You don’t hear much clamor among hikers to check out the Rock City area at Mount Diablo State Park. The rocks are very cool, but they’re also covered in the initials, names and graduation years of lord knows how many industrious teen-agers with too much time on their hands. The upside is, kids who have the tenacity to dig their names an inch into the soft rock of a former seabed are probably well prepared for a life of corporate salt-minery. One of them is probably your boss.

The etchings reminded me of tattoos — one guy swore his undying devotion to Tanya, who no doubt ran off with his boss; perhaps in his grief it never occurred to him to return to Rock City and correct the record, which was, alas, etched in stone.

As for the hiking: It’s not all bad once you get away from Rock City. I took off down the less-populous stretch of the Trail Through Time for a little over a mile, turned left at the Devil Slide Trail, headed up to the Sycamore Trail in search of something called Balancing Rock. I had visions of one of those slabs that always seems to turn Wile E. Coyote into an accordion. The reality was a bit of letdown, but it was in very quiet, remote corner of the park with nary a soul around.

I eventually looped my way back to Rock City, climbed a pinnacle called Sentinel Rock and wandered back the way I came. Might’ve gotten seven miles in by the time I turned back for San Jose.

Well, lets look at the pictures.

A guy on the wall

There’s a huge stone formation near the Trail Through Time, heading south out of Rock City. This guy was huffing and puffing his way up the stone face. I opted to move along before he and his pals started volunteering me for rope duty.

Diablo Meridian

So if you take the Trail Through Time down to the Devils Slide Trail, hang a left and make your way to Knobcone Point Road and turn right, down a ways you’ll find this informative sign revealing you’re at the Diablo Meridian. Of course you will have forgotten your surveying tools and this information will be of no use whatsoever. But it’s nice to know.

Incidentally, this area out here is probably the wildest in this section of the park. You can’t see subdivisions — it’s pretty much all hills and sky. Nice if you’re into that sorta thing (and you wouldn’t be here otherwise, right?)

Balancing Rock

This is the Balancing Rock — about three miles from Rock City on the route I took. The utter lack of gawking crowds speaks for itself, I suppose.

More rock balancing

So hiked back the way I came for awhile, but stayed on the Knobcone trail till it hit Curry Point, a handy parking area for bikers in this area. Down the road a ways, somebody had put in this way-cool rock-balance installation. The guy on the mountain bike has one of those high-tech one-fork front ends holding his forward wheel. Looks odd but I suppose it works fine.

Sandstone formations

So I wandered back to Rock City and did some more explorations along the Trail Through Time. You can’t see as many of the human carvings from this distance, which is all the better. At least the cavemen had the foresight to paint on their walls.

Sentinel Rock

This is the approach to the top of Sentinel Rock. This whole area around here is full of nooks and crannies, which does provide good exercise.

Interesting tree

You know me and my tree pictures.

Quite a view

Since I’m writing about Mount Diablo for my Mercury News column, I headed up to the summit (much more painless in the car) to check out the one-mile loop near the summit. The Fire Interpretive Trail is dedicated to one Mary Bowerman, who’d have to be proud to have her name on this patch of dirt. If the view’s unobstructed, it’s probably one of the nicest easy one-milers in the Bay Area.

Tree in the afternoon

OK, one more tree pic just to keep me in practice.

Final assessment: The best hiking at Diablo is around the summit, or in some of the deep canyons in the spring when the falls are running. The formations at Rock City are remarkable, but the teen-scratching all every free inch of rock is bound to get on your nerves. The hike out to Balancing Rock and back is a nice six miles if you retrace your steps. (This’ll all make sense if you’ve got your trusty Mount Diablo Trail Map handy.)