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Artist-in-residence Harrell Fletcher will lead the granddaddy of all field trips for San Francisco's Exploratorium starting July 18, when he leads all interested in a journey from the bayfront science museum on a trek that will move, by boat, to Treasure Island,then, on foot to Emeryville, Lafayette, the foot of Mt. Diablo, and finally to the top of the ol' devil mountain where the trekkers, including those who drop in along the route (the majority of those involved, probably) to gaze back from where they came from, because the Exploratorium is in a direct line from Mt. Diablo. (Courtesy of Harrell Fletcher)

By Pat Craig

The idea behind this field trip is to discover the extraordinary in what only appears to be ordinary.

It will take four days to cover the 40 miles between the Exploratorium's new digs at San Francisco's Pier 15 to the top of Mount Diablo, starting Thursday morning. Even on foot, that's a pretty gentle pace, but the time allows for ventures off the path to discover quite amazing things along the way.

On the first day alone, a core group of 12 to 15 trekkers from the museum will cruise from the Exploratorium in two sailboats. The boats will be piloted by members of the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors, who will make a presentation at Clipper Cove, where the Pan Am China Clipper used to take off and land.

The group, which will be joined about 10:30 a.m. by anyone interested in taking part, will tour Treasure Island, site of the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition (New York had the World's Fair moniker tied up at the time) and learn about the colorful expo that symbolically ended the Great Depression and introduced many visitors to, among other things, TV, cars of the future and "Sally Rand's Nude Ranch." They will then learn about the island as a navy base and experiments with radioactivity done there.

Back on the boats, the core group will sail to the Emeryville Marina to learn about the Emeryville shell mounds and the ceremonial purpose of the mounds that lie beneath a shopping center. Then they'll check out the sites of the electric railroad that served the area from 1910-54, discover the lore and history of Mountain View Cemetery and visit Berkeley's John Muir School before resting their heads in the backyard of an Exploratorium staffer.

Day 2 starts at 10:15 a.m. at Whipsnake Utilities on Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley. Meet by the EBMUD Gate.

Day 3 starts at 8:30 a.m. on the Sienna Ranch at 3232 Deer Hill Road in Lafayette, with a walk to explore the light with Exploratorium educator Fred Stein.

The final overnight stop will be at Mount Diablo's Live Oak Campground, where those just stopping by can reserve camping space (www.reserveamerica.com) Saturday night to take part in the "Films by the Fire" presentation and be up to join others in the grand finale, a hike to the summit of Mount Diablo. There, if it's clear, visitors can look back, straight across the hills and bay to the Exploratorium.

"My idea was to make something for the new building," said Exploratorium artist-in-residence Harrell Fletcher, an art professor at Portland State University in Oregon. "I wanted it to be something that would take attention away from the building and focus on activities going on in the museum and in the world. I'd done walking tours before, but not this huge of a stretch."

Inspired by a quote from artist Pierre Bonnard, Fletcher calls his project, "The Best Things in Museums Are the Windows," based on the notion people can take what they see in museums and apply it in life outside. Essentially, it's a heightened way of looking at things, talking to locals and discovering the secrets, big and small, found all over the place.

The idea was to do as much of the project as possible on foot to take time to discover what is out there, take in presentations on-site, and meet the people who live or work in the immediate area, said Jordan Stein, assistant curator at the museum.

Those who plan on dropping in on the project at different locations should plan on a fairly loose schedule, said Stein. Since the group will be on foot, official information on arrival times will be approximate.

if you go:
Good sources of current information on the trek include:
  • Web: www.exploratorium.edu/arts/the-windows, a key website, which has an hour-by hour, day-to-day itinerary;
  • On Twitter: @Exploratorium#thewindows
  • On Instagram: http://instagram.com/exploratorium