Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BIG BREAK REGIONAL SHORELINE: Paddling the Wind-Swept "Inland Coast" of the Great California Delta

A great blue expanse beckons from beyond the shallow trough of water gently lapping at your old-school Radisson docked at Big Break Regional Shoreline's alluring put-in. What better place to sweat out an adventure, rekindle awe, and stoke curiosity than in these 1648 acres of brackish tidal and fresh water marshes, sloughs, ponds, creeks, alkali grasslands and meadows.

Big Break essentially is a rehabilitated parcel of once-industrialized, long-neglected land in the much-abused California Delta, not all bad news. Today, park stewards have created a model for shoreline reclamation efforts, with recreational possibilities galore in a big water zone situated in the Pacific Coast's largest estuarine ecosystem created by the merger of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, two of California's great arteries that drain half of the state's watershed.

But decades of man-made manipulation have degraded and transformed the pristine estuarine ecosystem, today characterized by the EPA as having been replaced by "sub-sea level, levee-protected islands and simplified, deep, wide, armored waterways." Still, with a little help from human friends, the resiliency and adaptability of life is on remarkable display at Big Break, a place of profound beauty, where (forgive the EPA's prosaic description) natural rhythms and processes occur in a world-class marine / riparian environment of ancient Egyptian-looking tidal sloughs (third largest in the Delta), labyrinthine estuary channels, and tributary outlets draining Mount Diablo's 128 square mile Marsh Creek watershed (itself in dire need of rehab).

In the waaaaay waaaaay back, though, before the advent of agriculture changed the way people related to their world, Native First Peoples lived off the succulent fruits of the Delta's bounty, established seasonal and permanent villages, tooled around in Tule canoes, hunted deer and gathered salmon and acorns. They lived in harmony and intimacy with Bald Eagles, Grizzly Bears, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Wolves, Condors, Rattlesnakes and Elk, thriving for 10,000 years of dream-time in which the only intruders for 500 generations were late-arriving Spanish explorers, French fur trappers and traders, and intrepid interlopers like Jedediah Smith and merchant marines from around the globe, who sailed their seagoing vessels into the heartland as far as Stockton and Fresno, even, in the Central Valley, a dusty crop town (at the time) not immediately calling to mind a port-worthy destination.

As the gold fueled frenzy of the 1850s petered out, the losers in the Motherlode ore wars fled the played out foothills to seek a more felicitous fortune in cheap farm land "there for the taking" in eastern Contra Costa County.  Inevitably, "progress" took its "natural" course as enterprising, capitalistic men (civilized, by god) set about terraforming the land for enormous economic benefit. These gold diggers turned potato diggers were soon making a killing off fertile vegetable, fruit and nut orchards (think of John Muir's genteel farmer days in Martinez), and in the process forever altering the hydro-eco calculus of Delta politics.

But first things first, of course. Cultural disruption had begun long before the mid-nineteenth century; by 1806, Ohlone villages no longer could be found in the East Bay. Years of military occupation and forcible relocation, in tandem with ruthless efficiency in eradicating the Grizzly and Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Coyote, Elk and any and all creatures deemed threatening or verminous, forever ensured a Manifest Destiny victory. And not to be outdone in shooting all the fish in their cornucopia barrel, these geniuses killed off nearly every fur-bearing mammal native to the Delta.
Soon, Mother Nature, as Mother Nature is wont to do, reared her ugly head and flooded the holy crap out of the tidy plots of money trees, so to allay future disastrous flooding to their precious crops, the newly minted landowners imitated a resourceful local denizen - the beaver - and erected crude levees, creating a patchwork of raised, contained and protected plots in which to grow a substantial portion of the world's breadbasket of earthly comestibles. No doubt about it, the advent of the White Man to the Delta was a major overhaul and game changer, ushering in the final death knell to the old ways of the ancient cultures. The ensuing wetlands reclamation carried on, until by 1930 the winners in the land grab had constructed 57 islands and vastly transformed a half-million acres, rendering the Delta unrecognizable from its natural idyllic condition, in the waaaaaaaay waaaaaaaay back when Ohlone and Volvon Native Americans ran the show, in synch with natural rhythms, in harmony with all the creatures now wiped out. Sadly, it was not all that long ago, as measured in "many moons".

