Explore one of the Bay Area’s largest and newest parks, Los Vaqueros Watershed. On a hike with 12 stops, you’ll learn about water policy, wind power, and the area’s rich natural and cultural history.
Sponsored by Contra Costa Water District, Save Mount Diablo, Thomas J. Long Foundation, 2014. Featuring Seth Adams, Mike Moran, Marguerite Patil, Adrian Praetzellis, and Malcolm Sproul. Music by Phil Heywood. Cover photo of pelican by Scott Hein.
Where we’re headed on this 4- to 9-mile expedition, who’s guiding, and what we’ll see along the way.
Music: “Day of Reckoning,” Phil Heywood. Sounds: Birds at Cowboy Cove. Photos: opening vista, Scott Hein, heinphoto.com; pelican, Scott Hein; panorama, Stephen Joseph, stephenjosephphoto.com; archaeological dig, CCWD, “The Vasco” map, CCWD; Fermin Valenzuela, Bordes Ranch, Sonoma State University (SSU); children at Bonfante Ranch, SSU; Angela Bonfante with hay mower, SSU; osprey flying, David Harper; bald eagle flying, Jean Douglas; flowers, CCWD; reservoir looking east, Stephen Joseph.
A team of archeologists discovered that people were living here nearly 10,000 years ago. That’s before sea levels rose enough to fill San Francisco Bay, back when the Farallon Islands marked the edge of the continent.
Music: reprise of “Day of Reckoning,” Phil Heywood. Photos: Big catch, Contra Costa Water District (CCWD); b&w of Kellogg Valley from north end looking south, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; map of Pacific Coast 14,000 years ago, Big Break Regional Shoreline interpretive panel; Los Vaqueros before the dam, CCWD; cross-section of prehistoric site, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; cross-section of Kellogg Creek drainage, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; Los Vaqueros Project research collage, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; Prehistoric stone tools, weapons used in Los Vaqueros area, drawing by Julia Jarrett, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; b&w of dam construction, CCWD; historical documents, From Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; aerial of reservoir, Dick Jones, CCWD.
Los Vaqueros is right on the edge of the Central Valley, which at one time was America’s Serengeti, with grizzlies, condors, and huge herds of pronghorn and tule elk.
Music: “Slow Return,” Phil Heywood. Photos: coyote, Jean Douglas, Contra Costa Water District; pronghorn, Scott Hein; condor, USFWS; salmon, USFWS; grizzly, naturespicsonline.com; four tule elk bulls, Gary Zahm, USFWS; scenic with leafless oak, Seth Adams.
Three kinds of oaks live at Los Vaqueros. And they play an important role in the grand, noisy world of woodland life.
Music: “Gone Too Soon,” Phil Heywood. Photos: plastic tubes, Contra Costa Water District; Lewis’s woodpecker closeup, naturespicsonline.com.
A wealthy San Franciscan named Edith Ordway bought land here in 1948. Soon she had built a reputation for eccentricity.
Music: “The Thaw,” by Phil Heywood. Photos: Ordway Ranch from above, 2004, Scott Hein; Canada de los Vaqueros map, California Geological Survey, 1873; cattle roundup, reproduced from Rancho to Reservoir, Contra Costa Water District (originally from A Pictorial History of California, by Bill Murphy, Fearon Publishers, San Francisco, 1958).
The Adobe Trail was named for a house built in 1852 by two Spanish brothers, Lorenzo and Juan Suñol. A lawsuit filed by Juan’s common-law wife, Maria, reveals some interesting details about their lives.
Music: “Fugitive,” Phil Heywood. Photos: Juan Suñol’s brand, Brands Book in the Contra Costa County Recorder’s Office; “The Vasco” map, Tales of the Vasco, by Adrian Praetzellis, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary Praetzellis, Sonoma State University and Contra Costa Water District (CCWD); Suñol Adobe in 1910, From Rancho to Reservoir, CCWD, 1997, Courtesy Franklyn Silva.
Is grassland just a bunch of weeds? Not exactly. Along this stretch of trail, look for kit foxes, meadowlarks, harriers, Say’s phoebes, savannah sparrows, white-tailed kites, and even eagles. And give thanks to the humble California ground squirrel.
