Archive for category Mount Diablo

Vintage Views: Marvelous Mount Diablo Sticker


The Marvelous Mount Diablo vintage 1930s woodcut engraving of the San Francisco Bay Area’s iconic Mount Diablo is unquestionably one of the more timeless images I’ve accumulated in association with the Vintage Views: Mount Diablo project my wife and I have undertaken these past few years. The simplicity of the image paired with its bold presentation – the mountain itself dwarfing the cloud-lit sky and bucolic roadway – has encouraged me to explore other ways to share this striking vision of the mountain.

At last I’m excited to share that this image is now available as an affordable vinyl sticker suitable to adhere to your bumper or car window, reusable water bottle, snowboard, skateboard, or bicycle… At $5 per sticker, your options are limitless!

These 3.25″ x 5″ stickers are printed on premium vinyl with a permanent adhesive and are coated with a protective laminate that makes them durable and resistant to fading, scratching, tearing, and water. They are designed for outdoor use, and can withstand exposure to wind, rain, and sunlight, and can be run safely through a dishwasher.

And if you like this image enough, remember that it is also available as wall art as either a Styrene mount print or a metal print (see Etsy listings).

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Vintage Views: Mount Diablo – The Great Sun-Dial

Nineteenth century appreciators trended toward the baroque when describing (or illustrating) Mount Diablo, dipping their quills in an ink mixed with equal parts of the fantastical, grandiloquent, and flamboyant to put to paper prose and pencil-lines overly purple in their embellishment. Viewed from certain vantages around the bay area, Mount Diablo’s bulk can loom over the landscape, while from others its settles into the skyline. But it is in those former instances, when the peak puffs out its chest against a cerulean sky braided with clouds, that we can best appreciate our neighborhood mountain.


In this 1878 engraving by F.S. King, one of many vintage images of Mount Diablo I’ve collected over the last few years in association with my wife and my Vintage Views: Mount Diablo project, author Benjamin Parke Avery celebrates Mount Diablo as a “great sun-dial” and a “spectre” that “looms up in the perspective of every view in all directions around it”:

Behind the Alameda hills rises the double cone of Monte Diablo, very near to the view, but separated from the hills named by the San Ramon Valley, and distant from the city easterly about thirty miles. This peak is three thousand eight hundred and fifty-six feet high. Rising from the centre of a wide basin which runs into the great valley of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, and being the most elevated spot in this region, Monte Diablo looms up in the perspective of every view in all directions around it, and is one of the most familiar landmarks to the citizen of San Francisco, who sees it daily and almost hourly. Its dark blue mass lords it nobly over the brown hills of Alameda, and when it takes on its snowy cap for a few days in the rainy season it is more peculiarly prominent. It is a great sun-dial, for the stages of the coming or going day are marked in bands of shifting color upon its top. Around its base, fertile valleys swell to meet its foot-hills as if they would embrace it, and hold a score of thrifty towns. From its summit one of the most extensive and beautiful views in the Union can be obtained. The great plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, stretching from the northeast to southwest nearly three hundred and fifty miles; the rivers of the same names winding their yellow currents from north and south, meeting at the head of the upper bay; the vast bulk of the Sierra Nevada with its snowy crest, along the eastern sky, from Lassen’s Peak at one extremity to Mount Whitney at another; the isolated ” Buttes ” of Marysville in the centre of the Sacramento Valley; the line of the Coast Range from Mount St. Helena on the north, to Mount Hamilton, four thousand four hundred feet high, at the south, broken into lesser spurs around the bay; the whole scenery of the bay itself, the city, the Golden Gate, the ocean beyond, — all this magnificent panorama, in clear weather, lies spread out before the spectator on the summit of Diablo. The area included within the bounds of this view is probably not less, according to Professor Whitney, than forty thousand square miles; adding what can be seen of the ocean it is much more. It might well have been on such a commanding height as this that the enemy of mankind tempted the Saviour; and an early Spanish legend, to which the mountain owes its name, actually located here a terrifying appearance of the devil to a party of explorers. This legend would seem to indicate a belief that the mountain is of volcanic origin, as it has been said to be by some writers; but it is simply a grand mass of metamorphic sand- stone, flanked by jasper, shales, and slates, with limited coal-beds at its base and deposits of cretaceous fossils. The gap between the two peaks is eight hundred feet deep, and the north peak is nearly three hundred feet lower than its companion. From certain points of view the two peaks are brought into line and have the effect of a single perfect cone. Seen from the upper bay or river, the mountain seems to rise in this shape directly from the water’s edge, and is very imposing in its near bulk. The ascent of it from any quarter, with the ever expanding outlooks revealed, is full of picturesque charm. The nearer scenery of the foot-hills and lower flanks — embracing Graceful wavelets of harvest-land, melting into level spaces, deep gorges filled with ever- green growths, sandstone cliffs weathered into fantastic forms, and bits of charming brooks and grassy springs — is itself a treat to the lover of nature. Sunrise and sunset are the best hours for visiting the summit. At the former, the air is clearest, and one gets the widest view, besides the glorious spectacle of the great round orb flashing up above the crest of the Sierra, bringing its highest peaks of snow into sharp relief. The shadow of the peak is thrown in a pyramidal form over the whole country to the west, across the Alameda hills, the bay and peninsula of San Francisco, and into the ocean beyond, forty miles in length, — a dark bluish triangle of shade that shortens slowly as the sun rises higher and higher, that withdraws by almost imperceptible degrees from the ocean, from the peninsula and bay, from the Alameda range and San Ramon Valley, up the flanks of Diablo himself, and there at last quite disappears. At evening this spectre of the peak is reversed, falling over the San Joaquin Valley, up the Sierra, and even into the sky, at first gradually lengthening as the sun sinks lower in the west, and then losing itself in the general twilight and darkness of his disappearance. Looking seaward then, we observe the myriad lights of the city, if no fog obscures them, and on the distant Farallone Islands the flashing of the beacon set to warn mariners.

