ANTIOCH -- Mention Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and most people immediately think about its historical importance in terms of coal and sand mining and the towns that supported them. They may remember it as home to Hazel Atlas Mine, the deserted towns of Nortonville and Somersville and Rose Hill Cemetery.
Only those in the know realize that Black Diamond is also home to wonderful wildflower displays from late February through early June. And while other regional parks may boast large numbers of wildflowers, Black Diamond's diverse habitats provide the perfect environments for 158 different species. Black Diamond is definitely a wildflower park and it is more than ready to share this secret.
An early wildflower hike, scheduled for Sunday, will lead hikers along parts of Chaparral Loop and Manhattan Canyon trails, in rough terrain for about two miles. These trails pass through chaparral and grassland, both ecosystems that tend to have good and varied wildflower displays.
According to Bob Kanagaki, park naturalist, early blooming wildflower species that should be on hand to tempt photographers include Indian warrior, a fern-like plant with attractive red bracts and flowers; vine-like wild cucumber with its tiny blossoms and prickly pods; as well as shooting stars, green dahlia and bush poppy with its bright yellow flowers.
Hike leader Eddie Willis will likely point out two species, each with clusters of blue flowers, that are easily confused, Ithuriel's Spear and Blue Dicks. Being an interpretive hike, it will be a learn-as-you-go experience.
"On interpretive hikes we interpret scientific aspects in order for the general public to understand," said Mickey Rovere, an interpretive student aide.
Real enthusiasts will want to return throughout spring to see later-blooming wildflowers and the park has scheduled additional hikes April 21, 27 and 28 when yarrows, golden bush, coyote bush, several types of purple-flowered vetch, and at least three types of lupine will be on display.
"The park has blue bush/silver lupine, miniature dove lupine and arroyo lupine," Rovere said. "They're nitrogen fixers and are beneficial to anything they're growing around. They take nitrogen out of the air and recycle it into the soil."
Aside from wildflowers, park staff has another upcoming event that is a definite crowd-pleaser, the Atlas Mine open house on Saturday, March 2. The date marks opening season for mine tours, but on this day the 1930s-era mine will open its gates for self-guided tours of its nearly 1,000 feet of restored underground workings. Without the need for reservations, visitors 7 years and older will be able to explore the mine while docents and staff are on hand to answer questions.
Actually, every weekend will bring a wide range of scheduled activities, each geared to pique a variety of interests.
March and April events range from a search for amphibians in the stock ponds; a Somersville geologic treasure hunt for rocks and fossils; a Rose Hill requiem recalling the days of the Mount Diablo coalfield and the men who worked underground; and a look at how plants search out specific growing spots based on their ecological needs.
Though Atlas Mine remains a constant 58 degrees, outside summer temperatures are challenging, making spring the ideal time to visit Black Diamond.
"This is our best time of year, the temperature is comfortable, the hills are green and the flowers are out," Kanagaki said. "We're at our best right now."
Supervising Naturalist Kate Collins describes Black Diamond as an exciting place to encounter the wild world. "This is the time of year when the wild world is at its most accessible for its beauty," she said. "Black Diamond is a hidden gem."
Though often described as the best kept secret in the East Bay Regional Parks, after wildflower-word gets out, Black Diamond may need to come up with a new label.
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve: 5175 Somersville Road, Antioch, www.ebparks.org, 510-544-2750.
Early Wildflower Hike:10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday, 8 and older, no registration required.
Mine Open House: 12-4:30 p.m. March 2
Black Diamond Mines Wildflower Photo Guide:
Black Diamond February, March and April programs: https://activenet021.active.com/ebparks/servlet/registrationMain.sdi?source=activityframes.sdi&pubnav_index=2