Iron Horse / Shell Ridge Connect-the-Dots Hike
From the apartment I head north on the Iron Horse Trail to Walden Park, the starting-point of an earlier hike on the Contra Costa Canal Trail. That day we headed west; today, though, I head east on the Canal Trail towards Heather Farm. The Iron Horse Trail here is wide, dusty, hot, and busy; but the Canal Trail is shady and cool, and feels a lot more private.
At Heather Farm I retrace my previous steps on the Briones–Mt. Diablo Trail, following it south where it forks off from the Ygnacio Canal Trail. At the end of a tarmac road, the trail suddenly gets narrow and steep, climbing up to run along a ridge; a big change from the flat, wide, metalled trails so far. And the views west start to open up. It’s hazy today, and the rows of hills fade into the distance.
The Briones–Mt. Diablo Trail connects to Shell Ridge Open Space just above the Marshall Drive trailhead, where we hiked from last week. I can’t resist climbing up onto Shell Ridge, although today I take the EBMUD access road. It’s a big improvement over slogging up on the Ridge Top Trail; steep, but short, and it climbs on the west side of the ridge so you get the breeze and the best views. I follow the Ridge Top Trail to the peak before it drops down the east side of the ridge. No coyote today, but I do see a group of young deer above me on the ridge; they very carefully watch me go past.
I take the Ginder Gap Trail south before returning west on the Briones–Mt. Diablo Trail. It’s 7:40pm, the sun is starting to sink, and I’m starting to get a little nervous about having mistimed things; I don’t want to be still in the park in total darkness. I press on a little. Today’s sunset is not nearly as dramatic as the one we lucked upon last week; a warm glow behind the hills, but no spectacular cloudscape today. Lots of dogs getting their evening walks on this section of the trail.
At Indian Creek I take the Fossil Hill Trail south before switching to the Kovar Trail west, which heads out of the park through Howe Homestead Park. It’s definitely getting dusky now, and for a while it’s mildly disquieting: a lot more rustlings in the undergrowth than during the daytime. But the sensation passes and I start enjoying the solitude, the cooler air and the sounds of the crickets.
And suddenly, the Kovar Trail crests the ridge and I’m back in civilisation again: the lights downtown Walnut Creek spread out below me, traffic noise drifting up the ridge, and the tick-tick-tick of sprinklers as the houses backing onto the trail do their evening watering.
Down to Howe Homestead and back home, arriving home in the dark at 8:30pm, three hours and some 7½ miles after starting. For a scratch hike, this worked out very well; the flat trails at the start providing a good warmup for, and contrast to, the hills later on.