Mt. Diablo’s Mitchell Canyon with Michael – 4/20/15

Last Monday’s Footloose hike was a bit further afield and in the Mt. Diablo water shed – just like a weekend in the country. Michael mentioned that the group had hiked in this area in earlier years at the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. Some of us also recall a foggy morning toward the summit of the mountain with David Lukas in October of 2009 when we retreated to the Rock City area. In addition to getting into the sunshine, we got into the underworld with David’s remarkable description of the mycology beneath our feet, Orpheus be warned and be amazed.

Native Americans believed Mt. Diablo to be sacred. The Bay Miwok Indians believed that Coyote, “the trickster god, created their people on that mountain.” Initially the Ohlone called it Tuyshtak meaning “at the dawn of time.”. and in 1811 it went by the name of Cerro Alto de los Bolbones after the Bay Miwok Bolbon Tribe. Spanish soldiers chasing natives who disappeared overnight gave the name “Monte del Diablo” or thicket of the devil and English speakers made the association with the mountain itself. At times locals wanted to change the name feeling the it was either tempting fate or bad for business but none of these efforts prevailed. There was an effort to name the entire area Mt. Diablo in 1850 but the California Legislature decided on a less profane name, Contra Costa. After the discovery of coal on the north side of the mountain in 1859, extensive mining operations there fueled the entire Bay area for about 25 years. In 1865-1866 some wanted to rename the mountain “Coal Hill” but the nearby town of Clayton did not go along. Recently in 2009, an individual from Oakley, CA petitioned the federal government to change the name to Mt. Jahweh and later to Mt. Reagan. But the U.S. Board of Geographic names found no compelling reason to do so The railroads’ rivalries at the time coal was king on the mountain. Well written and whimsical visit. This is an extensive and interesting timeline.

Mt. Diablo early on became the “Initial Point” from which all of the land measurements in much of California and Nevada were made.
Because of the stellar views in every direction from the summit it became the primal spot from which all these measurements began. The Miwok “center of the world quality” came to be written again in the surveys that began in 1851 and 1852. Clearly written history and an account of personal discovery.

10/19/09, 9:39:59 AM – Lower Summit Parking Lot

4/20/15, 10:09:27 AM But today it was sunshine from the start as we started circling up at the Mitchell Canyon Parking area.

“Isaac Mitchell (1829-1921) was a native of Kentucky. He came to Contra costa County in 1849 with the gold rush and engaged in farming in the San Ramon Valley. He later purchased a large tract of land in the canyon where he lived until his death. He and his wife had six children. According to the authoritative History of Contra Costa County, published in 1926, ‘Mitchell Canyon’, at the base of Mt. Diablo, is named for him.” From the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association which has many rich entries on its website. (MDIA)

At the trailhead Michael stops to share some history of the “Lighthouse on the Mountain”. Diablo Beacon photos restoration.htm

A perfect view for some cutaway geology, the MDIA entry gives a nice thumbnail of the mining history in this area of Mt. Diablo.
The Clayton Quarry has been in production for over 50 years. “Located on Mt. Zion the material mined is diabase, a hard, durable rock used in the construction of roads, buildings, rail lines, dams and levees . . . typically 72% goes to the public sector projects.” Mentioned are Interstate 580 and 680, B.A.R.T., the new Giants Stadium, Concord Naval Weapons Station, Los Vaqueros Dam and many others.

Walnut Creek, CA would be a clue about the identity of this tree. This is the original and not the usual pattern for orchards with English walnut trees grafted on Black Walnut rootstock.

We’ve seen Michael “dive” many times to find a creature to carefully share with us, a living and often lively visual aid. Here he’s successfully invited a Southern Alligator lizard to join us just for a moment. You can admire his beautiful long and in tact original tail. Often we see alligator or fence lizards that have had to jettison their tails in order to escape a predator. Some are still with short stumpy tails and others have regrown the missing tail but with distinct markings at the replacement.

His light or yellow eye is definitive of his southern heritage i.e. a Southern Alligator Lizard rather than the Northern Alligator Lizard’s eyes which are darker.

You can see his curving, prehensile tail which he used to hang happily from Michael’s finger.

Young Gray Pine Tree with its long needles and large cones almost too big for its britches. Gray-green in color, the needles are in bundles three. The old “Digger” Pine designation is historical and the Jepson Manual advises that the name is to not be used because it is pejorative.

