Category Archives: photography|historical

San Francisco Sights Trail Run

Golden Gate Bridge from the Batteries to Bluffs Trail

The Presidio of San Francisco is a favorite of local and visiting runners. One of innumerable route variations, this 7.5 mile run is jam-packed with iconic sights and memorable points of interest.

Brett and I started the run near the Chestnut gate of the Presidio. The first stop was the Letterman Digital Arts Center, the headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic and LucasArts. You can grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks here, and then stop by the Yoda Fountain. Statues of motion picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge and TV pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth are also on the grounds.

Circling around to the Letterman complex entrance we returned to the Presidio gate at Lyon & Lombard, which is flanked by two 18th century bronze Spanish cannon. The 6-inch caliber (24-pounder) cannon are marked with the ornate cipher of King Carlos III.  The information imprinted on the breech ring indicates they were cast two days apart in Seville in December 1783. Even older Spanish cannon can be found at the Officers Club and elsewhere in the Presidio.

Turning right (south) we ran a few blocks up Lyon Street to the popular Lyon Street steps. There are two groups of steps, the first set being steeper than the second. One of San Francisco’s most exclusive neighborhoods, Pacific Heights, borders the steps.

If you check online you’ll see counts of the Lyon Street steps ranging from around 241 to 291. Brett & Amanda counted the steps by section on another occasion and counted 63, 62, 46, 60, and 60 steps — for a total of 291 steps. The curb in the middle near the basketball hoop was not counted.

From the top of the Lyon Street stairs we re-entered the Presidio at Broadway, crossed Presidio Blvd, and then continued west along West Pacific Avenue. Wood Line, the first of two Andy Goldsworthy pieces passed on the run, is below West Pacific Avenue and between Lovers Lane and Presidio Blvd.

In about a half-mile we picked up the Bay Area Ridge Trail near the Arguello Gate and the Presidio Golf Course Clubhouse. Although not included on our route today, Inspiration Point is nearby and can be visited using the upper Ecology Trail.

Following the Bay Area Ridge Trail we crossed Arguello Blvd and continued uphill a short distance to Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire. Today Spire pointed into a clear blue sky, but on other days it can be nearly lost in fog. Over time, the young cypress and pine trees surrounding Spire will grow to dominate the skyline and Spire will shrink until it becomes a lost thought from another time.

About a half-mile beyond Spire the northwest-trending Bay Area Ridge Trail turned west, near the connector trail to the National Cemetery Overlook. Following the trail we continued west, past Rob Hill Campground to Washington Blvd. and then joined the Coastal Trail at the Pacific Overlook.

Here the iconic views of the Pacific shoreline and the Golden Gate begin. Taking advantage of the superlative weather, we ran down the Batteries to Bluffs Trail toward Marshall’s Beach and south to Battery Crosby, looping back up to the Coastal Trail and the Pacific Overlook.

The fantastic views continued as we ran north on the Coastal Trail, past Battery Geoffrey and other fortifications that protected the Golden Gate. Running under the Golden Gate Bridge we left the Coastal Trail (which crosses the bridge) and ran down the Battery East stairs to the Golden Gate Promenade.

Not that much bigger than a large container ship, Alcatraz looked like a huge tramp freighter out in the bay, steaming through the morning haze. Already late for breakfast, we tried to keep the pace up as we ran along the Promenade. At Crissy Field I paused for a moment to photograph Huru, one of Mark di Suvero’s huge steel sculptures.

Leaving the shoreline at the marina, we crossed Marina Blvd. One more stop was on our itinerary — the Palace of Fine Arts. Built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, and rebuilt in 1965-66, architect Bernard Maybeck’s vision was that of “a Roman ruin, mutilated and overgrown.”

Out of time, I took a few photos and we checked on the nest of the swans Blanche and Blue Boy, residents of the Palace’s lagoon. One swan was on the water, but the nest was empty. Later we learned that four cygnets had hatched just days before.

Here’s a slideshow of some photos from the run. This interactive Cesium browser View shows the GPS track of our route. Here also is a Park Service & Presidio Trust map of the Presidio (PDF).

Some related posts: Spire, Wood Line, Cooler Running, Inspiration Point – Golden Gate Bridge Loop

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Last weekend we hiked to Point Bonita Lighthouse, an operational lighthouse perched on an eroded finger of land stretching out into the Pacific on the northwest corner of the Golden Gate.

The current lighthouse became operational in 1877, but according to the Lighthouse Friends web site much of the tower is from the original 1855 lighthouse. The original lighthouse was situated higher on the point and was often shrouded in fog.

About a mile round trip, the adventurous hike to the lighthouse includes steep cliffs, airy view points, a claustrophobic tunnel, suspension bridge and great views of the coastline and Golden Gate. The lighthouse was reopened to the public earlier this year, following the replacement of the bridge that spans crumbling cliffs to reach the exposed point.

The tunnel — about halfway to the lighthouse — is only open during visiting hours, currently Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. See the National Park Service web site and this NPS Point Bonita brochure (PDF) for additional information.

After the Station Fire: Ten Miles – Four Peaks

Mt. Lowe from Mt. Disappointment

A run or hike doesn’t have to be long or difficult to be enjoyable! It had been a while since I’d done San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Markham, and Mt. Lowe; and although I’d run within a quarter-mile of the summit of Mt. Disappointment several times, I’d never done the last bit up to the peak. All four of these peaks can be done in a (round trip) run/hike of less than ten miles, with a cumulative elevation gain/loss of around 3000′.

Depending on where you prefer to park, the run/hike can start at the San Gabriel Peak Trail trailhead, which is about one-third of a mile up the Mt. Wilson Road, or at Red Box on Angeles Crest Highway. Parking at Red Box requires running/hiking on Mt. Wilson Road to the trailhead.

The San Gabriel Peak/Mt. Disappointment trail climbs up through a forest of chaparral, canyon live oak, and Bigcone Douglas-fir about 1 1/2 miles to the Mt. Disappointment road, just below the antennae-infested summit of the peak. Along the way there are great views of the canyon of the West Fork San Gabriel River and San Gabriel Peak. The paved road is followed south (left) to a sharp switchback and then a short distance up to the top of Mt. Disappointment (~ Mile 2.1).

In Trails of the Angeles, John Robinson describes how government surveyors lugged their equipment to the top of Mt. Disappointment in 1875, only to discover that another peak to the southeast was higher. That peak was San Gabriel Peak. Except for Strawberry Peak (6164′), San Gabriel Peak (6161′) is the highest of the front range peaks. It is the most prominent peak on the eastern skyline when viewed from the San Fernando Valley, and is sometimes mistaken for Mt. Wilson.

I imagine it was a bit easier for me to get over to San Gabriel Peak than for the surveyors when they did the peak’s first ascent. All I had to do was run a third of a mile down a paved road and pick up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the southeast corner of the switchback. The trail up to San Gabriel Peak forks to the left off the trail to Markham Saddle about a tenth of a mile from the switchback.

The divide extending from Mt. Disappointment to Mt. Wilson was the approximate boundary of the Station Fire in this area. Although the summit of San Gabriel Peak burned, much of the northeast side of San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment did not. From what I can determine, the northeast side of these peaks last burned in the 1898 “Mt. Lowe” fire. There’s a nice section of trail just below the summit of San Gabriel Peak that passes through a corner of Bigcone Douglas-fir forest that was not consumed by the Station Fire.

After enjoying the panoramic view from the top of San Gabriel Peak (~ Mile 2.9), I retraced my steps back down to the “main” trail and continued to descend to Markham Saddle and the Mt. Lowe fire road. At this point another trail begins on the Mt. Markham side of the road. This trail leads southwest to a saddle between Mt. Markham and Mt. Lowe. Mt. Lowe Road is closed between Markham Saddle and Eaton Saddle because an active rock slide destroyed the road just west of Mueller Tunnel.

From the Markham-Lowe saddle a path follows the southwest ridge of Mt. Markham about a half-mile to its summit. The route up the ridge is relatively straightforward, but a steeper section requires a little scrambling over fractured, loose rock. The high point on Mt. Markham’s elongated summit ridge appeared to be a pile of rocks covered with Turricula. A little further out on the ridge was a clearing with a rusty can that may have been a summit register (~ Mile 5.1).

Returning to the Markham-Lowe saddle, less than a half-mile of moderate uphill led to the summit of Mt. Lowe (~ Mile 6.0). There’s a bench here, along with locating tubes pointed at various landmarks. As explained by the interpretive sign on the peak, Professor Thaddeus Lowe had planned to build a large hotel on the summit, serviced by the Mt. Lowe Railway. In his grand vision, a suspended cable car would have continued to San Gabriel Peak, where an observatory was to be built. Here’s a map of Mt. Lowe area trails and landmarks created by The Scenic Mt. Lowe Railway Historical Committee.

It was on the way back, near Mt. Disappointment, that I heard and saw the F-18s described in So Many Heroes. It turns out the fighters had done a flyover as part of a 9/11 Memorial dedication in Pasadena.

Turricula (Poodle-dog bush) Update

Turricula was present virtually everywhere along the route that had been burned, and could not entirely be avoided. It was especially prevalent on the path to summit of Mt. Markham from the Markham-Lowe Saddle.

I’ve been exposed to Turricula now on a number of runs, and except for the first time, when I literally waded through unbroken stands of the sticky young plants, it hasn’t been a problem — even wearing running shorts and short-sleeves. I’ve had a little irritation on my ankles, or sometimes along my waistband, or a random spot here or there, but it’s been no big deal. Certainly nothing like the widespread inflammation, swelling and blisters the first time!

