Monday, April 1, 2013

Just the Ticket

Well hello there, Stranger. I feel as though you've missed me.

Three full months into 2013 and behold my first post of the year. Finally. I could say that I'm not sure why it's taken so damn long, 'cause lord knows I've been tramping my way around the usual haunts and had the requisite fodder for inspiration: Hill 88 and Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands, the Steep Ravine Trail on Mount Tamalpais, the Batteries to Bluffs trail on the south end of the GGB. I could say that, but I know it'd not be the truth.

The truth is I was kind of bored. Not of getting out and working up a sweat, not of the time spent on hikes by myself and with friends. Not of the glorious seaside and woodland vistas that ease into view 'round every bend in the trail, not of all the fresh air and decompression, and certainly not of the erupting springtime wildflower bloom, which is just now hitting its stride in the rumpled hills and valleys of northern California. Okay, honestly...maybe I was just a wee bit bored with all the above, but only because I was walking the same set of trails, over and over again.

Truth is I was in a rut, and we all know how that feels. Be it in a job, in a relationship, with a cast of characters, with what's for dinner or with what dotted line on a map one chooses to follow, no doubt we've all been there before at some point in our lives. For me, all the usual beautiful was starting to become all the plain old usual. Which is why a few days ago - even though the forecast had called for rain - it felt extra special good to break from the usual, to shake it up a bit, to head south a ways and get a brand new hike under my belt. Turned out to be just the ticket.

I can't even ponder a guess as to how many times I've zipped by San Bruno Mountain: the isolated, hulking aerie of scruffy green chaparral that looms just south of the San Francisco city limits in San Mateo County. It's definitely more than 50, which, because it's on the way to San Francisco International Airport and I travel to Cleveland at least once a year, is double the years I've called the Bay Area home. Add up all the other reasons I've driven or been driven during the past quarter century and what would we find...100 times? 200? More?

San Bruno Mountain State Park is pretty compact, so to speak; certainly nowhere near as large and as wild and varied as Mount Tamalpais in Marin. The wide open summit rises to 1,314 feet compared to Mount Tam's 2,571', it doesn't have dense stands of coast redwoods nor the year-round creeks and waterfalls, and with only 12 miles of sanctioned trails one might exhaust the hiking possibilities in a single day. That said, it is lovely, more than adequately rugged, and well worth the time to explore.

The relative isolation of San Bruno Mountain harbors at least 14 endangered plant species and a handful of rare insects - butterflies, mostly. We saw no animals, save a few raptors soaring high above, but the rain held off as my hiking buddies and I pumped out the 3.1-mile Summit Loop Trail in an hour and a half. The hike is listed as strenuous in the park brochure and online, but it's perhaps more moderate+, with just a few breathy inclines at the beginning and at the end. It is, however, a delightful tramp; for our outing actually muggy and warm, and happily I soaked up the first time experience, the views great and small, the peaceful sound of the wind. Springtime is a superb season to visit the park, and on the trail we passed loads of brightly colored wildflowers: Footsteps of Spring, Douglas iris, blue-eyed grass, California poppy, San Francisco wall flower (a rare find), silver bush lupine, sky lupine, Indian paintbrush (including a yellow sub-species), wild lilac, rock cress, cow parsnip.

I have no clue what this is called, but it's funky good
and out in force atop the mountain.

And what of the views? Well, they are simply extraordinary: an unobstructed 360 rivaling anything, anywhere in the Bay Area! North to the "little boxes" of San Francisco, to my well-travelled stomping grounds of the Marin Headlands, to the familiar silhouette of Mount Tam; east to the expansive, slate gray waters of the bay, to Berkeley, Oakland and Mount Diablo; south to more tightly packed urban sprawl, and even further the dark, brooding mass of the Santa Cruz Mountains proper; west to the mighty Pacific and the Farallon Islands. Unfortunately I took only two pictures, and I will lament that decision until the next time I venture up the mountain, but the one below will hopefully offer a taste of the visual rewards, which are spectacular!

My hiking buddies for the day,
with the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

So there you have it. Lesson learned, for now: Shake it up, Palmer; break out of that rut; do the Hokey-Pokey somewhere new for a while. It will make a return to the usual all the more rewarding, for as they say: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

San Bruno Mountain State Park
Area: 2,378 acres
Summit: 1,314 feet
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. opening, closing depends on the time of year
Day use fee: $600.00 per car
No pets allowed

When you're ready to make the drive and discover San Bruno Mountain (once again, now is a great time!) here's a link to the official park website:

This picture, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with our hike,
but I just love daffodils - $5 right now for 30 stems - love them even more
when my apartment is clean.

Peace out.
Get out.
Happy Spring.
April Fools! (The day use fee is only $6.00 per car, not $600.00)
See you sooner than later, inspiration willing.

Peter J. Palmer


  1. How wonderful to discover a gem right within your own backyard - something we could all do if we took the time!

  2. Yes, I did miss you! Thanks for making your return. I look forward to more!