With clear skies and dark nights, Mount Diablo is a skywatching destination. What better place to watch the 2017 solar eclipse? Well, probably some remote wilderness in Idaho but that would’ve been a long-ass drive, so I skipped the traffic-pocalypse and brought the (partial) eclipse party to Diablo.
The night before, a pack of friends and I biked up to Juniper Campground. At 2,900′, the camp is about a thousand feet shy of the summit, but still high enough to escape the summer fog that lingers every morning in the Bay Area.
This, we learned from a ranger making his rounds, makes Diablo a popular spot for skywatchers. Earlier in August, he said, the summit was mobbed by astronomical folk out to catch the Perseid meteor shower.
Were any groups were planning eclipse parties this weekend?
Nope, he said, but there’re plenty of activities year-round. Every season, he said, indigenous groups come to the bless the mountain and ask protection for its plants and animals.
And then there are the witches.
“One night I came around a curve and there was a whole group of them, wearing black robes standing around a bonfire,” he said.
“Even though my personal beliefs tend in that direction,” he continued, “it was still kinda spooky.”
After our badge-wearing pagan wandered off, we got a visit from the heathen folk themselves. Among bike campers, Juniper Camp is famous for trash pandas (Procyon lotor) that unzip your panniers, steal your French press, and eat all your food.
They softened us up that evening by sending a troop of adorable kits through camp. We responded by barricading the (largely ineffective) bear box and hanging the smelliest food in an oak tree.
I was sleeping in a bower of bay laurels, which some time after midnight turned into a raccoon highway. They trooped past my head and straight up the tree after the smoked trout.
Unable to reach the fish, they shrieked in outrage and hissed and sputtered and generally showed us how pissed they were by fighting in the trees, yowling and growling and howling until THUD!
“Was that the food?” yelled someone from his tent.
But the food was still hanging intact and the racket pretty much died down after that.
Find out how you can visit Juniper Camp, home of the almost-flying trash pandas, in my route description after the photos.
Route: If you’re coming by transit, Pleasant Hill BART is the best starting point because you can ride entirely on bike paths and comfortably wide bike lanes all the way to North Gate Road. From Pleasant Hill BART, it’s a 14 mile uphill ride to Juniper Campground on Mt. Diablo, and another 2 miles to the summit. See route on Google Maps.
Camping: Reserve a spot at Juniper Campground on ReserveCalifornia.com. Sites are first-come first-serve and have fire rings, picnic tables, and totally not raccoon-proof boxes for your food. There are also free showers, making this a deluxe experience for anyone biking 2,900′ up to camp.
Season: Spring, fall, and winter for the best riding weather. It can get scorching hot in the summer, so stay cool by starting early in the morning or late in the afternoon.