You'd been to Big Break a year ago, blown away by the  beauty, surprised by the remote feel of the place fronting the 16 square mile town of Oakley, California (40,000 pop.), some 40 miles northeast of Berkeley, but cultural leaps and geographic bounds away. Big Break naturally sits at the aquatic ecotone, the boundary of salt and fresh water, where the "edge effect" supports diverse birds and other wildlife populations. Considered an "ecological treasure" by its protector, the East Bay Regional Park District, Big Break and adjacent areas are part of a 1970's era push for wetlands restoration. Today, conservation partnerships with the Delta Science Center, Delta Conservancy, the Delta Protection Commission, Bay Delta Conservation Plan and other organizations have successfully rehabilitated shoreline, created wildlife habitat, and collaborated to build EBRPD's first recreational / educational center in four decades. A must see, of course, but somehow you miss it. Oh, well, there certainly will be a next time.
Big Break earned its name in 1928 when a levee protecting an asparagus farm busted and unleashed furious waters. From your canoe-bound perspective, it's hard to see evidence of farming activity or artificial berm construction, surrounded as you are by water, water, and more water, endless, rippling, swirling, amazingly blue water; bobbing around out in this vast expanse like a paper bag in the wind is not something to take lightly. This is big speed boat territory, a place to ply manual craft with unerring caution and sober judgment. On temperate days, a brave kayaker might slip beyond the protected inlet at Big Break's pretty launch, but only fools - or boyishly enthusiastic older guys - would dare to tempt the fates and venture out into the big open void of a hybrid river monster pushing down with Amazon force and strong headwinds toying with you like a kite in a gale.

Like all good Sirens, Big Break invites a gentle launch in a mellow little cove to go forth and explore her blue expanse of plant-splattered, undulating water. The day has warmed considerably from the foggy chill typical of coastal Bay Area summer. Here on the eastern edges of dry Contra Costa County, the sun is beating down on your un-SPF-protected skin, and relentless winds are pasting you to thin air. Mount Diablo and Morgan Territory Ridge, birthplace of Marsh Creek, loom to the south, almost unfamiliar landmarks from this rarely seen vantage point. Looking northeast invites a brilliant eyeful of stunning archway bridge and wind turbine "seascapes".

Settling into the canoe, you paddle rhythmically toward the middle of the protected inlet, at first so gentle and inviting an illusion; soon, you're a mere dot in the great blue beyond. And wouldn't you know it - big winds are kicking up, threatening to whisk you to places you don't want to go. It's definitely a struggle: the old men and the "sea". Look, seriously, all hubris aside, this is a big, engulfing body of water that is absolutely frightening in its capacious ability to swallow you up, you in your little speck of a canoe, paddling futilely against 30 mph headwinds determined to blow your lackadaisical ass to Rio Vista or into the blustery waters of San Pablo Bay. And then what?

Your charted course is a couple of miles out and across a tough stretch. You've really got to cast off the lazy effect of those IPA treats and dig, dig deep, and paddle hard, hard, straight across a seaweed-clogged swathe, toward a distant shore that seems like the farthest mile away you've ever known. Muscles burning, a pawn of the wind, you strong-arm the canoe to set your course. High fives and whoops ensue for your powerful, coordinated, sustained paddle strokes, because one let-up, at the mercy of a dictatorial capricious wind pattern, and you're a goner.

In your own little Walter Mitty heroic moment, you make it to far shore in a triumphant display of old-boy prowess and grit, and steer the canoe to shelter and safety among calm, secretive, tule-choked areas where you hang your legs over the sides of the canoe and float motionlessly on shimmering cobalt waters reflecting wavy cattails and the deep infinity of a cloudless azure sky. In these pretty, hidden coves and riparian areas, you're respectful and careful of breeding Western pond turtles who lay eggs in secretive incubators; of ecology-shaping beavers who build their dams; of muskrats and mink who reproduce and den; of playful otters who frolic and hunt. (For the record, you see a grand total of zero of these delightful creatures.)

