This undiscovered gem of a park is a perfect get away right in our backyard. You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look for it, as it is mostly hidden from view, tucked in between Hercules and Martinez on a small side road off Hwy 4. If you blink you will surely miss the exit for it. And if you find the exit, you may wonder what can be so enticing about driving past a small farm yard and shack, both of which have seen better days, and a power plant that looks straight out of ‘Mad Max.’ But if you keep going you will find yourself in the parking lot of Fernandez Ranch, where a short hike will transform the ‘Mad Max’ imagery into ‘The Sound of Music’ (we were actually inspired to sing as much at our lunch picnic stop- see picture below).
Fernandez Ranch is part of the Muir Heritage Land Trust and is protected as habitat for a variety of important Bay Area species. Check out the website here for more information. The trails were a bit muddy at first, post-recent rains, but soon gave way to some nice single track areas with huge Oak trees. It’s a perfect place for young ones getting their serious hiking legs (serious as in graduating from flat easy trails but not ready to climb Diablo), as it has some minor elevation gain but nothing our three year old didn’t want to run up. The whole preserve has a nice loop route of a bit over three miles, and the added benefit of being a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail for those that wish to connect the trails to other areas. After a mile or so, you are greeted with beautiful meadows and expansive views on a clear day.
Beyond the natural views, we found a whole universe of undiscovered treasures waiting to be stumbled upon. There were plenty of giant Oaks to get lost in, a plethora of fungi coming from the ground and covering fallen tree limbs, and most exciting- a near complete cow skeleton scattered throughout the upper meadows. The above picture is just a small sample of the findings. The largest leg bones could definitely double as clubs for the kids, and were nearly as long as their arms. Further down the trail, a smaller skeleton was also uncovered with its backbone still fully intact. These findings were not only amusing for the kids to poke around in, but led to all types of questions regarding anatomy and the food chain. In short, a great place to get out and explore without any crowds, (we saw two other couples during our travels) but with great views, picturesque picnic locations, and plenty of objects to discover along the way. After the hike, head into Martinez and check out the John Muir National Historic Site (website here, but more on that in a future post) and visit Creek Monkey Tap House for adult and kid beverages/food while you search the banks of Alhambra Creek for the legendary feral simian population.
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