Of course now I at least make an attempt to avoid the plants. And I also wash off my arms and legs at the earliest opportunity after being exposed to Turricula.

It also seems the older plants don’t have as much of the “exudate” on them, since my legs and arms haven’t become sticky from brushing up against the plants. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the older plants irritation results from the almost microscopic hairs on the plant. It is thought these irritating hairs are more easily broken and shed as the plant ages.

Chumash Astronomy: Reaching into the Upper World

Chumash astronomical petroglyph.

There is nothing quite so compelling as an unanswered question.

Several years ago, in the middle of a trail run, an unusually shaped rock formation caught my eye. After a little bushwhacking and exploration, I found a way to climb the formation, and on its summit found a small pictograph. I wondered if there might be other pictographs in the area, and on the way back to the trail found the inscription pictured above.

Later, I took a friend with more ethnographic experience to the top of the rock, and it was his opinion that the pictograph, as well as the nearby inscription, were not of modern origin. He also mentioned that the rock likely marked the point on the southeastern horizon where the sun rises on the Winter Solstice, as seen from a Chumash shrine several miles away.

Chumash pictograph
The pictograph on the solstice rock appears to have been painted using an ochre pigment, which may have been mixed in an adjacent cupule. It is in a harsh environment, fully exposed to the sun, wind and rain. It’s my guess that the white “alignment” reticule surrounding the pictograph is an unfortunate recent addition.

The petroglyph is in a concavity on the north side of a large boulder, and is better protected. That the drawing appears to be astronomical in nature, and is adjacent to a rock possibly used to mark the Winter solstice is probably not a coincidence.

To speculate on the purpose and meaning of such a drawing is to travel in time, and through the thoughts and eyes of another, visit a world far different than our own.

In this case that someone was probably an ‘alchuklash — an astronomer-priest-shaman who was a part of a religious-spiritual cult known as the ‘antap — a pervasive power elite within Chumash society.

The ‘alchuklash were adept astronomers, not only observing the Winter and Summer Solstices, but the moon, individual stars, asterisms, constellations, planets, Milky Way, eclipses and more. The observation and interpretation of the Upper World were an integral part of the Chumash cultural and world view.

But the Upper World did not exist on its own. The Chumash appreciated and celebrated the interdependency of Nature, and events in the Upper and Lower Worlds were inexorably tied to those in the Middle World of everyday existence. Using their specialized knowledge, the ‘antap facilitated communication and interaction between these worlds to the benefit, or peril, of the People.

It is in this context that in the drawing I see the powerful personage of an ‘alchuklash, who has reached into the Upper World. Perhaps the drawing is a commemoration of the power of the place. Perhaps it is a kind of owner’s manual, a premodern PDF, illustrating the purpose of the solstice rock. Or, perhaps it is something we cannot know.

Note: The contrast of the lines in the image has been increased to make them easier to see. In the ten years since I first photographed the etching, some detail has been lost in the lower right corner of the drawing. This image is from April 21, 2009.

Reference: Crystals in the Sky: An Intellectual Odyssey Involving Chumash Astronomy, Cosmology, and Rock Art. Travis Hudson and Ernest Underhay (Foreword by Anthony F. Aveni and illustrated by Campbell Grant). Socorro, New Mexico: Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 10, 1978, 163 pp.

Google search: $g(Chumash), $g(petroglyph), $g(pictograph), $g(rock art), $g(solstice), $g(astronomy), $g(ethnography), $g(shaman)

Old Santa Susana Stage Road

Old Santa Susana Stage Road

Running or hiking up the Old Santa Susana Stage Road, if you stop and listen carefully, you may hear a sharp whistle, a raspy shout, or a few choice expletives echoing from the canyon walls. It would have taken a barrage of such oaths, and a lot more, to get a stage up and over this harrowing grade.

The image of the Simi Pacific Coast Stage in the book Simi Valley: A Journey Through Time, helps to complete the mental picture. Steep, narrow, and unforgiving, the Stage Road must have produced stark terror in more than a few passengers.

Established in 1861, the “Devil’s Slide” stage road was a link in the Pacific Coast Stage Line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It follows the route of the original Spanish trail connecting the San Fernando and Santa Buenaventura Missions. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the route is said to have been “an old Indian trail,” connecting Chumash communities in Simi Valley to Gabrielino communities in the San Fernando Valley.

Old Santa Susana Stage Road is located in Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. The park was created in 1998 to protect the Stage Road and other cultural resources in the area. A General Plan characterizing the purpose and long-term vision for the park is in under development, and through a series of meetings, public input on the plan is being requested. The second such meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 8:30 P.M. at Chatsworth Park South. See the General Plan web page for additional details.

There is currently no “official” trail leading to the Stage Road. Since the area was burned in the Topanga Fire last Fall, it’s important to stay on existing dirt roads and trails to help promote recovery, and avoid damaging sensitive habitat or species.

(Photograph from a run on February 19, 2006.)