Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Last Day of Summer at Marin Headlands

Date: September 20, 2013
Place: Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito, California
Coordinates: 37.83225, -122.53899
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Last Friday I went to check out a possible trail for the chikas' 4H group. After a grueling drive through the Bay Area traffic and the road constructions at the Marin Headlands, I made it all the way to Rodeo Beach and parked there.

The weather that welcomed me was typical for the north pacific summer: chilly and gray with fog.
A lone surfer at Rodeo Beach
Almost immediately I spotted my first, and most exciting, wildlife: a small group of dolphin cruising northward along the coastline.
(Common) Dolphin
The dolphins disappeared behind the rocks and I ascended the bluffs due north.
The fog wasn't too dense but it did hang low and gave the landscape a hazy, dreamy appearance.  
A grove of cypress in the fog.
It being the last summer day, I didn't expect much to bloom. And sure enough, there was no spectacular display of colors. Some plants, however, did do their best to put up a show:
Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), a common member of the coastal scrub. 
Some more than others:
Coast Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)
Seaside Fleabane (Erigeron glaucus)
 I continued north all the way to the vista point. The Northern California coastline is widely known for its spectacular beauty. