Thursday, November 21, 2013

Notes From The City - A Walk - The Presidio and Baker Beach

Come take a walk with me. A long walk. Destination Baker Beach. Hopefully you will learn something along the way! I always do. Located in the Presidio of San Francisco. On this walk we first head to and pass through Mountain Lake Park which was the park of my childhood, a block away from home. With a playground, trees to climb on, tennis courts, a lake, and open, grassy fields to run freely, it borders the Presidio which is where we're headed. 

The Presidio was an Army Post from 1848 during the Mexican American wars to 1994 when the 6th army was deactivated and marched for the last time through the Lombard Gates. It developed into the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast and was often critically involved in most of America's Military engagements in the Pacific.
At one point it looked like this, back in the 1800's, where, in this picture they were performing Military exercises. In the late 1800's the Army undertook a massive campaign to turn the sandy, grassy knolls into a forest, partly to act as a wind break against the harsh ocean fueled winds, partly to beautify the land. Come for a walk and I'll show you what it looks like now - at least from my perspective.

The Presidio has been open to the public since 1874 - except during Wartime. Lucky for us since we lived about 8 blocks away and we had quicker access to the wharf, beaches, and the Golden Gate Bridge's surrounding areas. With a relatively short walk we wind through mostly park-like areas and emerge by the golf course.

Opened to the public, and often times shrouded in fog, it has a full restaurant and pro shop. It is also the second oldest golf course west of the Mississippi and Presidents, Generals, and visitors from all over the world have played here!

Leaving the golf course area, you get a glimpse of some of the native and imported landscape that makes up the Presidio - Eucalyptus trees and sand.

I couldn't resist this - it's a General Store! And my puppy nephew. He likes The General Store because he is a regular visitor through here and they toss him treats - like a slab of bacon or a sausage - that kind of a treat...

Next we embark on a forest journey, which is what comprises about 300 acres of land here thanks to those initial controversial efforts of one General and the Army. They planted Eucalyptus, Pine, and Cypress. 
Eucalyptus trees were fast growing, and there was a widespread advertising campaign around 1900 by the  Federal Government to plant them. What followed was The Eucalyptus Rush - yes like The Gold Rush. At the time, there was a Hardwood famine, and someone thought they discovered a solution in Eucalyptus trees. It was said that these trees were being used as timber in Australia and they were fast growing. So the importing began. People were buying land for the sole purpose of planting these trees so they could cash in on the potential timber business. Unfortunately, and embarrassingly,  it was discovered there are about 600 different species of Eucalyptus, and the ones being imported were not the timber variety, and, even if they had been, could only be harvested after several hundred years. 

Turns out they were a useful tree for the San Francisco Bay Area though. They actually trap the fog on their leaves, the moisture builds up and drips to the ground like a steady rain adding to the valuable water table. No really! Personally, these trees and their scent takes me back to the San Francisco of my childhood. And bonus - their leaves are medicinal and koalas like them! Just ask the ones who escaped from the San Francisco zoo one time. What I don't remember growing up with was the ivy that is currently winding up the trees. Deemed an invasive plant there, according to the Presidio Trust, you can volunteer to participate in "extreme restoration" - aka weeding - of these and other such invasive plants that threaten the "native" biodiversity of the Presidio. Hmm, as far as I can tell the only native thing there is the sand. In the mean time, however, it is transforming the forest into a visual mystical fairy land. 

After a long hike through the tree laden forest we start to edge our way towards the coastline. 

We can start to glimpse the ocean as we descend through forest steps.

There is a - sometimes hazardous- hurdle to cross and then we're at the sand path in the distance beyond the little yellow square. I love being engulfed in the forest of trees and then emerging onto the open expanse of this. To the right proudly stands the Golden Gate Bridge and straight out and to the left there lies the Pacific Ocean.

As is described in this sign. This marks the entrance to the sand ladder trail out onto the bluff and down to the beach.

It does seem a little like walking off a cliff at this point.

