An Underground Mining Excursion

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It’s a hard day’s night working in a coal mine from sun up to sun down. Yet your little dwarves may whistle while they walk through the mine to see what life was like for the Welsh immigrants who flocked to this pocket of Contra Costa County.  Known as “black diamonds,” coal was mined from the 1850s to early 1900s. Eventually, the land was used for sand mining to make glass. You can hike or bike on the trails and explore the beautiful old cemetery on a hill high above the valley below.

How to get there: Black Diamond is located in Contra Costa County, south of Pittsburg and Antioch. Take Highway 4 to the Somersville Road exit in Antioch, then drive south (toward the hills) on Somersville Road to the Preserve entrance.

What to bring: It can become scorching hot in the east bay, so be sure to bring plenty of water and hats and sunglasses to protect you from those cruel rays. You might want to bring along your camera to take snaps of the day.

What to do: Greathouse Visitors Center is located within an underground chamber excavated in the 1920s that remains a cool 56 degrees at all times. On display are photographs and memorabilia where you can view the artifacts from the coal and sand mining days. Watch a “Bay Area Back Roads” video of the old timers for a short history lesson. Books are also available for purchase. Open weekends and some holidays, 10:00am-4:30pm (March through November closed on Thanksgiving). Admission is free. Parking fee is $5 per vehicle on weekends and holidays.

Named for Rose Hayward, Rose Hill Cemetery is a largely Welsh resting place for the poor souls who toiled this valley.  All of the gravestones were placed to face the east to greet the rising sun when Resurrection Day comes. The East Bay Regional Park has preserved the cemetery and its many exotic plants to save it from vandalism. As you walk among the gravestones, you can imagine the families who once lived here.

Where to eat: Picnic tables under giant trees are available near the parking lot or you can find picnicking spots along the many trails. You can stop in nearby Antioch for sandwiches at Subway, if you forget to pack a lunch.

Don’t miss: If you want to get back to nature for campfires and s’mores, you can camp at Stewartville Backpack Camp. Camping is limited to two nights during the spring, summer and fall. The campsite is located 3.2 miles from the Preserve headquarters, near the Stewartville and Upper Oil Canyon trails. It’s $5 per night per person. Camping reservations must be made at least five days in advance. To reserve, call 1-888-EBPARKS or 1-888-327-2757.

Park naturalists host a great variety of programs relating to the preserve’s natural and cultural history. For more details on upcoming events, call 510-544-2750 or send an email to


Have any of you been to the Black Diamond Mines with your kiddos? Let us know in the comment section below!

–Nicki Richesin