I’d had my eye on Basalt Hill for a few years: nearly 1000′ of prominence, easy access in San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area, a short easy hike and hopefully a view of the Sierras. Although nearly two hours from my home it was just the right peak when my first choice was a bust for lack of parking.

The hills around the reservoir are rolling grasslands, cattle country. Beneath them, along the shoreline lie a scattering of campsites and fishing spots. A rough track leads uphill though the tall grass, following a line of telephone poles towards the radio towers and fire lookout on the summit. Much of the hillside was quarried 50 years ago to build the San Luis Dam. With all the manmade disruptions to the landscape it was a challenge to get a sense of the underlying natural terrain. Thankfully, just as I was coming off the summit, I came across a set of scattered colorful lichen-covered boulders, remnants of the volcanic outflow millions of years ago that gave the hill its name, and reminders of an earlier, untouched landscape.