstanding bombastic and pretentious claims by others.” The nearby towns of Pinole and Hercules became company towns.
I parked at Pinole Shores Regional Park, which turned out to be a good thing, as I found out later that parking at Pinole Bayfront Park is limited to 2 hours. Railroad tracks hug the shore along this portion of the Bay with high cyclone fences separating the tracks from the Bay Trail. I heard several trains go by. Of the Amtrak trains, the Capitol Corridor passes this way, coming from San Jose to the south and heading east to Sacramento. The California Zephyr continues east past Sacramento all the way to Chicago. And the Coast Starlight, coming up from southern California, turns north and continues all the way through Oregon to Seattle. Freight trains that seem miles long come rattling through frequently.
First, I made a left on the Bay Trail and rode south towards Point Wilson. The sign at the entrance to the trail says San Pablo Bay Regional Trail. The trail is paved for 0.6 miles and then hard-packed dirt for another 0.2 miles. I passed a rock jutting out into the water known as Wilson Rock. Reaching the end of this short section of trail, I could see south across the water to the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Point Pinole, and the fishing pier, where I rode on Ride #12.
On the way north from Pinole Shores Regional Park, the Bay Trail crosses a pedestrian bridge structure 1,100 feet long that was completed in 2018, enabling passage over the Union Pacific train tracks and access to Pinole Bayfront Park. Before that time, one could not reach the park by the Bay Trail from the south.
Once over the bridge and down along the water again, I circled west around Pinole’s wastewater treatment plant. One can detect a strong aroma from the plant on its north side. This is one portion of the Bay Trail where the railroad tracks have turned slightly east away from the water. This means one can walk very close to the water’s edge.
2.95 miles from where I had parked, I reached Pinole Creek. The creek flows into the San Pablo Bay at Pinole Bayfront Park into some of the few undeveloped wetlands on the San Francisco Bay. Its waters come down from nearby foothills known as the Pinole Creek Watershed, through portions of El Sobrante, Pinole and Hercules. The wetlands are home to Black-necked stilts, salt marsh harvest mice, and the Common yellowthroat songbird. I saw a great egret stalking fish in the middle of the creek as I passed.
A small footbridge crosses Pinole Creek, and the Bay Trail continues into San Pablo Bay Regional Park. On the north side of the creek, an interesting information board has holes for visitors to look through. One hole aims at a portion of the wetlands to help viewers determine the stage of the tide, whether high or low. It provides a hint that one will see mudflats at low tide.
Except near the sewage treatment plant and the beginning of San Pablo Bay Regional Park, railroad tracks separate the Bay Trail from the water’s edge. A high cyclone fence separates the Trail from the tracks. A local man walking his dog shared that years earlier, before the fence, three area folks walked down to the beach near Wilson Rock and were killed by trains because they didn’t look and couldn’t hear the trains coming.
The local saved me quite a bit of trouble by providing directions on how to get to the next section of the Bay Trail (partly by road) and all the way to Hercules. The Bay Trail map shows a break between trail sections and I was afraid I was going to have go back to the car, load up my bike and to drive to the next section. Happily, thanks to this man’s tip, I was able to ride the whole way.
To reach the next section of the Bay Trail—Shoreline Park and Lone Tree Point—one leaves the Pinole Bayfront Park parking lot and carefully crosses the train tracks. There is no gate and no train crossing signals here. I discovered oncoming trains are, in fact, very hard to hear. Not far beyond, one turns left (north) onto San Pablo Avenue and continues along city streets for a few blocks. At Bayfront Boulevard, one sees small foot-long barriers separating the bike trail from the road. Further up, at the intersection of Bayfront and John Muir Parkway, arrows point left (west) to reach the Bay Trail again. Almost all of this portion of the Trail is paved. I passed a large group of seniors walking along the trail.
The train corridor is highly used. On Thursday, a weekday, it seemed passenger trains were passing north and south every 30 minutes to an hour. In between, an extremely long freight train passed by.