Other picturesque views of Mount Diablo and greater California that we’ve collected on behalf of the Vintage Views project are available through the (bio)accumulation Etsy storefront.

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Vintage Views: California

Yosemite_webOver the years, I’ve accumulated a number of vintage images of California in association with the Vintage Views: Mount Diablo project I’ve undertaken with my wife (see Sarah Anne Photography). Rather than letting them sit around gathering dust (well, more than they have already), I began digitizing these assorted California ephemera and have since immortalized them on a more permanent medium.

Now, through the (bio)accumulation Etsy storefront, you can own your own Marvelous Mount Diablo woodcut engraving or a nostalgic wintery scene of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome as 12X18 inch wall art, mounted on either Styrene suitable for matting and framing or infused directly into a sheet of aluminum metal to capture a sense of modern minimalism.

Metal Print
Metal prints are presented as a stand-alone image infused (printed) directly into a sheet of aluminum, providing a luminescent quality. The finished metal print includes a float-mount hanger affixed to the back of the image, floating the print ½ inch off the wall.
Price: $100

Styrene Mount Print
Styrene prints are mounted on white 2mm warp-resistant Styrene known for durability and strength. Styrene prints are ready to be matted and framed, or can be displayed on an easel.
Price: $45

To see all of the vintage wall art available to date, visit:


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A Cross-Section of California

Sierra DetailIn the 1850’s, with the California Gold Rush in full swing, the United States was looking into connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts with a transcontinental railway; thus, the Pacific Railroad Surveys were born. After Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Survey bill in 1853, four east-west survey routes were quickly approved by the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers: within months, Corps lieutenants Robert S. Williamson and John G. Parke were given the orders to survey between the West Coast’s 32nd and 35th parallels for potential passes through the Sierra Nevada to connect the San Joaquin and Tulare Valleys with the Colorado River. Accompanying Williamson and Parke was geologist and mineralogist William P. Blake.

The party departed July 10, 1853, taking a ferryboat across the Carquinez Strait to Martinez where, skirting the flanks of Mount Diablo, the expedition headed south, reaching the vast San Joaquin Valley in a week’s time. By August 8th, the travelers had reached the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and established a camp they dubbed “Poso Depot” after the nearby and near-dry Poso Creek (also referred to as “Ocoya Creek” and “Posé Creek”) in present-day Kern County. Two days later, Williamson and Parke set out for the Sierra, leaving Blake and Heermann at the Depot to explore the region on their own. At some point during the expedition, the geologist Blake began preparing what would later become a series of panoramic fold-out geological section maps for publication in the survey’s final “Geological Report.” One of these maps, the 1853 “Geological Section of the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada,” charts the change in elevation along a cross-section of California from the Farallones (Farallon) Islands sea stacks and islands off the Pacific Coast to the Walkers (Walker) River in the Great Basin of west central Nevada.


