Monday, July 30, 2012

Time tunnel

Today's hike had me take a trip back through time as I visited Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve outside Antioch.  My destination would be a tunnel that sits as a reminder of a time when miners drilled into the rock walls of the preserve in search of coal.

I decided to brave the late July heat and make the prospect Tunnel Loop.  The hike is a 7-mile loop to the park's western border where I would find 200 feet of mine shaft left open to explore.  Originally drilled in 1860 as a 400-foot-long tunnel in search of commercial grade coal visitors can enter the first 200 feet of the mine shaft's rocky walls to get a glimpse of the mining operations that dominated the area from 1850 to 1900.

The hike to the mine shaft was a another summer special.  I would work my way up the ridge line and head to the park boundary then turn down to the tunnel at the base of a set of hills.  It seems like most of my hikes this summer have been ridge lines, mostly exposed with little shade and the prospect Tunnel Loop was no different.  With the summer heat beating down on the park the hills have long since surrender any color and now a sea of golden hills sat before me as I made my way along the ridge.

The terrain is rugged, almost like nearby Morgan Territory.  There are so many hiking areas that close by to each other that they share the same landscape features.  Mount Diablo State Park, Morgan Territory, Round Valley, Los Vaqueros and Black Diamond Mines are all with a half an hour or so driving distance from each other.  Along today's hike Mount Diablo's North Peak was a prominent feature in the distant landscape.

The sparse trees and grasslands didn't make for too much wildlife viewing except for the occasional ground squirrel darting across the trail.  Vegetation was sparse but there were a few California Buckeyes beginning to hold their fruit.  Mostly I made my way along the trail surrounded by the golden dry grasslands.

After a short descent for the ridge I reached prospect Tunnel.  It is located off the main Stewartville Trail, reached by a narrow footpath leading from the marker at the main trail.  Reaching the tunnel entrance it is a small opening hewn into the hillside.  I could walk in with out stooping but the light quickly faded in the folds of rock leading into the tunnel.  I didn't carry a flashlight today so I decided to venture in as far as I could and still navigate safely.

I made my way in for a dozen or so yards when I heard a strange flapping noise.  My first though was I had disturbed a bat who was using the tunnel as his cave.  The flapping was growing louder and in the dim light ahead of me I could make out something flying near the center of the tunnel.  I switched on the built-in flash on my camera and guessing the focus as best as i could I fired the shutter when I thought i could see it getting close.

It turned out a bird was using the tunnel for it's afternoon roost and my entrance was not looked on favorably by the bird.  With the flash exposure the bird would retreat further into the tunnel.  I would take a few more steps in and the bird would approach me again.  I'd take another picture and the whole process would start over.  This went on for about 10 minutes as i tried to wait  for the bird to get closer each time.  My framing and focus was horrendous in the dim light but I managed to squeeze off a few frames where the bird was mostly in focus in the frame.  After a while the heat in the tunnel was too much and I retreated to the comparative cooler temperatures of the trail.

My return trip on the trail was a another climb up the ridge from the tunnel at the base of the hillside.  A pond, long dry the earth cracked and parched  sat as an odd sight in the vast expanse of grass. A few more hills and I was at the starting gate and headed to the parking lot for a rest before the drive home.

The five towns that once supported the mining operations have long since disappeared slipping back into the dust that covers the trails.  The tunnel is a reminder of the workers and life that once flourished in the park and is now all but forgotten.  It was a good trip through time and an intersting tunnel leading us back to the past.

Friday, July 27, 2012


There is always one photo that is supposed to be the telling moment from an assignment, a picture that sums up the story in just one glance.  Standing on Tracy Boulevard today the one image that summed up the scene was a single shoe sitting on the pavement in a chalk circle.  Right shoe was scribbled next to it.  This was the result of a violent impact that sent one man to the hospital by helicopter and shut the road down for nearly four hours.
The last time I took a picture of a shoe at an accident scene I was vilified.  The driver had plunged into an irrigation canal and there was the possibility of other victims trapped in the water.  Today's accident scene was much different.  A teen crossing Tracy Boulevard near Loma Verde Drive was struck by a pickup truck heading north.  The impact sent the teen flying into the air landing dozens of feet from the point he was struck.  The shoe and his hat nearby in their chalk circles marked his position on the road.  The truck, its hood mangled from the contact with the pedestrian, sat further down the roadway.  The driver sat on the sidewalk looking distraught.  I've been to one too many of these kind of accidents.
I knew what I find pretty much before I left the office for the crash scene.  On the more violent pedestrian accidents they always seem to be knocked out of their shoes.  It seems funny to say it out loud but at the scene it takes on a grim reality.  The shoes always end up yards away from where the body comes to rest.  I don't understand the physics of it but it is a stark reminder of the speed and force of such an impact.
What I didn't expect to find was the level of damage to the truck.  Most of the pedestrian versus vehicle crashes I have gone to the vehicle either has minor or moderate damage-usually to the top of the hood and windshield where the victim rolls on top of after the collision.  But today's accident  had the hood of the truck heavily damaged, mangled and pushed back from the contact with the pedestrian.  The grill on the front of the truck was even broken, a headlight askew.  
I arrived as the pedestrian was being loaded into the ambulance where he was transported to a nearby school field to meet the helicopter to take him to a trauma center.  His injuries were described by the police as a ruptured spleen, fractures in the bones of his lower body and contusions.  Looking at the pickup I think he is lucky to be alive in any condition.
The one scene I wrestled with photographing at the crash was the driver.  I watched as he sat on the sidewalk near his truck looking overwhelmed by the event.  I don't think either man will be the same after today's crash regardless of who is found to be at fault.
My day ended with the view of a single shoe lying in the roadway as police investigated the scene.  A tragedy marked by chalk outlines and an eerie emptiness standing on a closed roadway.  A scene I have  encountered before and unfortunately will probably again.