Toad in the Hole

April 13, 2005

Mines/Del Puerto Canyon

We haven't done this yet this year, but we try to ride this route every spring at least once. Lately we've been doing it east to west; sun angles seem better for our time of day.

Take I-580 (if you're coming from the central Bay Area) to I-5 to the Del Puerto Canyon exit, which as I recall is the one south of the Corral Hollow Road exit. It's got some more recent, more prominent sign too -- something pseudo-Spanish parkway? (It's Diablo Grande, yet another damned golf course.) Turn right -- east -- at the bottom of the ramp toward Diablo Grande, and take the next right turn a few yards down the road. That's Del Puerto.

So take Del Puerto Canyon Road east. There aren't any confusing choices; the hardest thing is staying on the road. After miles and miles, you get to a T-intersection with Mines Road. Stop and have an evil sausage or microwaved hotdog or just coffee or a beer at the Junction Cafe. It's the only place to get coffee for a long way.

The Junction is an interesting slice; in that, it resembles the whole route. It's an old hunters' bar, with huge wild boars' heads mounted on the wall, a bulletin board with lost Catahoula hound notes and boat trailers for sale, corny cards tacked up behind the bar ("Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit here, go to Helen Waite.") and Bud on tap. Then it added bikers to the clientele, and you'll see lots of those other Hogs in the parking lot, lots of leather in the chairs. Then it added those other bikers, and you'll see people in ridiculous spandex outfits and those reverse high heels they wear, clacking around between the tables. And somewhere in between came the birders, I suppose after the Branding Iron closed some years back, down Mines Road.

So now there's a stack of field guides next to the cash register: birds, flowers, um is it herps? Trees? Now that's what I call service.

Now you're on Mines Road, the top of the T. Turn left and go for a couple miles till the road bends sharply right and you see a wide ranch driveway with a speed limit sign in it. Pull off -- there's lots of room to do that without blocking the gate -- and look around. That used to be our regular stop for Lewis' woodpeckers, but I think they've moved closer to the Junction. Nevertheless, it's a good view, and we've seen incredible wildflowers there, a whole field solid magenta with owl's clover. On the way, look for yellow violets, delphinium, or shooting star under the sparse oaks, depending on the time, and goldfields, and lots more.

(Actually, what we generally do is pull into that gravel apron and eat the lunch Joe packed, and stop at the Junction for coffee after.)

Make a U-turn and retrace to the Junction. Then straight onto Mines Road, which would have been a right turn straight off Del Puerto Canyon. We've seen Lawrence's goldfinches around the fire station across the roas from the cafe. Follow Mines Road all the way to Livermore, and after that you're on your own.

This route is a sort of California microcosm, through grasslands, chaparral, a piece of very desertlike land with junipers and blazing stars and such, sparse young-oak forest, gray pine and liveoak forest, more chaparral, and farmland/grassland/woods. It follows the creek, and has enough pull-offs to keep the frustration to a minumum.

Lots of birds -- we go there to see the orioles and kingbirds and Costa's hummers, golden eagles, assorted hawks, magpies, lots more -- once or twice we had a roadrunner. Also had a midday bat one year, a pallid bat rousted from its cave by a flock of swallows looking for nesting sites.

Snakes -- one year we were there on Holy Saturday, and we saw snakes galore on the road. We knew there would be a herd of holiday picnickers coming through, so we kept stopping and shooing them off the road: garter snakes, a kingsnake, and a gopher snake who was logy enough that I could grab him. I picked him up and he wrapped around my arm and did that thing they do, vibrating the tail so it seems to rattle in the dry grass. This makes the whole snake vibrate -- how nifty, a snake that purrs! If we'd had a pillowcase in the car, that snake would've come home with me, I was so smitten.

It's good to stop at just about every pull-off, whether you have a traffic train behind you or not, because every spot along the road is so different. Take binocs even if you just want to see flowers, because lots are on the other side of the creek or behind forbiddingly posted fences.

Once in Livermore, we take 580 home, and if by chance we haven't had lunch, there's an In-n-Out by the freeway. Almost reconciles one to civilization. I say "almost" because it does get depressing seeing all the housing and paving metastasizing around Livermore, where there used to be honest habitat.

I could go on for screens and screens about the flower show there, but see for yourself. Be sure to look up, both for birds and for hills brushed with color, right from the start of the road.

Posted at April 13, 2005 06:04 AM


It's got some more recent, more prominent sign too -- something pseudo-Spanish parkway?

Diablo Grande. Giant mega-golf resort.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 15, 2005 01:25 AM

You confused me; when you say

"Take I-580 to the Del Puerto Canyon exit, which as I recall is the one south of the Corral Hollow Road exit. "

do you really mean I-580, or I-5? I thought that Del Puerto Canyon road went from I-5 over to the San Antonio valley.

Anyway, I enjoyed that area when I went through it (in the car), when I took it from the San Jose side, over Mt. Hamilton, then up Mines Road.

Posted by: Kevin at April 15, 2005 06:20 AM

Kevin, you're right, and I'm going to go fix that in the text. This is what happens whan you let the driver, rather than the navigator, write directions. 580 runs into 5 if you're coming from westward, of course.

Posted by: Ron at April 16, 2005 03:44 PM