Hiking after a couple of days of rain, or in the rain itself, means mud, lots of it. It’s not the easiest way to trudge up hills, or worse, down those same hills, and it can get messy.

We started our hike last weekend in a steady drizzle that eventually subsided into partly cloudy skies and even a glimpse of the sun. Our setting was the Round Valley Regional Preserve, a 1900-acre preserve in the East Bay outside of the town of Brentwood. It was once home to many Native Americans and as with the past few hikes I’ve done in the East Bay, this too was a chance to explore history a bit while still getting one heck of a workout.

With thick mud caking our boots at every step, we hiked nearly 13 miles over seven hours. No major pitfalls but enough slipping and sliding that it wasn’t easy at any point. So what did we see?

The area had been ranched for the past century and was sold into public control about 20 years ago, so there are still some remnants of old farming operations, including pieces of equipment scattered around, plenty of cows grazing across the hills and even an old barn that has since collapsed.

The real attraction is the evidence of life from thousands of years ago, whether created by the Miwoks or other California Indians. Once again, we saw numerous signs of the mortar holes in large rocks, used by villagers to grind up acorns into a paste, and for cooking and preparing food. These rocks are arranged in clusters indicative of the small villages that were spread across the hills. On a clear days, you could get a terrific view of looming Mount Diablo. We weren’t so lucky, and our views were mostly fog-shrouded. But the view was clear enough when we wandered across a prayer circle, seen below in one of my photos. (See the mud-fest as well in the pix.) It’s clearly a sacred spot, and we treated it as such, not entering into it but spending some time outside of it talking about the peoples and cultures that came well before us.

Well-marked trails criss-cross the preserve, which has a large parking lot with facilities, maps and signs, and it’s possible to cut over from the preserve into the adjacent Los Vasqueros watershed. Thick vegetation was apparent, no surprise given the creeks and even a few waterfalls that are throughout the area, and while we only saw cows and coyotes, no doubt many other animals call this area home as well.

No matter the elements or the rain that might have fallen on this proverbial parade, I’ve always thought that a rigorous, interesting hike is a terrific way to spend the day. And an even better way to start 2011.

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