These back channels offer serious down time from all the rigorous paddling - you wish like hell, though, for somewhere to dock and get out, stretch, explore on foot, jump in the water to cool off, find purchase on a sandy bar to kick back and bask in the sun. You think about plopping overboard, but getting back in would not be a pretty exercise as there really is no "bottom" to the peat-packed sinky soil of the Delta, and capsizing the canoe would be not fun. Besides, swimming is not permitted at Big Break (as if you didn't know), and especially not in protected beach areas, where hard to spot buoy signage announces PROTECTED AREA: STAY OUT! And rightfully so for this is Western Pond Turtle egg-laying territory and Yellow Chat nesting grounds. (However tempting, do not let the Siren of the protected, off-limits, undisclosed cove's gorgeous little scimitar shaped brown, sandy beach, rife with lip-staining blackberries, killer chill factor, and luscious swimming, lure you to break the law, by any means necessary. If you could even find the place again.)
You're hoping to spot some cool birds and a furry aquatic mammal, like the hard-working beaver who lives in the Delta in great numbers, or a rarely if ever seen muskrat, or - just think! - an amazing encounter with a mink! Last time - first time - here, you spotted a pair of otters swimming near your docked canoe, a special sighting, and recorded your first-ever glimpse of the reclusive American Bittern, a wading predator heron known to frequent reedy habitats and keep under cover. Being a major stop-over on the Pacific Flyway, bird populations, naturally, are impressive at Big Break, with up to 200 species recorded, including the sensitive Clapper Rail (recently renamed to Ridgway's Rail), Brown Pelican, and Yellow Chat. Given the "edge effect" and general amenable nature of Big Break's variegated habitats, dozens of birds can be spotted on a casual outing without even trying: Herons, Egrets, Kingfishers, Black Phoebes, Doves, Sparrows, Warblers, Mallards and countless other waterfowl and seabirds.You get lucky and spot your very first Swainson's Hawk, an Argentine winterer known to patrol the skies in ever increasing numbers at Big Break. In a lazy back area, a couple of Great White Herons are perched on tree branches, and a Great Blue Heron flaps skyward, and - sweet! - a pair of Belted Kingfishers zip by like a CGI mirage, skittering off into their private, unknowable world.

Finally safe and sound and out of the canoe, it's time to wander around the beautiful place - Big Break's terra firma. Although small in extent, there's much to see and explore. Well-integrated eyesores of decrepit cranes and machinery have been left in place as reminders of a historic past. Stretch your legs, bird watch, walk the fishing pier, investigate a small pond, check out the Visitor's Center and educate yourself, read the many interesting dioramas to get a sense of history and feel of place. For the meanwhile, though, you find a soft patch of ground perfect for throwing your body down to dreamily escape under breezy Cottonwoods for a well-earned rest. After a nice lunch, you're now finally roused enough to check out the Delta Experience - a 1200 square foot 3-D ground map with embedded satellite images of the region's cities - Stockton, Tracy, Galt, Lodi, Sacramento - showcasing the vast network of intricate arteries and waterways and how they flow and carry water through the Delta. It's like the Land of the Giants, you straddling Mount Diablo and lording over a domain covering 1153 square miles of epic territory. Definitely a down to Earth perspective.

The story of the Delta continues to fascinate and unfold, and will forever be controversial and attractive. Today, the system of levees and dikes protects a half million residents in rural and urban communities. But fractious California water politics; long-tenured battles over ownership and rights; the fate of the endangered Delta smelt, striped bass, and salmon; worrisome contamination from heavy metal run-off (legacy from the Gold Rush days); pesticides and bacteria tainting; invasive species; and the specter of a decaying infrastructure eroding a thousand miles of decrepit levees, does not paint a pretty picture for the region's future. And now Governor Moonbeam is pushing for some kind of panacea plan to dig two massive tunnels to divert ever more water from the Delta to thirsty agricultural communities clamoring for their "fair share."

