Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hills of San Francisco - Mint Hill

Name: Mint Hill
Neighborhood: Duboce Triangle/Lower Haight 
Elevation: 150 feet

The history of Mint Hill is the history of the San Francisco Mint...or mints...there have been three in San Francisco so far, the last of which is the one on Mint Hill.

The need for a mint in San Francisco came about due to the Gold Rush. At the time, there was so much gold flowing through the city that President James Polk asked Congress to allow for a new Mint to be built in the city, so that gold from California would no longer have to be sent to Philadelphia or New Orleans to be turned into coins.

Congress voted for the creation of the new mint in 1852, and it was opened in 1854. The coins all bore the letter "S" for San Francisco. The mint remained in operation for just 20 years and was replaced wiht a second one in 1874.

Then the second mint was then deemed too small in the 1930s, so a third mint was built in 1937 on a hilltop that's now called Mint Hill. This third mint closed down in 1955. It was opened again in 1965 when the US was experiencing a coin shortage. 

Today, the San Francisco Mint no longer create coins for general circulation. It's still used, however, for printing proof coins, including regular proof coins and silver proof coins. The mint is closed to the public as all of its floor space is dedicated to printing coins.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Four Quick Steps For Identifying Poison Oak

It's that time of year again, and poison oak leaves are sprouting out all over the Bay Area. Getting poison oak is no fun, so if you don't know what poison oak looks like, today is your day to learn! 

Poison oak, you say...
So first, why is poison oak so poisonous? It's not that it's actually poisonous, but it does contain urushiol, an oil that can irritate the skin, causing rashes or blisters. The frustrating thing about poison oak (well, one of many frustrating things) is that it's hard to know immediately if you've had contact with the plant. It normally takes 24-36 hours for any skin irritation to appear.

You can download this comprehensive PDF on poison oak identification here: The Sure-Fire Poison Oak Poison Ivy Identification System, but my quick 4 step system below has worked for me for avoiding poison oak so far. Remember, I am not a medical professional. This is not medical advice. :)

The four-step system

Step 1: Listen to the old adage, "Leaves of three, let it be." Poison oak has clusters of three leaves on the entire plant. While many plants have clusters of three leaves, poison oak always does. 

Step 2: Shiny leaves. Poison oak leaves aren't always shiny, but they can be. They can red red and shiny, green and shiny, or not very shiny at all.

Step 3: To distinguish poison oak from other plants with clusters of three leaves (like blackberry), remember that poison oak leaves have smooth, rounded edges, rather than jagged ones.

Step 4: Poison oak has smooth branches with no thorns. If you're looking at a plant with thorns, it's definitely not poison oak.

While just one of these steps can't help you decide whether a plant is poison oak, combining all four steps together can get you well on your way to preventing a very un-fun rash.

So what if you've been exposed? 
On official trails, you are unlikely to come into direct contact with poison oak. If you think you have been exposed, wash your clothes and your skin as soon as you can. Products like Tecnu are also handy to have around as they can remove poison oak oil from your skin. 

Stay safe out there, urban hikers! Now you can impress others with your poison oak identifying skills.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Merced Heights Park with Two Names: Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park/Orizaba Shields Rocky Outcrop

Name: Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park
Neighborhood: Merced Heights
Elevation: 515 feet

March 5, 2017

In our quest to climb all the hills in San Francisco, Brett and I took a five-mile walk one-way walk to reach a few San Francisco neighborhoods I'd never visited, including Merced Heights and Ingleside, and Westwood Highlands.

We're still trying to determine what counts as its own hill and what is a foothill of another larger hill. This led us to explore a bunch of hills, only two of which will actually remain on our work-in-progress final list.

This post is about one of these two hills, situated in what's called Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park or Orizaba Shields Rock Outcrop Park, a small 0.5-acre natural area situated atop a Franciscan sandstone knob. Though this is the tallest point in the area, it stands just 25 feet above the rest of the neighborhood. As we visited in the rainy season, the short trails to the top were surrounded by lush, green grass.

Looking north from Orizaba Shields Park
Though the park is small, it offered impressive panoramic views. To the north, we could see Mt. Davidson, Sutro Tower, and Mt. Tam. To the south, we could see San Bruno Mountain. To the east, we could see as far as Mt. Diablo. And to the west, we could see the Farallon Islands and the Pacific Ocean.

If you want to visit this hill and park, you can enter from Orizaba Avenue, Shields Street, or Lakeview Avenue.

View of Mt. Tam through the trees in Brooks Park
Since you probably won't spend more than 15 minutes on this hill, I recommend heading to neighboring Brooks Park from here. Brooks Park was named for Jesse and Helen Brooks, who bought the land where the hill sits in 1936. It's now a 3.77-acre park and community garden. It has a shaded picnic area and a grassy hillside with unobstructed western views. You can enter Brooks Park from Shields Street. 

In 9+ years of living in San Francisco, I hadn't visited this area of the city. It was great to explore somewhere new and find amazing parks. I'm excited to see what else this project brings!