 (click to enlarge)

Painting this 270-mile cross-section with a broad brush, the breadth of Blake’s panorama includes, from west-to-east, Point Lobos (Land’s End), Fort Point (the ruins of the old Spanish fort, the Castillo de San Joaquin and the present-day Presidio of San Francisco), San Francisco, Yerba Buena (Yerba Buena Island), the Bay of San Francisco, Mount Diablo, Livermore Pass (Livermore), Elk Horn (undetermined), the Delta of the San Joaquin River, Stockton, Knight’s Ferry, Green Spring (undetermined), and Sonora. Blake’s geological section puts to paper the elevational rise and run of California with peaks that seem to dwarf the shorelines and floodplains in orders of magnitude. Rising from the sea stacks of the 1/16-inch Farallon Islands (~312 feet; actual = 357 feet) to the 3/4-inch peak of Mount Diablo (~3,750 feet; actual = 3,849 feet) to the towering heights of the Sierra Nevada’s 2 ½-inch Tower Peak (~12,500 feet; actual = 11,755 feet), at a vertical scale of 5,000 feet per inch, Blake captures California’s vertiginous vista with surprising accuracy.

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Book Review: Mount Diablo – Murder Maybe

Mount Diablo Murder MaybeMount Diablo: Murder Maybe, by Nicole Douglas, self published (, 2012, 302 pages, $14.00

With the recent publication of Mount Diablo: Murder Maybe, a self published novel set in the San Francisco East Bay by local author Nicole Douglas, somewhere deep in the granite bedrock bowels of Mount Diablo the Devil is rolling over in his grave. Following a plot so transparent the dust jacket blurb may as well carry a ‘Spoiler Alert,’ perhaps a more apt subtitle for this devil-may-care dud would have been Mystery Maybe.

Meet Ellen Savage, an up-and-coming homicide investigator with the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office. She’s single, she’s young, she’s attractive. And she’s not looking for a relationship.

Enter Steven Gray, Savage’s new partner. He’s young, he’s tall, he’s handsome. And within the first twenty pages, there’s no question Savage is going to crush on Gray big time, tripping over her tongue like a moon-eyed Sweet Valley High-school girl as she vacillates between her dual personalities as his stalwart supervisor and a woman not (maybe) looking for a relationship.

Together, Savage and Gray have been tasked with solving the murder (maybe) of a young woman found atop moody Mount Diablo in the State Park’s historical Visitor Center tower– her throat has been cut, her fingerprints removed, her stomach carved with a pentagram, her naked body splayed across the meridian marker. With the county’s detectives stretched thin, Savage and Gray are the bottom of the barrel, the boys hired to do a man’s job.

Trapped in a Dick-and-Jane story arc, Savage and Gray come across as forgettable protagonists with flaccid personalities. If there is one thing this myopic duo lack, it’s savvy. If only a reader could slip them the dust jacket, they might stand a chance of solving the case within the first fifty pages. Instead, they wander aimlessly around the Bay Area following their “trail of clues” (a phrase not even Inspector Clouseau or Colonel Mustard would use). When they’re not misinterpreting evidence (that’s what the big boys call it), they’re nursing cups of coffee or eagerly awaiting quitting time so they can garden or feed the cat or fawn after each other. And the gracelessness of their elementary interrogation skills is matched only by their grade school fumblings at flirtation, making you grateful for the awkward silences when they’re confused (which is most of the time), drinking coffee, or asleep.

When Savage and Gray’s first ‘clue’ – a park map showing the location of broken branches and trampled grass that might shed light on what trail was used to transport the body to the summit (a ‘clue’ critical to their obtaining a warrant to search the mysterious ranch nearby) – goes missing, these Hardly Boys break all the rules to break the case. Although she imagines herself at times “a crass women”, “a bitch”, and “pretty convincingly tough,” Savage’s idea of playing the bad cop is her liberal dispensation of the word ‘hell’ and a few ‘goddams’ for good measure. Still, when it’s time to hit the slopes of Mount Diablo, she isn’t afraid to congratulate herself on wearing her sensible shoes to work.

Douglas pitches Mount Diablo: Murder Maybe – frozen in 1989 – as a ‘retro’ mystery where, “before CSI, DNA or wide use computers, law enforcement was a different game.” I could buy that if the absence of mobile phones and personal desktop computers played an important part in this charade. Instead, we watch scene after scene play out as Savage and Gray’s secretary sells them on the idea of, and then has installed, their very own computer terminal, phone modem, and printer (“Whatever we see on the computer’s screen, we can print out here.”) <gasp!>.

If the devil is in the details, this novel is short an inferno of devils. Between the inexcusable typos (Douglas is a retired teacher, no less!), the anomalous geography, and the anemic excuse for a plot, the only thing holding this story together is its binding. If I had a nickel for every lazy use of alright, really, just, ahold, and literally uttered between these hollowed pages, not to mention the irreverent abuse of alright vs all right, awhile vs a while, were vs we’re, and their, they’re, and there, I could make change for a twenty dollar bill. Make that a hundred dollar bill if we’re counting the glut of commas that pollute the pages. If our protagonists had experienced half as many aha! moments as the reader does typos, this might have been an open-and-shut case. Take for instance, “…doesn’t he say the park closes a dusk ?” (p 19), “She toweled dried her hair” (p 81), or “The early morning sunshine poured in the through the windows…” (p 109). And then there are the awkward Malapropisms: dissent instead of descent (“the path… began a steep dissent” [p 145]), ass hole instead of asshole (“I… say this guy is an ass hole” [p 286]). Instead of a murder suspect, perhaps Savage and Gray should have been looking for a copy editor.

For a novel that features Mount Diablo, Douglas’ sense of geography is incongruent with the Bay Area I know. In this backwards Bay Area, the bustling Concord is portrayed as a glorified Walnut Creek, while the East Bay’s communities come in two flavors – gated communities or liquor store slums. In this Contra Costa County Candyland, you don’t need to draw a gumdrop card to jump on Interstate 80 from Treat Boulevard, Mount Diablo spills through your windshield as you drive East on Highway 4 from Byron toward Stockton (that’s the Sierra Range, Savage, Diablo is behind you!), and you can zig-zag your way up to the summit of Mount Diablo from the City of Clayton off Kirker Pass Road. On this magical mystery tour, the Treat Boulevard (mentioned above) and Shattuck Avenue have either been beset by typos, or inexplicably transmogrified into Treat Street and Shaddock for no apparent reason. And characters order ‘Mendocino water’ instead of, what? Calistoga sparkling mineral water? Really, how… clever?

Meanwhile, in the natural history department, toyon bush is spelled toyan, prairie dogs have infiltrated across the Sierra Range from the prairies to the Delta, scrub oak graces the summit of Mount Diablo, and the common names of wildlife species (Blue Jays, house sparrows, Mockingbirds, gopher, Marsh Hawk), trees (Redwood, madrone), and wildlife professionals (Ranger/ranger) are indiscriminately capitalized.

Out of respect for the clinically brain dead, the criminally insane, or those with a penchant for Schadenfreude, I won’t tip my hat as to who the killer might be (Hint: dust jacket!). But with vapid filler like “Thinking wasn’t going to help,” “She decided to think about it later,” and “Maybe she would think about it later” (oh, the word play! <swoon>),  it becomes clear the only people Douglas’ threadbare mystery keeps in suspense are her own Savage and Gray, two dicks that couldn’t solve a riddle.

But honestly – between me and you – if I wanted to get away with murder, I couldn’t think of two better Barney Fifes I’d want assigned to my case. I know a dog and a van full of kids that would have solved this mystery with more grace and cunning.

As the bodies and the pages mount, the elephant in the room becomes not who did it, but how not a single soul in this slap-dash charade could possibly name a suspect if someone held a gun to their head. Which is pretty much how it plays out in the last ten pages when the unsuspected murder suspect no one suspected waves a gun at our clueless dumbshoe while improbably confessing their crime. Hell, I’d confess too if it meant a quick and painless death.

So while I could never go out on a limb to recommend Mount Diablo: Murder Maybe (at least, not with a straight face), if you mistakenly purchased it thinking it was a field guide or stumble across one of the five copies in circulation in a used bookstore (as soon as I’m done with this review, there will be six), at least do me the favor of sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

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