Political wangling, big agro's deep pockets, "the best laid plans" - all are guaranteed to lose against Mother Nature's dictating whims, especially now with California in a fourth year of severe drought and life-giving Sierra Nevada snow pack at all-time lows, and the promise of an El Nino year up in smoke. Depreciated water flows in the Delta would not be good. A fifth and sixth year of severe drought would be unsustainable. Water diversions would dwindle significantly, crops would fail on a catastrophic scale, a Mad Max local scene would explode tensions and fears, and a national calamity would unfold on a scale greater than the Dust Bowl. Forget about saving water by cutting down on your luxurious 15 minute shower; the real "water shortage" problem is an over-emphasis on the unsustainable agro-industrial "bread basket" model leading with the best of intentions to chronic mis-use and waste, and an unfair allocation system that prioritizes ownership of our public water resources based on archaic and irrelevant precedents (to today's economic reality).

But short of California returning to pre-World War II days, population-wise; short of a mass overhaul of our food production system, where everything eaten is grown locally; short of hellish Mad Maxian visions, what's to be done? Two tunnels and a prayer seems to be the plan, but let's hope it's more than that. Let's hope our noble stewards of the Delta - those many enumerated agencies who deserve our financial support and voice - will find creative and long-lasting solutions to preserving and protecting the great California Delta and its many wonderful environments like Big Break Regional Shoreline.

Check out cool interactive site @

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MORGAN TERRITORY: Adventure and Exploration in Mount Diablo’s Black Hills Seeking Vestiges of Once Proud, Once Strong Volvon / Ohlone / Yokuts People

August 20 – soaring mercury levels, zero humidity and red alert conditions would dissuade most sensible minded folk from choosing Morgan Territory as a playground today.  The sprawling parkland is not exactly a place where two-legged critters (operating two-wheeled contrivances) want to be finding themselves on a powder keg day. You could spit and set brown grassy fields ablaze. It’s been a terrible drought year, a perfect storm of catastrophic fire conditions – the Sierra Nevada Rim Fire burned an unimaginable 400 square miles of pristine National Forest land and part of Yosemite National Park, while the local Mount Diablo fire, also caused by a careless individual, consumed over 3000 acres on southeast tinder box dry flanks. Up in the Redding / Shasta area, what’s happening is scary, and Colorado’s Black Forest apocalyptic inferno incurred $300 million in damages. Luckily, deaths – human deaths, that is – have been few. (The animal toll must be in the tens of thousands.) Fire devastation has greatly intensified in the past decade, owing to the increasingly deleterious effects of global warming and, to a critical degree, decades-long forest service mismanagement of fire suppression tactics. (As of this minute, they are scrambling to rectify their budget-deficit caused wrongs. And, things will recover. . .over time. . .over time. . .)

And yet here you are, bucking the elements, sufficiently deluded to have chosen the searing plateau of Morgan Territory as your recreational venue. Okay, so it’s your birthday, but to drag Gambolin’ Gal out here? At best, a shady woodland stroll on the air-conditioned side of the East Bay Hills ‘long side a burblin’ creek might be in order, but not pedaling away in 90 degree heat a blistering 2000 ft. above sea level, drenched in sweat, and fully exposed for long stretches to ozone depleted rays mercilessly beating down on you in a microwave bombardment of skin cell damaging UV radiation. (And of course, you forgot your sun block, and, dammit, your lip balm, too.) All with the going made extra tough by having to negotiate tangles of roots and jumbles of rocks, while rutted out stretches and downed branches and cowshitgreen bovine paddies splattered all over the place (UGH, but you don’t let it deter you) add to the detraction of your mission at hand – to enjoy a swell(tering) mountain bike outing on the roller coaster ridge top trails of Morgan Territory. (Usta be, back when it was your very first mountain bike ride, a ball-busting all out tear ‘em up adventure; today, lung-busting, yes, but that’s about it, Old Sport.)
Of all the East Bay Regional Park District lands held in trust for our recreational enjoyment and spiritual nourishment, perhaps nowhere else exerts a greater mysterious presence and power of place (over you) than Morgan Territory. Right here, and in a surrounding 100 square mile area, a thriving Pre-Columbian population of Bay Miwok and Costanoan peoples lived in vital, creative, settled communities. The direct ancestors of today’s various extant groups (Ohlone) left behind barely discernible remains and clues of their inter-connected cultural presence in and around Mount Diablo. Archaeological research / evidence has supported a continuous population settlement pattern going back 400 generations, or 13,000 years. Malcolm Margolin, author of the seminal The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks (1973), revels in Morgan Territory’s “airy, top-of-the-world feeling,” and, in true Gambolin’ Man fashion, compares the difficulty of getting here with Nepal and Bhutan back country roads! (Only a slight exaggeration, but you gotta love it! Have you forgotten already how you compared Lake Berryessa to Lake Titicaca?)

