The Five Sacred Peaks of the Bay Area

The Five Sacred Peaks of the San Francisco Bay Area

<<< and their old names >>>


  1. Mount Saint Helena in the Mayacamas Mountains  <<< Mount Mayacamas >>>touches the Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties 4341’
  2. Mount Tamalpais <<< támal páji, literally “west hill” >>> is the highest peak in the Marin Hills. The elevation at the East Peak, its highest point, is 2,574’.
  3. Mount Diablo is a mountain of the Diablo Range, <<< Tuyshtak >>> It is an isolated upthrust peak of 3,849’.
  4. Mount Montara <<< Camino Pedro Cuesta >>> 1898’ Due in part to its biologically isolated location near the end of a peninsula, the mountain has an extensive and unique biodiversity, especially on the serpentine soils of the lower slopes. A number of plant endangered species are found on this mountain, including the rare endemic manzanita Arctostaphylos montaraensis, named for this mountain.
  5. Mount Hamilton <<< Sierra de Santa Isabel >>> 4216’ and two other peaks along its ridge: Mt Copernicus – 4263‘ Mt Kepler – 4213’

According to Miwok and Ohlone narrative history, Mount Diablo was the point of creation. In one surviving story, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais were surrounded by water; from these two islands the creator Coyote and his assistant Eagle-man made Indian people and the world. In another, Molok the Condor brought forth his grandson Wek-Wek the Falcon Hero, from within Mount Diablo.

About 25 independent tribal groups with well-defined territories lived in the East Bay countryside surrounding these mountains. The Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone from Mission San Jose and the East Bay area, called Mt Diablo, Tuyshtak, meaning “at the dawn of time”. The Nisenan of the Sacramento Valley called it Sukkú Jaman, or as Nisenan elder Dalbert Castro once explained, “the place where dogs came from in trade”.

bay area

The Bioregions of California

Written and mapped by Obi Kaufmann @coyotethunder


California is a patchwork of dynamic ecostates and bio-republics whose seams are defined by large geomorphic expanses, water and soil courses. To understand the bioregions of California is to understand the story of how California works and how it is assembled.


  1. The conifer forest of the North Coast extend to Southeast Alaska, although the tallest tree in the world, the Coastal Redwood reaches its maximum height near the border of Oregon and then the species stops its northward push.
  2. The Cascade Mountains extend up into Canada and find their southern most progression in Northern California. Defined by lonely, steep volcanoes, the Cascades in California are best defined by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, two volcanoes that are not part of the Sierra Nevada.
  3. The Columbia Plateau extends from Washington and Idaho down into Northern California in only a couple of isolated points in the desert. These Basin and Range ecosystems, as they are called are defined by no water course that leads to the sea, but rather, find terminus in the deserts of Nevada.
  4. The historically rich Diablo mountains, home to the missionary road of the Calle Real in the eighteenth century are historically perhaps the most fecund of all California. Home to more than ten thousand people at the time of conquest.
  5. The Santa Lucia Mountains are home to some of the rarest conifers in the world, including the Santa Lucia Fir and the Big Cone Douglas Fir.
  6. While the whole of the Sierra Nevada is approximately four hundred miles long and about sixty miles wide, the High Sierra, the roof of California, is about two hundred miles long and twenty miles wide. This high alpine ecotype is one all its own, subject to its own
    rules and systems: different than the montane envirotypes of the rest of the Sierra Nevada.
  7. The Grapevine. Mount Pinos, where the Transverse, The Coastal and the Sierra Nevada meets, at its terminus at Tehachapi, near the Tejon Pass.
  8. The Wall. Mount Whitney, highest point in the lower 48 states. The Sierra Nevada rises out of the high desert with a straight elevation increase of fourteen thousand feet in just a few miles.
  9. The highest peak in Southern California, Mount Gregornio lies just a few miles north of another 11 foot plus peak, San Jacinto. Together the two peaks represent a gate of sorts that defines the end of the the Transverse Ranges and where the Low Desert meets the High.


The Trail Painters

I am a trail painter. That means I paint on the trail across the mountains of the West, I don’t paint the trail itself. There is a fundamental difference between what I do, and what these guys do, er, did. I capture the emotional, expressionist bend of the light through the trees and across the river, incorporating symbols and techniques outside the traditional world of landscape painting. Go to instagram and search #trailpaintings to check it out. That all being said, I went to the De Young museum in San Francisco yesterday and remembered who my favorite painters of all time, are. Consider:

002Thomas Hill, Mount Tallac from Lake Tahoe, 1880

Hill’s paintings often started out as oil sketches. Just after the Gold Rush, Hill was essential to shaping public perceptions of California in an era when the state remained otherwise inaccessible to most Americans. This view of Tallac is near the salmon run at Taylor Creek.


Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon with Rainbow, 1912


Albert Bierstadt, California Spring, 1875

Perhaps the most famous trail painter of the West, Bierstadt’s simple California Spring brings a wave of emotion, sings the pure emotional note of what it feels like here among the oaks in Early February when the hills sprout green.


Chiura Obata, Lake Basin in the High Sierra, 1930

A Japanese-American artist, the “roughneck”, Obata went to the United States in 1903, at age 17. After initially working as an illustrator and commercial decorator, he had a successful career as a painter, following a 1927 summer spent in the Sierra Nevadaand was a faculty member in the Art Department at UCB, from 1932 to 1953, interrupted by World War II, when he spent over a year in internment camps. Look up his Yosemite series, it will change you.


The first of three trail paintings not from the West. Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866


Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867


John Constable, The Vale of Deadham, 1827


Central Coast Heritage Protection Act



Representative Lois Capps has introduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act! The bill will add roughly 300,000 acres of wilderness, scenic areas, and other protections and 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. This bill will safeguard some of the most spectacular places, including the headwaters of the Sespe River and the largest and most undisturbed remnant of the great Central Valley prairie ecosystem in the Carrizo Plain. The bill will expand nine wilderness areas including the Dick Smith, the Matilija, the Santa Lucia, and others. It will protect lands that are home to endangered wildlife like the California condor, Kit fox, red-legged frog, and Mohave ground squirrel, and lands that contain irreplaceable rock art that reveal thousands of years of human culture.

follow the progress of the bill here


Representative Lois Capps introduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act.  Reps. Julia Brownley and Sam Farr will co-sponsor the bill.  Once the Act becomes law, the Condor Trail will be congressionally designated as the Condor National Recreational Trail as an amendment to the National Trails System Act (a first for a National Recreation Trail!).

“The designation of the Condor Trail as a National Recreation Trail is an extremely important part of this bill.  To have this in our backyard is really exciting and that fact that it highlights and supports protection we need for the California Condor is really important.” -Rep. Lois Capps

Sample Message to Capps, Brownley & Farr:

Dear Representative:

Thank you for your leadership and commitment to permanently protect the wild public lands and rivers of the Central Coast region. Your legislation will protect landscapes that are an important part of America’s natural and cultural heritage, contribute to the regional economy, and are a shared resource that the public enjoys through numerous outdoor recreation activities. In addition, they support an incredible diversity of plant and animal species including southern steelhead, Pronghorn antelope, and the endangered California condor. 

The Central Coast includes some of the most diverse habitats and ecosystems found anywhere in North America.  I strongly support your legislation that would add wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and other protective designations in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. 

Thank you for your dedicated work with numerous stakeholders to develop a bill that meets the needs and wishes of community members and ensures protection of these treasured lands for generations to come.