REVEL IN CLAYTON PARK WITH ITS DREAMY SETTING; THE COMMUNITY AREA SHARES ITS BEAUTIFUL SPACE WITH AN IMPOSING MOUNTAIN AND SOME NONCHALANT COWS

You lean back and wind up. The ball explodes from your fingertips, startles passing birds as it enters the stratosphere and bores right into Mount Diablo.

Or, you nonchalantly cock your arm to ready yourself at bat. The ball comes with such clarity that you can practically count the red stitches as it rotates toward you. With a deliberate smack, you loft that ball over hill and cow, until it disappears into a bright blue sky.

If you’re looking for a field of dreams, tap the dirt off your shoes and saunter on over to Clayton Community Park. Built on a valley slope, the 21-acre park rises above Marsh Creek Road. One of its four fields perches on the edge of a hill, and even the most casual pick-up game can make you feel like you’re floating in air.

The geological devilish giant next door doesn’t dwarf the park, but obliges by becoming part of a grand backdrop. The setting is simultaneously idyllic and unsettling, as the park looks out into Mount Diablo’s harshly scoured face, an abrasion left from miners who tried to scrape out its yield of copper, quicksilver and gold. A legacy from the area’s prospecting days in the 1800s, it’s also the reason the town of Clayton was founded.

As we celebrate national and state parks this month, Clayton Community Park is a pleasant reminder of the sanctuaries that also lie within city limits. While the little neighborhood park might not have the grandeur of Yosemite or the historical complexity of Angel Island, its beauty lies in the communal landscape, a gathering place for the people who live around it.

The play’s the thing: Spread out on two tiers are three ball fields and one multi-use field. Past the green playground equipment, tables are scattered to give picnicking parties a little territorial independence and skewering room. The tables set on the grassy center have barbecue grills. An asphalt path curves from the lower field to the picnic area, a wee bit short for a bicycle route, but excellent training grounds for little tykes cranking uphill on two wheels for the first time. Older bicyclists can take advantage of the bike lane running on Marsh Creek and Clayton roads. For field reservations or park information, call 925-672-3622.

Putting out the fire trail: Beyond the concrete pathway lies an unlocked gate, whose purpose is to keep bovines from coming in rather than humans from going out. It leads to a fire trail which curls up and around valley slopes and grazing grounds, and offers the ultimate outfield position. You may have to share the vista with the kamikaze flies and indifferent cows gazing down at the gray white rows of houses.

Ghost town: Just down the street, restless spirits wander the town, although they usually get more air time around Halloween. Some might be the same coal-mining souls from neighboring Nortonville and Somersville who’d come to Clayton for a drink.

Getting there: On weekdays, the County Connection 110KPC and 110C connect from Concord BART to Marsh Creek and Clayton roads, and on Saturday all the 110 buses serve Clayton. For bus information, call 925-676-7500 or check www.transitinfo.org. From Pittsburg, take Kirker Pass Road and turn left onto Marsh Creek Road. From 680 North, exit on Ygnacio Valley Road proceed into Clayton and turn right onto Clayton Road, which becomes Marsh Creek Road.

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