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Goal: Climb Every Hill in San Francisco

In 2014, I made my it my new year's resolution to hike every trail in San Francisco. After exploring the city's trails and blogging about it, my experience turned into a book deal with Mountaineers Books for Urban Trails San Francisco. I spent most of 2015 and the first half of 2016 writing, editing, and finalizing my book, which finally came out on November 15, 2016. Since that time, I've been able to take some time off. After all that work, it's also been fun to do book some book talks and to see my book in stores.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Buena Vista Park
But now, a few months after publication, I feel myself itching for another goal or quest to keep me occupied for 2017. I wanted my goal to be a challenge, but also achievable. And I wanted it to be a way to learn more about San Francisco. Finally, after about a month and a half of 2017, going by I finally came up with an idea: this year, I will climb every hill in San Francisco.

Now climbing every hill in San Francisco may seem like a pretty concrete task, but isn't as easy as it seems because no one can seem to agree on how many hills there are! (This page from SFGazeteer explains the dilemma well.) 

My personal goal meant I'd need to create my personal list of hills, so I did this drawing from a few sources:
Using these sites and articles, I came up with my own list. At first, I had 53 hills, and then my boyfriend added a lot more using topographic maps to complement the sources listed above. While this feels exhaustive now, I realize this list may change, and I may add some new hills to/take out some others from this list.

As with my 2014 goal, my plan is to blog about this quest as I complete it. I post photos, history, and key stats about each hill.

While I'm a little behind in my quest—not starting this until late February—I luckily have a good head start—I've already climbed 36 hills. I'll write about the hills I've been to—and hopefully visit the remaining ones before January 1, 2018. Do you want to join me in my quest? If so, copy my list in Google Spreadsheets, empty my "Been There?" column, and start using this as a checklist to track your progress. All right, who else is in?

View from Bayview Hill

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Two Great Hiking Loops From the Presidio Main Post

When I first moved to San Francisco in 2007, I didn't really know what to do in the Presidio. Since that time, this neighborhood and former military fort has become a lot more interesting. A new visitor center opened recently, and it now houses four Andy Goldsworthy's artworks, fantastic restaurants like The Commissary, and other draws like Off the Grid and The Walt Disney Family Museum. 

And then there is hiking... 

With over 25 miles of trails, The Presidio is quantifiably the best neighborhood for hiking in San Francisco. For this reason in my book, Urban Trails San Francisco, there is an entire chapter on hiking in the Presidio—with seven routes in that neighborhood alone. And while following one of the Presidio's trails is great, sometimes it's nice to create loops that combine a number of different trails.

In the spirit of creating new hikes, here are two great loops that start and end right in the Presidio Main Post. For simplicity, I'll call the shorter one, Presidio Express and the longer one, Presidio Plus.

Presidio Express 
Distance: 4 miles
Park Trail - Presidio Express
Time: 1 hour 10 minutes 
Start Point: Presidio Main Post Lawn 
Route: Google My Map 
Description: From the Main Post, you’ll head to the San Francisco National Cemetery, which dates back to 1884 and serves as the final resting place for some 30,000 soldiers and their families. You then reach National Cemetery Overlook, one of the Presidio’s best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Next, you take a wooded trail through cypress groves and past the Presidio pet cemetery on your way to Crissy Field. You’ll make a final climb on the Battery East Trail before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge. Your return trip takes a different route back to the Main Post, passing the old cavalry stables and visiting an overlook with great views of Crissy Field and downtown San Francisco. 

Presidio Plus 
Distance: 5 miles
Bay Area Ridge Trail -  Presidio Plus

Time: 2 hours 20 minutes 
Start Point: Presidio Main Post Lawn 
Route: Google My Map 
Description: From the Main Post, you’ll hike the Ecology Trail to Inspiration Point and Andy Goldsworthy’s 100-foot-tall artwork, Spire. You’ll then hike through eucalyptus and cypress-lined trails that will make you forget that you’re in the middle of a city. You’ll pass the National Cemetery Overlook with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Rob Hill Campground, the only overnight campground in the city. As you reach the Pacific Coast, you’ll walk along former gun batteries until you reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Your return trip takes a different route back to the Main Post, passing the old cavalry stables and visiting an overlook with great views of Crissy Field and downtown San Francisco.

View of the National Cemetery - both routes
View of the Golden Gate Bridge -  both routes
View of the Crissy Field Overlook - both routes

Monday, January 16, 2017

Exploring the Dragonfly Creek Trail

I have a confession to make: sometimes I get a bored with San Francisco. I thrive on novelty, and after writing Urban Trails San Francisco, I began to feel like I had seen all that the city had to offer.

Luckily, that's not quite true. While I have explored a lot of San Francisco, there's always something new to see. I just have to look a little bit harder than before.

This week, I fired up my novelty sensors by checking out new place, Dragonfly Creek, in the Presidio's Fort Scott district. While the creek has been around for quite some time, it got its name in the late 1990s when a biologist saw a dragonfly in the area.

