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On a Thursday in mid-August 2022, I went on my seventeenth 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 I rode along the north shore of the Carquinez Strait, still following Map 16 .
Two days earlier there had been a heat wave and temperatures in Benicia reached a surprising high in the 90’s. Since that day had been forecast to be the peak heat, I took a chance that things would cool enough to be comfortable for my ride. Additionally, since I would be riding right along the water, I hoped for strong Bay winds to keep things cool.
I drove north on Highway 680 and turned west onto 780. This may have been my first time crossing the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. The Bay Trail here is still in unconnected sections. I decided to begin at the Glen Cove Waterfront Park and head east towards the Benicia State Recreation Area or as far as I could go on the trail. If time permitted, I would load up my bike and drive a little south to the Glen Cove Marina and try that portion of the trail. Bay Trail Map 16 says there are stairs there that one can climb for a nice view. In case it turned out to be too difficult to carry my bike up the stairs, I put a bike lock in my backpack to secure my bike.
Benicia is an historic town. It was the capital of California from 1853 to 1854. It is a “waterside city,” with an elevation of 26 feet and a population of about 27,000. This is a stark contrast to the hills just across the Carquinez Strait that rise up out of the water (see Ride #16). Vallejo, the next town over, is named after General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. In the 1800’s, he served as an officer of the Republic of Mexico instrumental in transitioning Alta California from a territory of Mexico to the State of California. He served in the first session of the California State Senate. Benicia is named after his wife, Dona Francisca Benicia Carrillo de Vallejo.
In 1848, the news of gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill was first leaked at a Benicia Tavern. This began the California Gold Rush. Benicia became a stopping point for gold miners headed to the Sierras. With a water connection to Sacramento as well as the San Francisco Bay, it was an important wheat storage and shipping site until the 1930’s. Pepsi and Coco-Cola are among its top ten employers today.
At the Glen Cove Waterfront Park, I rode west a short loop of 0.25 miles along the edge of the Carquinez Strait before following the Bay Trail east towards the bluffs called Dillon Point. I saw a small tanker from Hong Kong heading east through the Strait. The Glen Cove Waterfront Park Enhancement Project began in 2021. The area will see removal of certain types of vegetation, weed control, and planting of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers of cultural significance to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. The plantings will support wildlife and local pollinators. Yocha Dehe means “home by the spring water” in their native Patwin language. The Nation is now based in Capay Valley, near Sacramento.
From the Glen Cove Waterfront Park, I could see Dillon Point to the east with a tall PG&E power transmission tower on top. Looking west, I could see the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge, a/k/a the two Carquinez bridges, old and new, crossing the Carquinez Strait. As mentioned in more detail in Ride #16, the southbound bridge was built in 2003 and has a suspension design; the northbound one was built in 1958 and has an older cantilever bridge design, similar to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the old east span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. One can see the outlines of the different bridge designs appearing to be pressed against each other.
After the short loop in the Waterfront Park, the trail joins Regatta Road for a short distance. At 0.85 miles, one enters the Benicia State Recreation Area to follow any of several trails tracing the contours of the hill known as Dillon Point. Some trails are named the San Francisco Bay Trail. Others are called the Bay Area Ridge Trail or the Benicia Bay Trail. I followed several different loops which became an exploration of Dillon Point. From some of these trails I got more good views of the two Carquinez bridges.
One trail went to the top of the hill where the PG&E transmission tower is stationed. As I came over the crest of the hill, I could see the Carquinez Strait below and, across the water, the bluffs of Crockett and Port Costa and the Eckley Fishing Pier where I had ridden the week before on Ride #16. I could see the blackened hills of the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, burned by a wildfire two months earlier. I saw the burn scars along the Carquinez Overlook Loop where I had ridden. On the far side of the Carquinez Scenic Drive, I could see the barn and buildings of the No Name Ranch sitting on still golden hills, having been spared the fire.
I walked my bike down the steep hill from the PG&E tower to the Benicia Bay Trail that encircles the hill. I followed the trail left. It was packed dirt on a hillside sloping steeply down towards the water. The trail itself sloped slightly towards the steep slope, so I chose to walk my bike along this section. That gave me an extra opportunity to photograph different vistas. Across the water to the east I could see Mount Diablo (elevation 3,557 feet) rising in the distance.
