April 10, 2021
Star Mine Loop
Total distance walked: 5.84 miles
There was a chill in the early morning air as I walked up the gravel path of the Stewartville Trail. All was quiet and few people were out. A coyote came toward me, then went his merry way searching for ground squirrels and mice.
The Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve located in the town of Antioch, California has an interesting past. In 1859 a coal deposit was discovered bringing miners to the area. Five small mining towns occupied the rolling hills from the 1860s until the early 1900s including the town of Stewartville, hence the trail’s name.
I was walking through an area that was once home to a thriving coal mining community. There were stores, churches, schools, and saloons. Back then it was anything but quiet. Steam engines echoed through the valley, hills reverberated with explosions, picks clanked off coal seams, men and boys walked to the mines, and their families strolled through the town.
But those times have ended. I veered to the Star Mine Loop Trail which took me through grasslands and over erosion-carved sandstone rock.
I passed through high walled canyons and walked by an evergreen forest. The route offered views of both Antioch and Brentwood.
I spotted coyotes, meadowlarks, turkey, and lizards.
A few wildflowers still adorned the hills, but the abundant display was over.
I reached the barred Star Mine entrance portal.
The Star Mine was one of the last active coal mines in the area. About six years ago my daughter and I walked to the mine but never made the full loop. This time I looped behind the mine then hooked back up with the Stewartville Trail.
The Preserve was known as the Mount Diablo Coalfield. It was the largest in California and produced more than four hundred million tons of crumbly coal.
It was hard to imagine the coalfield as I walked around the foothills since little is left behind other than a few airshafts, tunnels, and barred portals.
Once the mining operation stopped, some of the miners became ranchers. Descendants of the original mining families still graze cattle in the Preserve. I came upon a few of them that day, cows not descendants.
By the time I ended my hike, the trails were abuzz with joggers, bikers, dog walkers, and families strolling the rolling hills. Their presence made it easier to imagine the bygone mining community who once called this home.