‘Walking the bridge’ around here generally means traversing the Golden Gate. It’s where the crowds are, but it also provides dramatic views, gale-force winds and a sense of history. There’s always something to see, whether in people-watching or out on the bay or toward the SF skyline.
While the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridges are the only ones that span the bay, several other ones cross various waterways. Last weekend, as part of a roundabout East Bay hike, I included another bridge on my hiking list – the Al Zampa Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Carquinez Strait and is at the northern end of Contra Costa County.
Al Zampa worked on the major bay bridges, so when the new-ish stretch of I-80 that crosses from Vallejo into the East Bay was built, the structure was named for him, on behalf of all the dedicated bridge workers who toiled to build the steel giants. The Carquinez Strait has a 1,415-acre public park along its southern shoreline, and that’s where our hike began.
It’s a peaceful, dog-friendly area with only slight elevation (less than 1,000 feet) and exposed trails nearly the whole time. It’s on the water and is perfect for runners, quick hikes and waterfront picnicking. We looped through there on the Bull Valley Trail, burning off a few miles. Notable was the smoldering, distant view of the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which was very much in the news just a few days earlier. I really liked all the eucalyptus groves that we walked through, along with the bluffs overlooking the strait itself. A slight breeze was causing the thin trees to sway fairly aggressively. The regional park has plenty of (free) parking along with some facilities, map kiosks and picnic areas.
From the Carquinez park, we headed to the bridge, but to get there on foot, you have to walk through the town of Crockett. On the way to the bridge, we took the downtown route, and on the way back, we went through neighborhoods. Crockett is home to one of the bigger sugar refining factories in the country, the home of C & H Sugar Refining. Like every other U.S. manufacturer, its heyday has come and gone but it is still an active plant.
The town is quaint with some older places to eat, drink and shop. Nearby is Port Costa, another tiny town that has an eclectic bar worth a visit. And you get to see the building that was once considered by some to be California’s best bordello. (It’s now a coffee shop.) The Shoreline Park is actually right between the two towns, so it’s possible to do some hiking in and around the park and then check out the historical features in both towns, and call it an active day.
Next to the plant, our urban hike (which reached nearly 12 miles in total) took us to the town’s historical museum, which features the predictable collection of C &H –related memorabilia, as well as some other miscellany, like a world-record sturgeon that was caught nearby, a gigantic wasp’s nest, a miniature model of the Washington D.C. National Cathedral, and several other rooms. Not an unpleasant stop on a hike, and not just because it was an air-conditioned oasis on what was a sweltering East Bay day.
So, the towering suspension bridge itself is about a half-mile long, and the builders included a separate, wide lane just for bicyclists and pedestrians. It is separated from traffic by a concrete barrier and it runs along the western side of the bridge. The view isn’t much more than the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers flowing into the adjacent San Pablo Bay, but it’s a pleasant enough walk. This is also part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, that 340-plus-mile looping network of trails that are a patchwork of Bay Area exploration. Officially, it a 1.6-mile stretch from downtown Crockett across the bridge into Vallejo, so if you, like me, have been working on accomplishing the trail, it’s a small, but very real, segment.