The creek used to flow freely, but was channeled underground by the US Army. It remained hidden until 2011 when Presidio Trust began restoring it. In addition to restoring the creek, the organization also replaced non-native and invasive eucalyptus with native willows and wetland vegetation. You can read more about the restoration in this article in SF Gate.

Fence near Dragonfly Creek
If you visit the area, here's what you'll see. From Schofield Road in the Presidio, you'll know you're approaching the creek when you reach this fence lining your walkway and a fork in your path. You can either continue straight or to your right.

If you head right, you'll end up at the Presidio Nursery. Founded in 1995, the nursery grows up to 85,000 native plants each year which are replanted throughout the Presidio. The nursery welcomes drop-in volunteers on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 1-4 pm. It was closed when I visited, but I did get to enjoy this mosaic walkway on its grounds.
Mosaic walkway outside the Presidio Nursery

After checking out the nursery, I retraced my steps to the fork and went in the other direction to explore Dragonfly Creek (which was still hard to see even post restoration). After a short distance on the dirt path, I found myself in a small grove of redwood trees. There was no one else around, and I felt like I had stumbled upon a tranquil, special place.

The stone walkway
I continued on the path and found a stone-lined walkway that crossed the creek. I loved the look of this walkway and hadn't seen anything quite like it before. I walked around the area a bit more on similar walkways and headed back to Schofield Road.

While this was just a small exploration, I felt energized by seeing something new. I can't wait to find another new place to explore so I can get those novelty sensors firing again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Visit 6 National Parks — All Without Leaving San Francisco

2016 is the National Park Centennial, and this year, I was lucky enough to visit a number of national parks including Arches, Canyonlands, and Yosemite. 

To reach Arches and Canyonlands, we flew to Utah and then drove for hours to reach the parks. To get to Yosemite, we rented a car, and again, drove for hours. Visiting these parks gave me the impression that you had to go far in order to visit natural treasures.

While that sometimes that is true, if you live in the Bay Area, there are a number of national treasures right in your back yard. With a quick look at a list of national parks in California, I found six that I could get to in an hour or less! 

Hikers on the Lands End Labyrinth
Hikers on the Lands End Labyrinth
1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA

The GGNRA was established in 1972 and now encompasses more than 75,000 acres on both sides of the Golden Gate, the body of water that links the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay. Many of the national parks below are part of the GGNRA, including Fort Point, the Presidio, Alcatraz, San Francisco National Maritime National Historic Park. Since we'll talk more about those below, here are two other GGRNA-run areas in San Francisco that are worth a visit: 

Fort Funston: This area features lovely, sandy trails on cliffs 200 feet above the ocean. You  can visit an old gun battery Battery Davis, and take your dog on an off-leash walk. 
Lands End: The site of a former cliffside railroad, the Lands End Trail winds around the northwest corner of San Francisco. You'll get views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the Pacific Ocean. If you're feeling ambitious, you can continue on to the Batteries to Bluffs Trail and all the way to the bridge.
Alcatraz Agave Trail (Open Seasonally)
Alcatraz Agave Trail (Open Seasonally)
I'm not sure why, but it took me seven years of living in San Francisco before I visited Alcatraz. The short boat trip to the island is more than worth it. The cellhouse audio tour features the voices of actual correctional officers and inmates. In addition to the audio tour, the natural surroundings are stunning. If you have a little extra time at the start or end of your visit, check out the short, but sweet Agave Trail (open seasonally from around October-February) to get fantastic views of the city. Note on tickets: Alcatraz Cruises is the official provider of Alcatraz tickets. Tickets often sell out up to a month in advance, so buy as early as you can!

3. Fort Point
Built between 1853-1861, Fort Point was part of a defense system for defending the San Francisco Bay. Over the years, it was used intermittently as detention barracks and as housing for unmarried officers. It never saw battle, and was slated for demolition during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, however, saw the architectural value of the fort, and created a special arch to allow the fort to remain under the bridge.

Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line in the Presidio
4. Presidio 
When the Spanish came to San Francisco in the 1770s, they built a mission (Mission Dolores)and a military fort, the Presidio. Today, the Presidio is no longer a military fort, and there are countless things to do there. You can visit Andy Goldsworthy's art, explore over 24 miles of trails, visit the Officers Club in the Main Post, or even go camping!  

5. Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
This historic trail traces an overland trek from Mexico to San Francisco that Juan Bautista de Anza and 240 brave others sought to establish a settlement in San Francisco. Today the trail stretches 1,200 miles from Arizona to San Francisco. The section I recommend exploring is the Presidio Anza Trail, a 5.2 mile round trip hike tat takes you from the southern end of the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge.

This park, located just north of Ghiradelli Square, includes a fleet of historic boats from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Maritime Museum (which looks like a boat), and Aquatic Park, where you can picnic on the beach and watch people swimming in Aquatic Cove.

If you live in the Bay Area, national parks don't have to be out of reach. Just walk out your door and walk, bike, BART, or boat to any of these parks to explore our country's national treasures.