Tuesday, June 12, 2012


If you're up for a nice day hike to the top of a mountain, but like me aren't crazy about elevation gains in short distances, then Olompali State Historic Park to the top of Mount Burdell is the park for you. The ten mile round trip hike has so many switch backs that the approximately 1,500 foot elevation gain is barely noticeable.

There is also a hike half the length to the top, with of course, a more challenging vertical climb. I took the long road. Because the trail is such a gentle grade, it is very family friendly, and I passed several families with children under the age of ten who had no trouble hiking to the top.

The 700 acre Olompali SHP is right off of Highway 101, just three miles north of Novato. For those who prefer a historic stroll over climbing a moun-tain, the park features the remains of several buildings, including the adobe house of Camilo Ynitia, the last indi-genous leader living at Olompali, and the only Native American at the northern frontier to confirm his grant land in the beginning of the American period. He often served as a liaison between Mexicans, Americans and Indians.

A two and a half mile history and nature walk includes a small replica of a Miwok Village, with a well labeled herb garden and examples of two living structures, one made from redwood bark and the other from tule reeds.

The name "Olompali" comes from the Miwok language and means "Southern village" or "Southern people". This Miwok settlement has been inhabited contin-uously since about 500 A.D. One of the more exciting artifacts discovered here was an Elizabethan silver sixpence dated 1567, the time of Sir Francis Drake's landing in Marin County.

In 1852 Ynitia sold his land to James Black, who in turn gave it to his daughter Mary Burdell. I found it ironic that one of the few Native people to take advantage of land grants, ending up selling it only a few years later. It is the remains of Mary Burdell's mansion and out buildings that can still be seen at the front of Olompali SHP as well as her garden where 100 year old daffodils still bloom every spring.

A "kitchen rock" - a large boulder used as a mortar for grinding seeds and acorns into flour - sits prominently on the grounds.

With each sharp turn of the switchbacked trail, a higher and more spectacular view to the east of the San Pablo Bay and Petaluma River came into view.

My hike was accompanied by those things I have become accustomed to on my walks through California forests. Tree stumps and logs took on the shapes of mythical, magical woodland creatures. There were birdsongs and Morning Cloak Butterflies. Wild flowers and mushrooms lined my pathway.

Much like California itself, the Olompali lands have had a variety of colorful owners and tenants. It remained in the Burdell family until 1943, when it was sold to Count Harrington, and then to the University of San Francisco. USF used it as a Jesuit religious retreat in the 1950s.

During the 1960s, they leased the property to some of the bay area's counter-culture personalities. In 1966 the Grateful Dead lived there, and used the park for one of their album covers. In 1967 a commune called The Chosen Family rented the property. National notoriety was achieved when they held a well publicized nude wedding. The commune disbanded after a forest fire that partially burned the Burdell Mansion.

Finally, the State of California, together with Marin County, purchased the property in 1977, making it a state historic park in 1990.

At the top of Mount Burdell are a few scattered picnic tables offering a restful spot for gazing at the bay. A long, moss covered rock wall creates a boundary for another section of state property on the mountain.

The hike back down took me past arch shaped tree trunks, and giant green-footed tree feet that made thunderous, booming sounds with every step they took. Or maybe those sounds are just left over reverberations of past Dead Concerts... or Native American Drumming... or the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

The Olompali People, a committee of the nonprofit Marin State Parks Association, is working to keep Olompali State Historic Park open. However at this writing, I am unable to find any information as to their success.

So for now, as the song says :

It's the same story the Crow told me, it's the only one he knows.
Like the morning sun he comes and like the wind he goes.

I hope to see you at the state parks.


This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.

Alvin David Dick
April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012

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