Consultation about whether this is a Gray Pine or perhaps a Coulter Pine cone.

A hillside of Chamise in full bloom Chaparral/californiachaparral.html

California wild grape vine, Vitus californica, did the Native California Indians know how to make wine? Manzanita berries for sure which were made into a tea and applied as a lotion for relief from poison oak.–California_Wild_Grape/

Darkling or pinacate beetle,Eloedes, sometimes called “stink beetles”. It has a characteristic “head standing” alarm position when it may release a slightly disagreeable odor. Its lacquered appearance gives it a formal look as it crosses the trail.

Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla, in the Figwort Family is named after Zaccheus Collins who was a Philadelphia botanist, 1764-1831. “Five petals are united into a Collinsia style two lipped flower, but here the flowers grow in rings around the stem. They form what looks like tiny Chinese pagodas. They have white to lilac upper lip and rose-purple lower lip.
Cf. McHoul, Lilian “Wild Flowers of Marin” and Parker, Reny “Wild Flowers of Northern California’s Wine Country . . .”

Here the flower ring around the stem is clear.

Harriet checks out some blooming Black Sage, Salvia Mellifera.

Closer in

Nearby a Ladybird Beetle, (Lady Bug) plies her craft.

Fence lizard blending with the lichens of his fallen oak log perch.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus Mexicana,

Note the distinctive flat blooms of the Blue Elderberry. The Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, with its pyramidal flowers (think RED PYRAMIDS) is poisonous and the stems, bark, leaves and roots contain cyanide producing toxins.

Checking out a Black Cottonwood recalling that the Eastern Cottonwood is the fastest growing native American tree.

In addition to this Black Cottonwood MDIA talks of the poplar trees in this area being better called the Fremont Cottonwood.

Cotton from the Cottonwoods

A Variable Checkerspot Butterfly is on our state flower looking like a velvety stained glass window.

American Goldfinch at a distance, flash of yellow against the blue. Top of an Alder?

I heard Tiger Moth larvae . . . on the way to moth hood.

Life has its challenges

Globe Lilies, a form of them unique to Mt. Diablo

Looking back on the Globe Lily Trail and beginning to see the details of the mountain, not just two peaks after all.

Indian Paintbrush (review), Castilleja Wightii, named for a Spanish botanist Juan Castilleja. McHoul writes, “Like all Castillejas, the most colorful parts of the plant are the bracts, which are three-lobed and tipped with yellow.”


Superb Mariposa Lily, Calochortus superbus, with a visitor along the Globe Lily Trail

Mad dogs, Englishman and Calochortus out in the noon day sun

These soft leaves would make perfect nesting material

Swallowtail (Western Tiger or maybe Anise) sips from Blue Dicks with a poison oak surround.

Oak Galls called “Oak Apples” in a very Gallist oak array. Hopefully this clear explanation of Oak Gall Wasp life cycles from the southeast is accurate for our California Gall wasps as well.

Michael out of thin air recalled the salient details of the story of Ithuriel’s Spear which is the name of this lovely flower in the lily family.
Ithuriel was an angel in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” who found Satan squatting like a toad at Eve’s ear, location the Garden of Eden, and transformed him by a touch of his spear into his proper form i.e. serpent (?) hedge fund CEO (?) Still another terrific article from BAY NATURE MAGAZINE which you need to subscribe to if you haven’t already. And the piece de resistance each issue is Michael’s column called “Ask the Naturalist”. This is a great blog discovery of a UK writer on architecture and visual culture with a wide variety of interests which are available on his rich site. Here he tells the story of his quest to find a painting by the late 19th century artist, Evelyn de Morgan “The Spear of Ithuriel”. I love his writing and the enthusiasm he shares on this adventure of “Paradise pursued: A Quest”. – For growing – For reading

Back at the start, coming or going?

Extra credit: Superb article done with humor, eclectic insight and attentive history. Scenes happily similar to our hike with a special surprise at the end. Some great information in a fairly long list of various locations on Mt. Diablo – memorable people/places/history. Wonderful broad swath of possibilities with many photos and links. From Edith Hamilton’s classic “Mythology” retelling the story

of Orpheus and Eurydice

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