25 July, 2010:
There has been quite a bit of trail work in San Francisco’s Presidio over the past couple of years, and we’d been wanting to see what the park folks have been up to, so when Sarah’s parents invited us to join them for a hike there, we happily joined them and Sarah’s sister.
We parked at the Presidio Habitat visitor’s center, which has a must-get map (the Presidio is very easy to get lost in), and some exhibits about the art installations and such, then hit the very obvious start of the walk.
The path veered through an overgrown field; a sign explained:
It’s for the birds…
(and the butterflies too)
This area may look neglected. Quite the contrary. An area like this is valuable habitat for birds and butterflies to feed and breed. We will resume our maintenance regimen at the end of the bird nesting season in August. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for winged creatures.
Several chairs, one quite tall, provided a place to sit and look for critters in the field, but it was quiet out, being midday, and nothing much was stirring.
We walked along the buildings next to the field, several of which still had signs attesting to the military history of the Presidio.
Like many of the old Army buildings, these were unoccupied, perhaps waiting for seismic retrofit or cleanup before being repurposed.
This area was part of Fort Winfield Scott, and a nearby sign explained:
The new quarters are among the most elaborate and modern in the United States, and when the landscape features are completed, Fort Winfield Scott will be the finest… [and] most beautifully located army post in the country.”
- The San Francisco Call, June 18, 1912
The architecture of the Presidio’s buildings is interesting, and not nearly as drab as most military buildings!
Another art/nature installation consisted of large pots strapped to tree trunks to provide bird homes. I don’t know if any birds had taken up residence, but it’s a cool idea, and it looks kind of neat having big blue pots dozens of feet off of the ground.
Fortunately Jim & Diane have done this walk before, as there is little chance I could re-create it on my own. We continued through another neighborhood on the street.
Unlike Fort Winfield Scott, this area’s houses are back to their original function, and several dozen lucky families live in these pretty quarters.
A narrow footpath through a completely ivy-choked bit of forest brought us to another road. I was fairly well lost as to where we were, and where we were going by now, but no matter.
An Army Jeep was parked alongside the road, now repurposed as a groundskeeping vehicle.
The next installation piece was a big geometric ball perched atop three sticks, intended to be a habitat for Western Screech Owls.
In parts, at least, the path was well-marked.
Plenty of people were enjoying the trails, both locals walking their dogs, as well as tourists.
A less-successful installation piece was a spiral of metal. According to a nearby sign, it is intended to reflect the flight path of a hawk as it swoops down on its prey. It just looked like leftover junk to us, though.
Although quite a bit of the Presidio has been restored, there are large portions that are crumbling, fenced off by barbed wire, probably due to toxicity concerns.
We walked on to San Francisco National Cemetery, which I had driven past many times, but never visited. The footpath leading to its back entrance had stone inscriptions with an excerpt of “the Young Dead Soldiers” by Archibald MccLeish:
The full poem, a touching tribute to the war dead, and an exhortation to the living, can be found here.
The San Francisco National Cemetery is the only remaining cemetery in San Francisco, the rest having been relocated south to Colma many years ago. It’s a beautiful place that I would very much like to return to alone to photograph.
The cemetery has outstanding views of not just the Golden Gate Bridge, but also Angel Island, Alcatraz, and much of the San Francisco Bay.
After cooling our heels here for a few minutes, we continued onwards.
Also in the “less successful” installation category was an imagined fox house constructed out of piled 4×4’s. It looked like a pile of lumber to me.
The last installation we visited was also one of the best. Straw-filled wire frames were staked into the ground, spelling out pithy sayings. The intent is for birds to enjoy these, and they certainly were, with dozens of Dark-eyed Junco and Chestnut-backed Chickadees flitting about.
The phrases were mostly pretty facile (“resolve conflict with song”, etcetera), and I preferred the words standalone, which is how I photographed them.
This was the last installation we visited, and we made our way under an overpass, through a nice community garden, and back to the car.
This was a great walk, and will hopefully motivate me to do more semi-urban hiking in the Presidio. There are plans for many more miles of trails, and the terrain and views are outstanding.