Hike originally published in the April 2008 issue of Bay Nature magazine
The John Muir National Historic Site is a fascinating window on "John-of-the-Mountains" as father and farmer. His love of nature never flagged during his years caring for fruit orchards in Martinez, and as we climb Mount Wanda, a grassy oak-cloaked knob south of his farmhouse, we think of him, exiled from his beloved Sierra, savoring the wildness to be found in this less-rugged terrain.
Muir wrote of "a fine fragrant walk" with his daughters up this hill, and once away from the trailhead's traffic noise, it's easy to imagine the little girls (including Wanda, for whom the hill was named) and their bearded father trudging beside us on the steep ascent, noticing deciduous oaks leafing out; snowberries in dappled shade; bluedicks and Chinese houses in the grass; buttercups everywhere. A single-track, hikers-only nature trail skirts the hillside and rejoins the fire road to create a 1.5-mile loop back to the 642-foot summit, where the view includes Mount Diablo, the Carquinez Strait, and much of the development that has replaced Muir's fruit trees. Would that intrepid walker even attempt the stroll from his house to Mount Wanda today, across Highway 4's busy access ramps?
Getting there: Take the Alhambra exit from Highway 4 in Martinez; turn south and immediately right into the Park and Ride lot. Open sunrise to sunset; no fee; no facilities. A nature trail guide is available at the Muir historic site three blocks north on Alhambra (10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun., $5 admission).