Music: “Circle Tour,” Phil Heywood. Sounds: meadowlark. Photos: grassland at Los Vaqueros, Seth Adams; golden eagle soaring, Jean Douglas, Contra Costa Water District; golden eagle from above, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; red-tailed hawk (2 closeups) Jean Douglas; Say’s phoebe, naturepicsonline.com; grasshopper sparrow, Scott Hein; ferruginous hawk, Dick Daniels, Creative Commons; short-eared owl, Steve Garvie, Wikipedia Commons; kestrel, Scott Hein; northern harrier, Dan Pancomo, Wikipedia; Los Vaqueros landscape, Scott Hein; Swainson’s hawk, Wikipedia Commons; Swainson’s hawk in flight, BLM; San Joaquin kit fox (2) Scott Hein; San Joaquin kit fox (1), B “Moose” Peterson, USFWS, Wikipedia Commons; grassland panorama, Stephen Joseph; ground squirrels (first 2), naturespicsonline. com.
Take your imagination out into the reservoir, along what used to be Kellogg Creek. Some of the area’s first Basque settlers raised sheep here, defending their land with knives. A little later, along came 20th century inventor Oscar Starr.
Music: “Crested Hen,” Phil Heywood. Photos: Kellogg Creek drainage, Bob Walker, courtesy Oakland Museum; “The Vasco,” Bob Walker, courtesy Oakland Museum; Vasco Adobe, From Rancho to Reservoir, Contra Costa Water District (CCWD); Bernardo Altube in Nevada, www.cowboyshowcase.com, Northeastern Nevada Museum; “The Vasco” map, Tales of the Vasco, by Adrian Praetzellis, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary Praetzellis, Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University and CCWD; Starr Ranch, CCWD.
Losing the Kellogg Valley to a reservoir was hard for conservationists. But the consolation prize was a 20,000-acre park.
Music: “Gone Too Soon,” Phil Heywood. Sounds: acorn woodpecker and scrub jay. Photos: view to Sierra Nevada, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; map of 100,000 acre-foot and 160,000 acre-foot reservoir, Save Mount Diablo; San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, Bob Walker, courtesy Oakland Museum; dam construction, Dick Jones; pipeline, Dick Jones; later dam construction, Dick Jones; first hike in newly expanded reservoir, Dick Jones; Seth Adams, Bruce Hamilton; Kellogg Valley, Bob Walker, courtesy Oakland Museum; map of mitigation parcels, Save Mount Diablo.
Wind energy is clean, but not benign. Here’s what companies around Los Vaqueros are doing to reduce the number of birds slain by their whirling blades.
Music: “Day of Reckoning,” excerpts. Photos: first map, Save Mount Diablo; wind turbine in clouds, Kristin McCleery, Save Mount Diablo; green hills, 2004, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; Vasco Wind Farm, 2011, Scott Hein; Vasco Wind construction, 2011, Save Mount Diablo; golden eagle, Jean Douglas, Conta Costa Water District; Vasco Wind Farm, 2011, Scott Hein; Doug Bell with dead golden eagle, Janice Gan, East Bay Regional Park District; dead eagle and hat, Doug Bell, East Bay Regional Park District; new Vasco turbine (2), 2011, Vasco Winds (NextEra).
Los Vaqueros is a stronghold for endangered amphibians, including tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs. How can these moisture-loving creatures survive on the dry side of the Coast Range? Biologist Malcolm Sproul explains.
Music: “Dark to Dark,” Phil Heywood. Photos: first tiger salamander, George Phillips, Save Mount Diablo; first red-legged frog, Jean Douglas, Contra Costa Water District; scenic with leafless oak, Seth Adams; tiger salamander headed home, Melissa Newman; tiger salamander in grass, Melissa Newman; tiger salamander on rock, Gary Nafis, California herps.com; red-legged frog and bee, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; red-legged frog, eyes only, Gary Nafis; creek at Los Vaqueros (Mariposa Canyon), Scott Hein; red-legged frog in pond with grass, Gary Nafis; tiger salamander larva underwater, Gary Nafis; stock pond, Gary Nafis; tiger salamander torso, Gary Nafis; tawny grass under big sky, Seth Adams; eyes of red-legged frog in pond, Gary Nafis; red-legged frog in mud, Gary Nafis; road home under cloudy skies, Seth Adams.
Add it all up: Los Vaqueros is a treasure trove of California history, a godsend for thirsty communities, and a refuge for wildlife and people. Come again soon!
Music: “Wind River Ramble,” Phil Heywood. Photos: Los Vaqueros from Valley View Trail, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; same vista before dam, Contra Costa Water District (CCWD); historic documents, from Rancho to Reservoir, 1997, CCWD; dam, Dick Jones, CCWD; Seth Adams hiking, Bruce Hamilton; Save Mount Diablo hike up Mariposa Canyon 2004, Scott Hein, heinphotos.com; panorama, Stephen Joseph, stephenjosephphoto.com.