old windmill

John Muir Land Trust: Fernandez Ranch Hike

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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Located just off Highway 4, between Hercules and Martinez, Fernandez Ranch offers stunning views, shaded hiking trails and a variety of wildlife, including several threatened plant and animal species. Visitors can gaze at the glittering blue of the San Francisco Bay from the ranch’s summits and the northern Bay Area is visible from its ridge tops.

The historic property of Bernardo and Carlotta Fernandez remained within the family for nearly 150 years. John Muir Land Trust approached the Fernandez family to preserve what remained of the original 7,000-acre ranch and raised funding for a $3.5 million dollar restoration project that began in 2008. Two years later, the property was opened to the public. (http://www.jmlt.org/fernandez_ranch.html)

Begin hike at Fernandez Ranch-cross the bridge over Fern Creek towards Windmill Trail.

At the Fernandez Ranch/Windmill Trail junction: turn right onto Windmill Trail.

The old windmill at Fernandez Ranch is a reminder of the property’s ranching and farming heritage. The Windmill Trail follows the route of an old ranch road past the remnants of a dairy farm that operated during the mid-20th century. At its peak, the farm included a house, dairy barn and five other buildings. The remaining building foundations can be found at the Homestead Picnic Area. While the dairy operation ended by 1960, cattle continue to graze the land today. The Windmill Trail crosses Fern Creek, passes the windmill, and climbs to the ridge. From the ridge, hikers and equestrians with a permit can continue on the Bay Area Ridge Trail into the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Pinole Valley Watershed. (http://www.jmlt.org/downloads/FR_trail_map_brochure.pdf)

At the Homestead Picnic Area/Windmill Trail junction: go straight to stay on Windmill Trail. The trail cuts across the open meadows to the old windmill.

Wildflowers!

At the Whipsnake/Windmill Trail junction: go straight to stay on Windmill Trail.

At the Woodrat Trail junction: go straight to the trail gate and enter EBMUD watershed area to the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

At the Bay Area Ridge Trail junction: turn right onto Bay Area Ridge Trail. The fire road heads west along the top of the ridge with scenic views of the surrounding oak studded rolling hills.

Wildflowers!

Turn around at the Bay Area Ridge Trail gate and retrace steps back to Fernandez Ranch boundary gate.

Enter thru the gate and turn right onto Woodrat Trail.

San Francisco dusky-footed woodrats live in the bay forests of Fernandez Ranch. They build large nests, some several feet tall, out of twigs and branches. Inside their nests, woodrats store nuts, leaves, food, and man-made objects. These avid collectors are also known as pack rats. Newts and other small animals oen move in to share the woodrat nests. The Woodrat Trail travels through a dense bay forest as it winds up to the ridge that separates the Pinole Creek and Rodeo Creek watersheds. While in the forest, keep an eye out for California newts on the trail. Also look for piles of twigs and branches on the ground and low in the trees; these are likely the nests of dusky-footed woodrats. (http://www.jmlt.org/downloads/FR_trail_map_brochure.pdf)

Wildflowers!

At the Woodrat/Whipsnake Trail junction: turn right onto Whipsnake Trail.

Alameda whipsnakes, or striped racers, have two lateral yellow stripes set against a black or dark brown back. Though they can grow to more than three feet long, the elusive animals are difficult to spot. Whipsnakes are fast, efficient hunters who capture and swallow lizards and small mammals whole. Fernandez Ranch provides valuable habitat for these threatened snakes, found only in Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties. The Whipsnake Trail travels through oak woodlands and open grasslands, which are among the whipsnake’s preferred habitats. The trail winds high into the property, offering breathtaking views before descending into oak woodland and pockets of bay forest. Of all the trails on Fernandez Ranch, the Whipsnake Trail traverses the greatest variety of habitats. (http://www.jmlt.org/downloads/FR_trail_map_brochure.pdf)

The trail zig-zags along the hillside through the woodland to the Upper Meadow.

The Whipsnake Trail crosses the Upper Meadow to the Viewpoint Bench Area.

Enjoy the beautiful views of the ridges and rolling hills around west Contra Costa County!

The trail descends Buckeye Hill towards Slot Creek.

Wildflowers!

Continue on Whipsnake Trail to the trail gate and bridge crossing over Slot Creek-the trail emerges out to the flat valley floor.

At the Fernandez Ranch/Black Phoebe Trail junction: go straight on Black Phoebe Trail.

Black phoebes are small, black flycatchers with white bellies that feed on insects along Rodeo Creek and above the grasslands of Fernandez Ranch. Look for songbirds wearing tuxedos and wagging their tails while perched on fence posts. If you are lucky, you will see one fly from its perch to catch a passing insect on the wing. The ADA-accessible Black Phoebe Trail leads to benches and picnic areas along the edge of the South Meadow. On this meadow, you may find western fence lizards, California meadow voles, coyotes, and other species that prefer open grasslands. At the far end of the meadow, the Black Phoebe Trail connects to the Trailside Gathering Area and the Whipsnake Trail. (http://www.jmlt.org/downloads/FR_trail_map_brochure.pdf)

Come explore the multi-use trails around this protected land and enjoy the stunning ridge top views! We heard coyotes howl to one another from Woodrat Trail! The Black Phoebe Trail is also ADA-accessible with several scenic picnic areas along the edge of South Meadow.

Wildflowers seen on the trails: mustard, mayweed, morning glory, lavender wildflowers, thistle, bird’s foot deerweed, purple vetch, broadleaf filaree, fiddleneck, ithuriel’s spear, yarrow, dandelion, winecup clarkia, spring vetch, purple owl’s clover, yellow mariposa lily, chinese houses, hedge britony and white wildflowers.

Stats:
4.8 Miles with 701′ of elevation gain
Time: 2.25 hours with a stop
Hike: Easy
Weather: Gray skies > afternoon sun. Temps ranged from the high 50’s to the high 60’s with SW winds.

Directions:
From I-80: Head east on Highway 4. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is 0.7 miles down Christie Road on your right.

From Martinez: Head west on Highway 4. Take the Franklin Canyon Exit. Turn left and merge onto Highway 4 eastbound. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is 0.7 miles down Christie Road on your right.

Parking: Fernandez Ranch at 1075 Christie Rd, Martinez. No fee. Pit toilet-No Water
*Bring plenty of water & food/snacks. No facilities-No water along the trails
Dog Friendly

Optional: EBMUD Trail Permit required for hiking along a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail

Print Trail Map

Fernandez Ranch