"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Junipero Serra Park: A Mycological Wonderland?


I’m thankful for large unruly parks in urban settings, but I had hoped this one was truly wild. “What is that buzzing?” I said and swiveled around. Ah, the freeway. Still, Junipero Serra Park was a fine place for a mile and a half loop, taking my husband, our baby, and myself from a soggy flatland to the peak of a hill with awesome views. We explored the Quail Trail Loop, wishing to see a variety of landscape, which we did: snaggled, twisted limbs of oak trees branching over the trail, patches of grassy meadows, a forest of blue gum eucalyptus, a copse of redwoods. Almost immediately we saw scads of mushrooms.

Marshall, like our good friend Brett who introduced us, loves mushrooms and the hunting of them. Old World blood flows in their veins, the sensibility of foraging and gathering, of sustaining themselves with things of the soil. And rainy season is a delight to hike in for these men, given the quantity of mushrooms.

“It’s a mycological wonderland!” Marshall exclaimed about Junipero Serra, grabbing the camera to take a macro shot of antennaed, alien spores swiveling off a pile of dog poo. Then he was off, pointing this way and that at the mushrooms he saw.

There were Amanita muscaria galore, those awesome fairytale mushrooms with large red caps and white splotches, poisonous for sure, but pretty cool to look at. As a high school student fascinated with the history and lore of psychedelics, I read that Siberians made a tea of this mushroom from which they'd hallucinate, then pee out most of the liquid, and then drink the pee, which apparently retains up to 80% of the psychoactive compounds. Who knows if this is a babushka tale or not. I didn't experiment, by the way, with Amanita muscaria, and don't recommend it.  

There were mushrooms that looked like turkey tails, others like shelves. Some were like rotten piles of blackened snot, others like tiny perfect brown mushrooms, another like a white penis rising out of the mulch. Another was like a big, ugly, exploded, orange colored football, twice the size of my shoe.

Marshall loves culinary mushrooms but doesn’t eat them without a friend around who really knows his stuff, yet he did jump off trail, baby bouncing in the carrier strapped to his chest as he sought proximity to the endless display of fungi.

“Please don’t touch that,” quickly became my mantra.

Junipero Serra Park is 108 acres and nestled so close to the 280 freeway that one can hear the persistent hum of cars and human activity for a ungoodly portion of a hike. It is awfully close to Millbrae and San Bruno, so you get the best view of the SFO airport you’ll ever have on terra firma. (“Airplanes are cool!” Marshall tells me as we gaze at a UNITED AIRLINES hangar in the distance) There weren’t too many people about, just a group of teens ready to get drunk and fall down the slides built into the hilltop. 

Virtues of Junipero Serra Park include a diversity of flora, as mentioned earlier, which in turn create homes for the bird population. We saw hawk and maybe vulture above, heard the jabber-jaw of blue scrub jays, and noted a flock of unidentified birds that looked like chubby mice with wings. Trees in the park include Monterey pine, Coast Live oak, Monterey cypress, madrone, laurel, and willow, which had bright yellow leaves for the season. Soap plant with heavy raindrops on their long leaves hugged the trail edges, and poison oak webbed through the bushes just off the path. We walked virtually alone. Two playgrounds look fabulous for kids with sturdy state-of-the-art structures.

It was a good jaunt. Worth the $5 parking? Sure, I’m definitely in support of California parks. And if you know your culinary mushrooms and can pick as you walk, a bag of chanterelles in the organic market costs a goodly amount more than five clams.

Victuals: No stores seen between freeway and park entrance. Pack it in and out.

Facilities: The loo is at the parking lot, and there’s even one at the playground near the peak.
--Southbound on 280, exit Crystal Springs Road
--Right onto Crystal Springs Road
--Proceed a half mile to the entrance on the left

--Northbound on 280, exit Skyline Blvd 
--Right at the stoplight onto San Bruno Ave
--Right onto Crestmoor Dr. 
--Park entrance on the right

Last Hiked: Early January 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sawyer Camp Trail

Just before New Year’s eve, my friend Brett and I, with baby Genevieve in sling, ended up at Sawyer Camp Trail alongside the Crystal Springs Reservoir in San Mateo County. It’s probably one of the easiest hikes as it is simply a meandering paved trail that runs alongside the water, one of the prettiest manmade lakes, made pretty by the simple, ironic fact that humans are not allowed to swim, boat, or bathe in its slate blue Hetch Hetchy waters.
If it weren’t for the cyclone fence topped with barbed wire, I could imagine great things, like being in the wilderness. (I wholeheartedly appreciate the lack of boat pollution, or the big summer bodies covered in coconut oil, flounder-swimming and making a racket, scaring the bejeezus out of fish, fowl, and doe.)

As it was we walked with other joggers and bikers and strollers of babies beside the rusty fence that kept us from the water and the thick forest along the western shores. Deer nibbled grass on both sides of the fence and looked askance at us like the trespassers we were.
            Sawyer Camp Trail is 6 miles long, and apparently was once the main wagon trail connecting San Francisco and Half Moon Bay before cars existed. A fellow named Leander Sawyer used to live along here back in the 1800s, and kept a little place with beds for rent and hot meals for wayfaring strangers heading north or south (he was a man of multiple talents, raising cattle and training circus horses on the side).