Towards the end of the 5 miles along the shoreline, now in the city of Hercules, I came across two different signs announcing Lone Tree Point. One information sign perched on a small hill announces the completion of a half-mile extension of the Bay Trail and recognizes the support of California Governor Gavin Newsom and Wade Crowfoot, Secretary for Natural Resources. This extension is touted as “revitalizing and enhancing the existing Lone Tree Point Park with a new staging area and trail improvements.” The second sign, further north along the trail and technically in the city of Rodeo, looks more like a State park facility, including restrooms. I was never able to figure out exactly where Lone Tree Point was.
A regional trail sign displays rules prohibiting motorized vehicles, including bicycles. I wondered if that includes electric bikes. Across the water, I could see white cylindrical tanks used to store fuel by the local oil refinery companies.
I rode beyond the Lone Tree Point area until I came to the end of this section of the Bay Trail and was back on city streets. On my return past the Lone Tree Point State park facility, I saw the group of seniors again. Since I stop frequently to take photos, they had had a chance to catch up.
This section of the Bay Trail had more ups and downs than I’d run into on previous sections. The steady wind was stronger on the return trip as I headed south. About 1 p.m., I noticed white caps on the Bay’s waters. Sailors have told me they go out in the mornings and try to get back before the daily winds come up about 2 p.m.
An interpretive sign near where I had parked listed the many songbirds in this area: black-headed grosbeaks, chestnut-backed chickadees, goldfinches, hermit thrushes, song sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, oak titmice, song sparrows, spotted towhees, Wilson’s warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, Bewick’s wrens, purple and house finches, American robins, and Northern mockingbirds. Close to the parking lot, I saw a mockingbird.
A photographer friend gave me a sturdy, high-end Tumi backpack which I have been using on each ride. Another friend gave me a hiking notebook which I use to captures notes—it has been very helpful.
On this ride I covered 9.46 miles, and the odometer had reached 234 miles. I had been riding for 3.75 hours and was glad I parked at Pinole Shores Regional Park, where there was no time limit for parking. Another great ride!
~ ~ ~
From Ride #13:
Marsh Wildfire: The day of Ride #13, the TV morning news reported they were letting a fire smolder in a flood marsh outside of Pittsburg in east Contra Costa County (some 35 miles east of where I was riding) because there were no buildings nearby. “Usually flames near the marsh burn themselves out when they get close to water in the delta. . . . Gusty winds picked up sparks and spread the fire to palm trees that line the marsh . . . throwing up dense smoke that could be seen for miles” when the fire began “burning in some peat.”
In the week that followed, about 7/19/22, the San Jose Mercury News (the “Merc”) reported that, because the “ground in the marshland was too soft and porous for firefighters to drive on,” five water pumps were being used to pump 37 million gallons of water from the Delta and Mallard Slough into the marsh to snuff out the persistent fire which had burning in the peat for almost two months, causing air quality issues for area residents. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was on site to advise firefighters regarding how to avoid impacting protected species such as the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.
A follow-up news article on 7/23/22 is here: The article includes the fire’s timeline and announced that, after 7 days, the marsh flooding had ended: 200 million gallons of water had been poured into the marsh at the rate of 20,000 gallons per minute. No hot spots or smoke remained.
Information sources: S.F. Bay Trail website, Map 15; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail.
Funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners:
Pinole Shores to Bay Front Park: The San Francisco Bay Trail; Measure WW; www.ebparks.org East Bay Regional Park District; Coastal Conservancy; CalTrans; California State Parks; U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration and TIGER; Metropolitan Transportation Commission; Contra Costa Transportation Authority; Union Pacific
San Francisco Bay Trail at Lone Tree Point—Funding Provided by: California Climate Investments; California Natural Resources Agency’s Urban Greening Program; Contra Costa Transportation Authority; Bay Area Air Quality Management District; San Francisco Bay Trail; East Bay Regional Park District