Atop Bob Walker Ridge, elevation 2000 ft., Volvon Trail offers up island in the sky views of golden voluptuous hills and deep cleft valleys with a very dominant Mount Diablo framing many a breathtaking vista. Except for a couple of radio towers, there’s no hint of anything resembling civilization, present or past. If it were a clearer day, you could see the Sierra Nevada Range of Light eastward, and, northerly, a striking view of the 4341 ft. tall Wappo: Kanamota, "Human Mountain,” (Mount St. Helena) in Sonoma County. In the exaggerated way you love to portray East Bay topography as more grandiose than it is, you’re doing your best impression of Mr. Optimist to convince your skeptical riding mate how beautiful and awesome things are. How precious the moment is. How incredibly wondrous and unusual to be singularly out here with nobody, nothing around except hawks and lizards and ground squirrels and rattlesnakes and woodpeckers and tarantulas and – well, the rest of ‘em, they’re wisely hidden away in their outta sight cool dens. Truly, you are alone out here. (Can it get any better?) (But wait! What did that sign at the unpeopled staging area say about back country hazards and precautions?) (Are you hydrated enough?) (Do you have a tube repair kit?)

Indeed (despite red alert conditions), (in your mind) what could be more precious (you keep insisting to your flagging riding mate) than THIS fairytale forest of stunted moss-draped Blue Oak trees, such tough and admirable little Quercus specimens. Or THESE epic Manzanita trees, the most impressive Arctostaphylos you’ve ever seen. Or THIS landscape – chaparral, grassland, oak woodland riparian - protean thorough the seasons, now harsh and arid, beautifully dotted with multi-colored lichen-crusted, oddly shaped boulders - garden sculptures situated atop small eminences offering up far-flung views of largely unknown Delta and Valley lands, beyond the familiar purlieus of your beloved Diablo Range. And (you go on and on), what could be more soul-satisfying than worshipful visions in all directions of sacred Tuyshtak (Mount Diablo), the center of the universe for the Bay Miwok tribes who coveted the sweet creeks and waterways of the inland valleys. Finally, (you win her over), how much more attuned can you possibly get to the spiritual force field of the Ancient Ways vibe, emanating and felt right here in the ecologically sensitive and archaeologically rich (but largely unnoticed) Black Hills of Mount Diablo. Yeah, what could be sweeter? (You admit, after all, that it WOULD be a hair nicer if it were a springtime day after a good rainy spell.)

You don’t last long on your mountain bikes, opting instead, with little resistance from Gambolin’ Man, for a truncated route (back the easy way) after a seriously lame attempt to drop 850 feet in under a mile on a god-awful rutted out trail, thinking what the hay you might just make it down to Round Valley and could check out the recently dredged and refilled Los Vaqueros Reservoir, and who knows, spot an endangered Kit Fox. What are you, nuts. You’re goddamn near sixty years old. Look at you - panting like a wildebeest dying of thirst in the Sahel, having just descended a super-tough 100 ft., and now you’re paying the price, off your bike, grunting, pushing the Sisyphean beast back uphill the way you came, with not one but TWO bum feet, and not one but TWO bikes, for now your riding mate is really feeling it, as in heat struck. In an impetuous burst of energy, though, you’ve torn off a quarter mile out of sight before realizing (stopping to observe her through your binoculars) that she’s waylaid in the spreading shade of a giant Valley Oak, deep breathing trying to regain her equilibrium. You race back in time to minister soothing salves of commiseration; you pour water on her wrists and dribble dabs of warm liquid on her nape, bringing her back from the dead. Soon she’s ready to roll again and you’re back on the rollicking crest trail, with relief surely somewhere in sight. Meanwhile, it just got three degrees hotter. You’re (mosdef) baked.
You roll into an Oak-dense, Manzanita-rich forest, dropping the bikes to bird watch for a moment and check out the most impressive sentinel Manzanita you’ve ever seen, anywhere, right off the trail. It might be residing in this sanctuary like a guardian of the ages for the past 300 years. Who knows. Nearby Manzanitas deign to compete in girth, height, textural richness and sculptural complexity, but fall short of measuring up to this arboreal Mama wonder tree – an absolutely epic specimen, reddish-chocolate, thick bodied, gnarled-branched, and you can’t take your eyes off of it, circling it repeatedly, touching and stroking it, lost in rapt admiration, more even than you would for a prized sculptural masterpiece in the Louvre. Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. Amazing. But you're still toast.