            One great aspect to this particular walk is the fact that Brett is in love with mushrooms. He was like a hog on the scent of a wily truffle, scrabbling through rusty barbed wire, jumping forward to grab a chanterelle that sadly turned out to be curled orange peels someone dropped. He knows his stuff, he read his mycological guides by David Arora, he attends fungus festivals, and one of his best friends has taught him much in the ways of mushrooms and the careful picking of them. (In fact, when Brett showed up at my house before the hike he gifted me a big bag of dirt-covered chanterelles that he found in the Oakland hills.)

Brett identified a plethora of milk caps alongside the Sawyer Camp Trail “but they were the poisonous ones,” he tells me. “You can tell this by breaking off a piece and seeing what color latex it exudes. The poisonous ones start by exuding a white latex, but this turns yellow after a few moments. I believe the common name is yellow-staining milk cap. The genus name for milk caps is Lactarius.” Sure enough beads of milk formed on the mushroom where the gills broke in Brett’s hands.
“I think we also saw a member of the Suillus genus (very spongy on the bottom with holes instead of gills),” Brett continues. “Most of them are also really slimy on top. We probably also saw a few russulas, but I don't remember the exact species.”

            It was a fun to walk after a recent rain with a mycological enthusiast; I see fallen leaves and big-eyed deer, the baby sees fuzzy shapes of bicyclists retreating into the distance, and Brett sees the fruits of the mycelium-webbed soil.
Brett, the baby, and I didn’t get too far, maybe a mile and a half out max, what with evening plans and an unavoidable late start to the day. Next time I return to Sawyer Camp I want to make the three miles to the Jepson Laurel, the biggest darn laurel tree in all California, I’m told. It’s a whopping 600 years old; it was a seedling when the Plague continued to ravage Europe. 
And if it’s a rainy, misty day, I just might keep a look out for mushrooms thanks to Brett's mycological teaching.

Driving Directions:
--Take 280 (aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Freeway”) and exit at Bunker Hill
--Go west and turn right at Skyline Boulevard
--Proceed over the Crystal Springs Dam

Victuals: There are no stores here. Pack it in and out.

Bathrooms:  Port-o-potties are located at the start and subsequent points on the trail.

Last Hiked: Late December 2009

Saturday, January 2, 2010

San Bruno Mountain: Saddle Loop Trail

            San Bruno Mountain looks like a massive earth fortification of the gods, and is the biggest mountain on the San Francisco peninsula; you can’t help but notice it when you drive north on 101, the words SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO scrawled in concrete letters on its flank; and the mountain runs alongside the freeway for miles it seems as you head towards The City. The mountain takes on a surreal image when fog shrouds its 1300’ peak during a late afternoon in the winter; it appears wholesome and inviting in the sunshine of an Indian summer day, a few raptors wheeling above. It took until adulthood for me to finally adventure onto the mountain, although I’m a native San Franciscan, and I wish I had visited sooner. Miles of trails appeal to all types of hikers, and one is perfect for taking children or babies, I’ve recently discovered.

            Saddle Loop Trail is an excellent jaunt because of its length (2.7 miles), facility (gentle up and down; wide graveled path), and incredible views of San Francisco, the East Bay, and even Mount Tamalpais of Marin and the Farallon Islands to the west.

            The parking lot costs five dollars (a San Mateo County Park pass, $60 per year, is a good deal if you hike often in San Mateo County), and is situated next to a picnicking meadow, bathrooms, drinking water, and barbecue grills. Although the meadow is a lovely place for a lunch, I prefer somewhere on the trail where there’s a view, and pack my trash with me.

Saddle Loop travels in an amoebic circle on the top of the mountain, and I tend to head to the right on the meandering path, seeing more and more of the deep ravines of the mountain as I slowly gain elevation. The fauna is bushy and full, a California landscape of manzanitas and drought-resistant flowers, the non-native eucalyptus trees disappearing as the picnic area recedes behind you, the landscape ahead of you probably much like it has been for hundreds of years, minus the concrete road of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway slicing through the far corner of your view. About three quarters of a mile in, the path takes you to a spectacular view of the Bay Area; you’re high, on par with the birds and clouds up here, the wind blows refreshingly, and the path is flat, recharging.

            Saddle Loop continues on, a gentle up and down from which the view changes and expands. Halfway through, should you get tired and not want to do the whole 2.7 miles, there is a half-mile long path that leads right back to the picnic area. There is a white marker at the path’s head, and large berry bushes on either side of the wide trail.

            The keen-eyed might locate some of the critters who live on San Bruno Mountain, including garter snakes, foxes, wild cats, and butterflies (if you spot a bright blue one, perhaps it is the rare and endangered Mission Blue). Folks have spotted nearly a hundred different birds up here, everything from kestrels to California quail, from Great Horned owls to turkey vultures.

            Near the trail’s end, blackberry bushes press the sides of the trail under a forest of eucalyptus. I haven’t been here in the fall when the berries ripen, but my mother has and she says its lovely, something to look forward to. For now the bright green grass of winter suits me well, and I take my infant daughter here for the fresh air, the view, and the movement of her mother.

Park Information:

Rare Plants and Animals, Including a Bird List:

Directions from 101:
--Exit Bayshore Blvd/ Brisbane
--Go along Bayshore until Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Go west on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Park entrance will be on your right, on the north side of the road

Directions from 280:
--Exit Mission Street and head north to Market Street
--Right on Market Street
--Right on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Park entrance will be on your left, on the north side of the road

--Bring any food you need; the only trashcans are in the picnic area.
--Wear layered clothing; expect some misty weather unless its blazing hot, and cool breezes anytime of the year.
--Horses are welcome, but not pooches.
--Park hours change with the season; check the park’s website listed above.

Last Hiked:
December 2009