Pausing on the top of the trail and scanning to the right you look upon the wild, rugged beauty of the coastal hills here. As I was gazing at this, my brother picked up a beautiful little blue green rock to show me. "Oh," I say. "How pretty." "Asbestos," he says. "It's the state rock." Whaa? So I look this up when I get home. He's wrong! The state rock is Serpentine. Oh wait. Serpentine is the mineral group that is made up of naturally occurring Asbestos. So basically our state rock is Asbestos. Serpentine sounds much better. (Just don't hack away at the hillside to find a rock chunk thereby releasing airborne Asbestos and we'll all be safe)

We proceed down the cliff side toward the steps. You may have heard of these steps if you are a triathlete - or watch triathlons on television - specifically the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon which is held in here annually in June.

This marks the beginning of the end of a grueling triathlon that begins with a 1.5 mile swim from a ferry boat off Alcatraz, to the marina, an 18 mile bike ride through and around the Presidio, and an 8 mile run to Baker Beach. There are 400 steps here. See Jr. puppy way down there on the beach? And yes, I've walked up these stairs. They're challenging at best. And to attempt them after swimming in 55 degree choppy ocean from Alcatraz - and biking and running for 26 miles?? Clearly I'm out of shape.

Arriving finally on to Baker Beach this is the view to the right - the Bridge and the Bay beyond. The view is one which I didn't pay a good deal of attention to when I was a child. I was too busy munching on PBJ and sand sandwiches and watching my toes in the sand as the surf pulled back into the sea. What I can't show you is the "clothing optional" portion of the beach just off the picture to the right. Sorry! ;) 

We didn't walk all the way to the end this day which isn't far from here.

This happened to be a calm day with a gentle surf. But even on a good day this beach has undertows and rip currents and is not recommended for swimming. 

It happened to be one week into the Dungeness crab season last week. Yay! The crab fishermen were out on this particular morning. It is illegal to catch Dungeness crab inside the bay, so many people come here. In fact, on opening day there is a crab derby here with boats and crab fishing and contests, etc.

This was a common sight on this day along the shoreline. 

As was this. Measuring their catch.

Too small?

This is the view towards the opposite end of the beach. (Sorry for the yuk picture. It was bright!)
Up there on the cliffs is Sea Cliff, where there are really huge estates along the edge with close up views of the ocean, the Bridge, the Marin Headlands across the way, and, on a clear day, the Farallon Islands. Robin Williams has always been the most famous resident there.

It's funny when you look at the sand from a distance and it appears to be one color. Is that a piece of Asbestos there?

Time for a romp with friends and a drink before hiking back.

Heading back we take a different path through the Presidio because now we're at the other end of the beach. 

Through a different part of the forest area. 

And past the Marine Hospital memorial. There was a cemetery here for Merchant Marines from 1885 to 1912. When I was growing up it was a parking lot. While doing renovations here in the recent past, the cemetery was rediscovered, and instead of building something or removing - everything, they "imported" sand and "natural" plants and built a memorial and overlook.

How do you misplace over 500 Merchant Marines???

Well, this was my walk through just one part of the famed Presidio. There are many other sections and many other things going on. The above picture reflects another prevalent memory of the Presidio when I was growing up. This section was the Officer's housing. I loved the crisp white buildings and beautifully maintained yards. 

This was the Officer's Club - where my husband and I had our rehearsal dinner for our wedding. My father-in-law was a Captain in the Navy so they had special access! 

The Presidio, since 1996, has been in the hands of The Presidio Trust, which was formed by Congress. If you want to read about all the changes and what's happened to this very special place laden with crucial pieces of American history you can check out their website. This will give you one viewpoint. 

For the real history, from a real local, who has seen the changes first hand over the years on a regular basis - I'll hook you up with the best tour guide ;). You can hear the inside stories and interesting factual tidbits. He'll even take you to get the best wonton soup or crab after. And you get to walk with this cutie. But I'm biased. 

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