Assessing your surroundings – deathly silence comes to mind - you bask in the bone-penetrating isolation of Morgan Territory’s vast scale – undulating hills, sprawling meadows, long, high ridges, literally soaking up the presence of those who came before. Home to mountain lions, golden eagles and rattlesnakes, this cradle of Bay Area civilization once provided hearth, home and shelter to Native Americans, the “First People,” some who lived in permanent settlements, others passing through, areas perhaps abandoned now and again owing to micro-climate changes, but always returning (or staying) to feast on the edible bounty of the land: wild plants, acorns, herbs, berries and fish in the streams of the headwaters of Marsh, Tassajara and Kellogg Creeks. Evidence abounds of the presence of a dedicated established culture – bedrock mortar holes, pit house structural remains, and burial sites (elsewhere). Robert Bardell, author of The Lost City in the East Bay Hills, confirms what obscure geo-archaeological field research over the years has proven, that the “lost city of Volvon” (Bardell) was “a veritable Shangri-La in the prehistoric Bay Area.”

You continue on, badly needing a rest, but spurred on in the hopes of finding some of this in-plain-sight yet oddly difficult to locate evidence. You take a side trail leading to a shady copse of Oak and Rock, a quiet place, not even the sound of a plane, where you kick back and enjoy the crisp, crackling fresh aromatic environs. Sensual hot smells are unleashed from bushes that you call “that Yuba Smell” and “the Ogre’s Cum.” A listless relieved feeling washes over you of  having barely escaped the brutality of the elements - a feeling as good as revival soak in a hot springs or a rejuvenating dunk in an icy river pool. Yep, that’s how you feel, lying there all sprawled out with a rock as a head rest and the hard-soft acorn-littered ground as your mattress – and wow, are they ever some big bullet acorns. A blissful interlude ensues - not a care or worry or complaint or wish or  urge. Secure in the knowledge that the parking area is a laughable fifteen minutes away, you can finally chill a bit and enjoy the austere, rugged magic of Morgan Territory. A perfect breeze flutes by, and, now fully recovered, you come to realize how very pleasant it is here in this Blue, Valley and Interior Live Oak copse. And come to understand why this place, situated in a spring-laden valley high above the plains, attracted the Ancient Ones to settle here. The tough Oak are perfectly adapted to arid soil conditions, having provided the Volvon people with a staple (and stable) food supply (along with Buckeye), evidenced by dozens of bedrock mortar holes found in banks of rocks adjacent to evidence of permanent settlement patterns (house pits). Springs and seasonal creeks provided all you needed.  A grinding, rhythmic existence, this lifeway carried on for – it is possible, you contend - 100,000 years, up until just a couple of hundred years ago when the last of the Volvon (and other tribes) were completely and ultimately subjugated, vanquished, assimilated and otherwise driven to cultural and near-physical extinction.

You’re trying to imagine those who came before you, weary bands of travelers who also found relief on a hot day. Somewhere around here, scattered among sandstone boulders, you hope to find some mortar holes used for grinding acorns, or some rock solid evidence of community – Bardell’s “Volvon Village” existed here, nearby, but what remains are just tantalizing shreds of evidence to prove it. But you agree, he makes a strong case for “Volvon—the lost city in the Bay Area’s own backyard.” 

