Sunday, April 11, 2010

Trapped Inside

Tut-tut, it looks like rain.
- Winnie-the-Pooh

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring.
- English Nursery Rhyme

The groundhog was correct. The calendar says spring, but as predicted a week-long cold front brought frigid temps and a bucket of rain to the Bay Area on Easter weekend, so any thoughts of a Sunday hike swirled right down the storm drains with the water. Monday was much more clement, and I took advantage with a two-hour afternoon bike ride to the Golden Gate Bridge, up through the Presidio to Baker Beach and back. Twas a lovely and gruesome ride: lovely because it had been a while since I biked the dramatic coastal route, and the skies were bright blue with puffy cotton ball clouds; gruesome because it had been a while since I biked the route, and my legs were poorly prepared for the hills.

The days following Easter were progressively sunnier and warmer, culminating in a gorgeous Thursday and Friday while I was trapped inside at work, but winter returned on Saturday night. Alas, the weather for Sunday April 11 (today) and Monday April 12, my days off, is supposed to wet and chilly (it's pouring as I write this, and it's cold, very cold). I'm becoming just a teeny-weeny bit sick of it, especially the recent pattern of sunny weekdays and rainy weekends, but I guess there's no use getting my banana hammock in twist. Rain levels for the season are above average, and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada looks extremely promising for a big, healthy melt. Beats another drought year, right? So while good old El Niño storms in from the Pacific with a (hopefully) last and final, drizzly goodbye, let's take a moment for some official business.

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I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain;
what a glorious feelin', I'm happy again!
- Arthur Freed

Remember the name, my fellow outdoor enthusiasts: Congressman Phillip Burton. He's the gentleman responsible for spearheading the creation of The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), and with it the Marin Headlands. We have him to blame, along with other like-minded visionaries, for the patchwork of unique parkland, historic military sites and other open space stitched together on the San Francisco Bay Area coastline now visited by over 13 million people a year. I have him to blame for being one of them, but I have only myself to blame for doing it over and over again.

Remember the date, as well: 1972. I was a twelve year old Catholic schoolboy in Cleveland, Ohio, when President Richard Nixon signed into law "An Act to Establish the Golden Gate National Recreation Area". The first acquisitions by the U.S. National Park Service were Alcatraz Island and Fort Mason in San Francisco. This was followed by the purchase of a large parcel of barren hills north of the Golden Gate by the Nature Conservancy, which then transferred the land to the GGNRA. The land at that time was owned by the Gulf Oil Corporation and in the 1960's had been slated for a (thankfully failed) housing development named Marincello. Let's have a group shudder at the thought.

Rain, rain: go away. Come again some other day.
- English Nursery Rhyme

The GGRNA is not one single park but rather a collection of previously existing sites and other locales enlarged over the ensuing decades by purchase of more, more, more. Currently under its jurisdiction is 59 miles of coastal land that stretches from the San Mateo County south of San Francisco to Marin County north. Can we get a big fat group hug now, followed by the collective shout: "Amen!"  

The roster of individual place-names, each one a cherished parcel in and of itself, together makes for one of the largest urban national parks in the world - in size over twice the area of San Francisco - and beckons travelers from the far corners of the earth to our crumpled, foggy, earthquake-prone shores. How many tourist dollars the combined space brings to the California economy I do not know, but based on the various languages I hear every time I find myself hiking, biking, camping, exploring or just plain old sitting amidst the beauty it's gotta be a lot (English), beaucoup (French), mucho (Spanish), mólto (Italian), viel (German), mnogo (Russian), muito (Portuguese), marami (Tagalog, Filipino), quids (Australian, slang), kekahi mau (Hawaiian), yáa (Mayan). I wanted to include Chinese and Japanese in that last sentence but couldn't figure out how.

Alcatraz, Fort Mason and the Marin Headlands was just the beginning of the grand design. Within the San Francisco city limits the GGNRA now includes the Presidio, Crissy Field, The National Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park, the Marina Green, Fort Point and Fort Funston, Land's End and Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach, China Beach and Baker Beach. In San Mateo County: Sweeney Ridge and Mori Point.  In Marin County: the Marin Headlands (including Rodeo Beach, the starting point for our beloved hike, The Loop), Tennessee Valley and Beach, Muir Beach and Muir Woods, the Mount Tamalpais area, Olema Valley, Stinson Beach and Angel Island.

It's raining men, hallelujah!
- The Weather Girls

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A map of the San Francisco Bay Area, compliments of the National Park Service. The green areas are all part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; the big one just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is the Marin Headlands.

This is the view two blocks north of my apartment in the Fort Mason District of San Francisco. The statue in the Great Meadow, as it's called, is none other than Congress Phillip Burton, the man so responsible for the formation of the GGNRA. The hills in the far background are the Marin Headlands.

On the bike ride at the start of Crissy Field, with sticky monkeyflower, bush lupine, and the restored tidal lagoon.

Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Down by the southern end of the GGB and Fort Point (sorry, not in the picture), an Army outpost built just before the American Civil War.

A view of Crissy Field, the Bay Trail and the San Francisco skyline. Before the restoration, during my  first 10 years in the city, Crissy Field was a dilapidated asphalt air strip, originally part of the Army's Presidio. Much of it was fenced off, old military buildings were in various stages of disrepair and collapse, and almost none of it was green. People, including me, still walked, jogged and biked along the bay shore, but it was a much different scene. Thankfully, in 1998 a two-year long reconstruction effort began that would change the face of the waterfront into one of the loveliest and grandest open spaces in San Francisco. Today the area is carpeted in native grasses, plants and wildflowers; a restored tidal lagoon is host to herons, egrets, coots, grebes, surf scooters, geese, ducks, pelicans, cormorants, terns and more; the Bay Trail stretches from one end to the other; picnic tables and benches, restrooms and showers for day use, a visitors center, a café, The Warming Hut, and the offices for The Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary line the path.  The transformation is stunning.

Outside the Golden Gate, on the way to Baker Beach. Those big green hills are, you guessed it, the Marin Headlands.

On Baker Beach.  Now I just gotta ride back.

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The way I see it, if you want the rainbow,
then you gotta put up with the rain.
- Dolly Parton

Well, unless things change rapidly there sure ain't gonna be a hike today. It is freezing, and the rain is still coming down in buckets! I just turned up the heat and put on another layer, and I am seriously thinking of crawling back under the covers for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow then?

With fingers crossed,
Peter J. Palmer

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