Beat the heat at Black Diamond Mines

By Beverly Lane    


Black Diamond information center
Black Diamond information center

As summer approaches its zenith, you can still beat the heat at the regional parks in east Contra Costa County.

One good bet is Contra Loma Regional Park on Frederickson Lane in Antioch, where you can cool off in the lifeguard-tended swim lagoon. And you can relax in Delta breezes at Antioch Regional Shoreline or Big Break in Oakley.

The park’s Greathouse Visitor Center is in an underground chamber a short distance uphill from the Somersville town site picnic area. On display at the center are artifacts and photos from the park’s 19th Century coal mining era. There’s also a video describing the natural and cultural resources that are protected in the park.

Greathouse Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends through November. It’s free of charge and all ages are welcome.

The other underground attraction at Black Diamond is tours of the Hazel-Atlas Mine on Saturdays and Sundays through November. The 90-minute tours explore about 900 feet of a restored silica sand mine. For safety reasons, participants must be at least seven years old.

Tours by reservation are offered at 10 a.m. (groups of 10 to 15), 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. First-come, first-served tours are at noon and 3 p.m. There’s a fee of $5 per person; tickets can be purchased at the Greathouse Visitor Center at least an hour before tour time. For more information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

Several heat-themed programs are scheduled above ground too in July at Black Diamond Mines.

There’s a reptile rendezvous from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, July 13, hosted by naturalist Ashley Elliott. It’s a chance to meet a gopher snake and rattlesnake under safe conditions, and learn how they cope with summer heat.

Ashley’s also leading a beat-the-heat hike from 8:15 to 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 20. Designed for ages seven and older, the hike will proceed through the chaparral and end underground at Greathouse Visitor Center.

Both activities are free of charge. Meet Ashley at the uppermost parking lot at the end of Somersville Road in Antioch.

Naturalist Eddie Willis has a program scheduled at Black Diamond Mines, too. He plans a bat-monitoring safari from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 27 to determine the population of the park’s bat colony. The group will wait outside the Hazel-Atlas Mine entrance for a headcount using special detection equipment.

The program is free, but registration is required. To register, call 888-327-2757, select option 2, and refer to program 6390.

And naturalist Kevin Dixon will lead a “moonrise over the mines” hike from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 10. Designed for ages eight and up, it’s a hilly two-mile round trip to a ridge top to watch the moon rise and share stories of the night sky.

Reservations are required. Call the number above and refer to program 6405.

Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle on weekends and holidays. The park is located at the end of Somersville Road, about four miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch.

However, part of Somersville Road is closed due to ongoing construction. So to get to Black Diamond Mines from Highway 4 you have to exit at Contra Loma Boulevard, drive south to James Donlon Boulevard, turn right on James Donlon, then turn left in several miles onto Somersville Road. Although Somersville Road is gravel right at the park entrance, the pavement resumes in a short distance.

Just in general, if you are visiting the regional parks or other public open space on hot summer days, be sure to take along an ample supply of water. It’s best also to wear a broad-brimmed hat and apply plenty of sunscreen. Don’t forget a map. They’re available at trailhead information panels.

East Bay Regional Park District is now offering a free mobile phone “app” to encourage safety in the parks. Check it out at