Your reconstructive imaginings take a dark turn; alas, pity the poor Volvon - a once thriving, proud, free and independent people reduced to a speck of insignificant, defeated, brutalized humanity, a vanquished people who once laid claim with their tribal brethren to vast land holdings including adjacent Round Valley, the source of their existence, the beginning of their cosmo-poetic creation myths. Original squatter rights prevailed for millennia. . .until the U.S. Inquisition of Native Americans (your term) did them in. But imagine – 10,000 years ago living peoples’ ancestors buried a human being near present-day Los Vaqueros Reservoir in what is the oldest carbon-14 dated grave in the San Francisco / Bay Delta region. You conjure up images of an idyllic lifeway, a peaceful society, well-fed, semi-nomadic (or is that semi-permanent), highly artistic, creative and animist, with shamans ruling in magico-spiritual benevolence behind facades of Spirit, Herb, Deer, Rattlesnake and Bear Doctors.

Ready for a bit of action, you trace an easy line uphill, inspecting the undersides of unusual rock formations, kicking leaves aside hoping to find something, anything. No such luck, and just as well, since the practice of “daylighting” Indian mortar holes has East Bay Regional Park officials frowning; they consider it a form of vandalism of in situ cultural resources. Other guardian organizations, such as the American and Bay Area Rock Art Research Associations, are also up in arms over the publication of GPS coordinates, and have formally requested that Native American site hunter James Benney, author of Native American Indian Sites in the East Bay Hills, “reconsider the potential harm your activities may cause to these sites” and “to PLEASE remove all site location information, including directions and GPS coordinates, from your website.” Both Benney and Bardell, though, ardently believe the public has a right to know about and access such cultural resources; even Tom Stienstra, Outdoor writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, agrees it’s good “because exploring parks and discovering artifacts connects the visitor to the past and instills reverence. We conserve only what we know and love. What we don't know, we don't love, and hence, don't care enough to protect.” Benney, Bardell and their ilk – you may even fall into that category, or may not, depending on your mood du jour on the issue - believe it’s perfectly fine to expose the past, uncover the lid, blow the dust off, respectfully, of course, and that "the need for increased public awareness and an appreciation of Native American history outweighs the need to hide some sites in order to protect them." (Benney.)
A casual reconnaissance, you’re lost in a fantasy of hopeless serendipity, thinking an obscure deer path up a brush-tangled eminence will lead to some definable remains of Volvon or one of five contiguous villages in the immediate area identified by Bardell. It’s gotta be right here, with those stellar eastern views of Brushy Peak  – isn’t this the area where the main village structures existed? You take purchase on a VW bug-sized rock, breathing in views of a ghostly blue reservoir on one side and looming Diablo on the other, trying to imagine what it was like. Through Benney’s eyes: “Gather around water. Gather around food sources. Defend territory. Conduct ceremonies to maintain interconnectedness. Procreate. Recreate. Births. Deaths. Famines. Floods. Earthquakes. Times of peace and prosperity. War.” (In short, very much like Present Time.) But you’re unable to locate any sign of prehistoric activity. (You’re too Old School for global positioning system technology, and dumbly forgot to take note of Benney’s and Bardell’s directions to the “ Village.”)
Most of Morgan Territory’s 4708 acres comprise a matrix of bike-friendly trails, but certain off-shoot pathways lead to sacred and sensitive areas, strictly for two-legged critters not operating two-wheeled contrivances. On past occasions, you’ve explored some of these intimate trails named after favorite Volvon companions: Condor (Mollok), Raven, Hummingbird, Prairie Falcon, Eagle, Fox and Coyote. Some awfully beautiful stuff to be found in the nooks, crannies and hollows of Morgan Territory’s Animal Spirit trails. All for another time and place. For now, heart heavy with unrequited allure, you say sayonara, give thanks and praise, take one more glance around each way, hop on your  bikes. . .and take an hour to get back because the bird watching is so damn compelling. (Thanks, Gambolin’ Gal, for indulging me!)

Further reading: