"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