Closer to sea level, there was a wooden fence barrier on the downhill side of the trail. I think it was put there to keep prevent mountain bikers from crashing through brush off-trail.
The trail ended at Dillon Point Road, a paved road leading right to the end of Dillon Point, where there are several small parking areas, a restroom, and a walking path for fishing.
After riding towards the fishing pier, I turned around and followed the road north along the edge of the Benicia State Recreation Area marshland. The road makes a long U around the marsh area. This is an important stopover along the Pacific Flyway during spring and fall migration. Since this was August, I only saw one great egret.
Each fall, millions of migrating birds follow the Pacific Flyway south from Alaska and Canada. Some winter in California; others continue on to the tropics. In the spring they reverse the process and head north again. Some of the hundreds of species that stop here include Forster’s Terns, Black-chinned hummingbirds, long-billed curlews, northern harriers, greater yellowlegs, snow geese, barn swallows, American white pelicans, Bullock’s orioles, and northern pintails.
The wetland ecosystem is covered with salt grass, pickleweed, coyote brush, and soft bird’s-beak. Bird’s-beak is an endangered green herb in the snapdragon family.
This area was first home to the Patwin, speaking the Southern Wintuan language. It is estimated that at least 3,300 lived in this area before the Europeans arrived. From 1800 to about 1835, Spanish padres from Missions Dolores, San Francisco and San Jose converted many of them to Catholicism. They later became laborers for the land holdings of General Vallejo (nearly 175,000 acres).
The Benicia State Recreation Area is 447 acres of marshland located along the narrowest portion of the Carquinez Strait. The marshes drain into the Southampton Bay Wetland Natural Preserve, which is off limits to the public, and then into Southampton Bay. This Bay is where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers meet before flowing through the Carquinez Strait into San Pablo Bay.
There are some nature trails to access from Dillon Point Road, but they are for pedestrians only and not for bikes. I rode to the end of the road, past a pay station for vehicles ($6 per car) and as far as Matthew Turner Park. From the last portion of the road I could see Highway 780 and the exit for Military West Highway on the north side.
When I started the ride, there was a strong cold wind. I wore my overshirt for most of the ride, grateful that it was cooler and not too hot. However, by early afternoon, the cold wind had died down. The sun beat hot and a warmer wind came up. Just before starting back on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, I stopped to rest and have lunch under the shade of a large oak tree.
The heat was beginning to get to me, so I looked for the most direct way to return. That meant taking the right fork each time the trail split. The first right fork was South Regatta Trail. The second right fork put me on a narrow trail that passed several power towers. I was doubting I was still on a legitimate Bay or Ridge trail, but shortly I reached Regatta Road. This gave me a downhill slope to coast back to my car.
After I loaded up my bike, I drove over to Glen Cove Marina, where a section of the Bay Trail was supposed to follow the shore for a short distance. I couldn’t see any signs for the Bay Trail while driving through the parking lot. There was a sign saying something about Public Shore. That often aligns with the Bay Trail, so I’ll begin my search there on a future visit. Because I was tired from the afternoon heat, I decided to head home.
One of my readers has been asking if I’m keeping track of the “return” miles, those miles I ride to get back to my car at the end of the day. Technically I can’t count those as new miles ridden on the Bay Trail. To date, about 100 miles of my rides have been “return” miles with about 150 miles being “net new” Bay Trail miles (ridden on new sections of the Bay Trail).
My total ride today was 8.63 miles. My return miles were 3.32. My odometer reading (total miles I’ve ridden on these Bay Trail rides) had reached 248 miles.
Once again, another fun ride, exploring areas of the Bay I’d never seen.
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Supporting Agencies (project funding and project partners):
Glen Cove Waterfront Park Enhancement Project: Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation; Solano Resource Conservation District; City of Vallejo; Vallejo Watershed Alliance
Pacific Flyway: California State Parks
Benicia State Recreation Area: California State Parks, Benicia State Parks Association, California State Parks Foundation
Information sources: S.F. Bay Trail website, Map 16; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail; Wikipedia; Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation