Perkins Canyon

Sponsored by Save Mount Diablo & Thomas J. Long Foundation, 2014 Learn about the rocks, fights, and fires at an enchanting eastside entrance to Mount Diablo State Park. Featuring Seth Adams, Anne Homan, Jean Hetherington, and Ken Lavin. Cover photo of Indian paintbrush and chamise by Scott Hein. Music from Banks of the River by Phil Heywood.

Perkins Canyon is a great place to visit, with diverse wildlife and wildflowers, interesting human history, and one of the most beautiful creeks in the state park. It’s also the perfect place to study the effects of the 2013 Morgan fire, the largest fire on Mount Diablo since 1977.
Speaker: Seth Adams. Music: “Back in Big Horizons,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photo: fire, © Stephen Joseph; Upper Perkins waterfalls (2), Brad Heckman.
William Brewer of the California Geological Survey climbed North Peak in May of 1862. He called it “a crest of naked rocks over which one has to pick his way, not always without danger.”
Speakers: Seth Adams, Ken Lavin, Jean Hetherington. Music: “Country Blues Picnic,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photos: cinnabar, H. Zell/Wikipedia Commons; metacinnabar: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com.
A steep-sided hill the shape of a mushroom top is the centerpiece of lower Perkins Canyon. It’s not a volcano. It’s a place where lava the consistency of toothpaste oozed up from underground, probably four or five million years ago.
Speakers: Seth Adams, Ken Lavin, Jean Hetherington. Music: “Great Gray Water,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Animations: Tanya Atwater, UC Santa Barbara.
Some rocks in the creekbed are separated by million of years of geologic history. We look at chert, serpentine, and dacite.
Speaker: Jean Hetherington, Ken Lavin. Music: “Great Gray Water,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Art: subduction graphic: Tanya Atwater, UC Santa Barbara.
Who were the first people to live in the Perkins Canyon area? What brought them here?
Speakers: Anne Homan, Seth Adams. Music: “Slippery Slope,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photos: linguistic map East Bay tribal territories, East Bay Regional Park District, source Randall Milliken.

Fires are not unusual on Mount Diablo, but the one that hit in September 2013 was unusually fierce. On the trail ahead, we observe how it changed the mountain. 
Speakers: Seth Adams, Ken Lavin. Music: “Strange Fate,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photos: Viera–North Peak 2012 and 2013, photos by Brad Heckman.
As we leave the most severely burned area, we speculate about what will happen next. What wildflowers might we see in the years immediately following the fire? How long will it take for the chaparral to recover?
Speakers: Seth Adams. Music: “Hoofin’ It,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photos: Upper Perkins Creek, Brad Heckman; fire poppy, Beatrice F. Howitt ©California Academy of Sciences; golden eardrops, Charles Webber © California Academy of Sciences; whispering bells, Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences, California sunflower, miheco/Wikipedia Commons.
One of Perkins Canyon’s most colorful characters, herbalist and circus clown William Ryder Powell, got caught in a land dispute he couldn’t win.
Speakers: Ken Lavin, Seth Adams. Music: “Country Blues Picnic,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photo: A. E. Howard, courtesy Anne Homan.
Starting in the 1860s, mercury was mined just north of here. During World War II, the operation became the largest producer of mercury in the United States.
Speakers: Ken Lavin, Anne Homan. Music: “Backtracking” excerpts, Phil Heywood, philheywood.com. Photos: Historic photos courtesy Anne Homan from Ray Blomberg Collection.
A steady, rewarding climb up a fire road will take you to two transmission towers—and expansive views.
Speaker: Seth Adams
Here’s what it felt like to roam around Perkins Canyon in the the weeks immediately following the fire.
Speaker: Ken Lavin. Music: “Lazy Eights,” Phil Heywood, philheywood.com
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