Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Western Front in My Back Yard

I have been blessed with a hiking location just a few miles from my home in the East Bay area of Northern California, which — for reasons that will be explained below — provides me with many reminders of the Western Front. As you might guess, this is quite inspiring for someone who regularly leads tours of the actual battlefields.  Before I share a little history of this site, let me show you some images of my favorite walking trails, at 2,300 acre Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, and share how some of the stops bring distant locations to mind.

Entrance Signage

Crossing the Rail Bridge from the Parking Lot into the Main Park, Reminds Me of
Hill 60 at Ypres and the Site of Caterpillar Mine Crater to the Right

A Bunker in the Woods

There Are Trench Remains Everywhere You Look
Just One Example Here

Demolished Site, Reminiscent of Y-Ravine at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme

A Sunken Artillery Position

Hillside Pillbox

Field Fortification

Same Site Up Close

Different Vegetation, But This Always Reminds Me of the Wheat Field
the Marines Crossed at Belleau Wood 

Point Pinole has been a regional park since 1973. The previous owner was the Atlas Powder Company, one of several firms that manufactured gunpowder and dynamite at the site for a century. This is why it has bunkers and protected areas all over the site. There are craters formerly used as blast and burning areas and what appear to be trails where the routes for the mini-trains used to shuttle material around the site.  These companies have an interesting financial history tracing back to the entrepreneurship of none other than Alfred Nobel and the anti-trust breakup of the DuPont Powder Company. 

As you might guess, this West Coast plant for Atlas Powder did a lot of work during the Great War.  I don't have statistics for the Pinole site, but the firms derived from the trust breakup are said to have manufactured 40 percent of the munitions used by the Allies and the U.S. in the war, making well over a billion dollars (1914 dollars) during the war years.

What I do know for sure is that we ended up with a great and evocative park.


  1. Ingenious. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Neat photos! Historic, and very pretty as well.