Sitting atop the rocky outcroppings of Kreyenhagen Peak, you can hear the wind whoosh in from the west and down into the Valley.
At dawn, clear skies transform from deep hues of blue into a magical blend of orange, red, pink and purple.
A quiet 90-minute drive through westside farmlands and into the foothills and mountains brings visitors to the Coalinga Mineral Springs National Recreation Trail, a 2.5-mile hike to the summit of Kreyenhagen Peak that offers glorious views of the central San Joaquin Valley.
On the southwestern edge of Fresno County, tucked away in the Diablo Mountains west of Coalinga, lies the Coalinga Mineral Springs Recreational Area. It was formerly known as the Fresno Hot Springs and more than 150 years ago was home to a two-story, 43-room resort health spa until it was destroyed in an 1870s fire. It was owned by German pioneer Gustav Kreyenhagen, for whom the surrounding hills and peak are named.
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The trailhead starts at the base of a dry creek bed at 2,105 feet and offers a steady grade that picks up in the second mile of the climb to the 3,558-foot summit.
A series of switchbacks takes you out of the Valley and offers the first of many views of the vast chaparral-covered mountainsides. The trail starts wide but thins to about one foot in some areas, so proper shoes are a must and walking sticks might help as well. Signs of rock slides are evident, so proceed with caution.
After the first quarter-mile, hikers pass through a gate and begin to see the rest of the trail as it heads up the ridge and loops around the mountain for the final stretch to the summit. Once at the top, decompress on one of the rocky outcrops and take in the views of the Diablo Range before making the trek back down.
It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the top.
Trail markers are visible every quarter to half mile.
The gem-seekers among us can easily spot pebbles of quartz, magnesite and jadeite in the sun-baked shale soils.
Legend has it that there is also a treasure in the ground. A Fresno Bee article from 1928 reports that legendary Valley outlaw Joaquin Murrieta lived in these hills and reportedly buried thousands of dollars in the vicinity.
Hikes are best in the early morning or evenings. And the views actually get better as the sun goes down, with unobstructed panoramas offering magnificent opportunities for stargazing and for space nerds, like myself, to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station zipping across the sky. Take a flashlight for the hike down.
Private ranches, some abandoned, line the road to Coalinga Mineral Springs Recreational Area.
Be mindful of private property and hunters; the Bureau of Land Management property around the trail is used to hunt wild pigs and quail.
From fall through spring, the Diablo Range is host to first-class adventures. Though if you decide to go in the spring, wear long sleeves and pants and take bug spray with DEET as ticks come in large numbers.
In the fall and winter, the trail is clear of ticks but bug spray is recommended to ward off flies and mosquitoes.