Students play in caves at rock city.
Photo by Jason Stalter
Mount Diablo is a monstrous conniption fit of a geological formation that erupted into Northern California’s landscape 165 million years ago. It juts out of nowhere in the gentle rolling curves of a line of hills that runs from San Jose up to Martinez.

At 3,849 feet, its not particularly high, relative to most mountains, but the view from its peak is heavenly. This is especially true on a winter day after a storm has just come through and swept the haze from the surrounding area.

On the right day, you can go to the top of this grand mountain and look out to the west, beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, all the way to the Farallon Islands, an important shark breeding ground. If you look to the south, you will see Mount Hamilton, home of the James Lick Observatory, and one of the most, stable, air masses in the world. To the East, the Sierras will jut out of the horizon like an invading horde of giants. To the North you will see the winding, twisting snarls of the Delta. Beyond that one can see the nuclear reactors of Rancho Seco, just outside of Sacramento. Even further beyond that you might see Mount Lassen nestled in the Cascades, over 200 miles away.

While you are there, I highly recommend you do some hiking. There is an incredible variety of geological formations around, but my favorite is Rock City. It’s huge boulders are easily climbed, just watch out for the scorpions. The caves are a sure winner for the kids too, if you happen to bring them along.

While you are there, take a history lesson. The history of Mount Diablo is rich and colorful. It was a sacred mountain for the Miwok Indians who hunted there, and a sister of another sacred mountain to the west, Mt. Tamalpais. If you are lucky you might find remnants of rock fortifications they built, scattered about the mountainside.

A plethora of wildlife abounds on Mt. Diablo. You can see deer, mountain lions and turkey vultures, but you won’t see condors, pronghorn antelope, condors, prairie hawks, elk and grizzlies. Unfortunately they vanished almost a hundred years ago. When I say vanish, I’m not talking magic acts here. I mean that humans hadn’t conceived of the notion of “sustainable hunting” back then, so they wiped them all out. Yay humans! <sarcasm> We’re the smartest animals on the whole planet. Now, if only we can keep from wiping ourselves out. </sarcasm>. But I digress…

Mount Diablo got its name because of a mistranslation. It all started when the Spanish army was pursuing a band of native Americans in 1806, in order to help them “find God” back at the mission. The natives didn’t want to become “civilized”, so they took cover in a thicket near Pacheco. The Spaniards surrounded them, and setup camp with the intention of rounding their potential converts up in the morning.

During the night, the Indians escaped across the Carquinez Strait, which the Spanish army claimed was only possible “with the help of the Devil”. (He had nothing better to do, but thwart the forces of righteousness.) Consequently, the commander named the thicket “Monte del Diablo”, or The Devil’s Thicket. Anglo settlers later came along and misinterpreted the name, whereupon they assigned it to the most obvious, local landmark that made sense. Oops.

Surely they must have known that the devil is ALWAYS in the details…

Donovan Rittenbach is the Web Manager for the California Academy of Sciences. He has a Master’s Degree in Multimedia, and 12 years of web & multimedia industry experience.

The Diablo is in the details 6 July,2011Donovan Rittenbach


Donovan Rittenbach

Donovan Rittenbach is the former Web Manager for the California Academy of Sciences. He has a Master's in Multimedia, and 13 years of industry experience. He knows evolution is both a fact and a theory, because of caterpillars, butterflies and fossils. Donovan believes in miracles because he is one. He is confident that reality-based spirituality must combine with Science to lead us safely through the most dangerous time in human history.

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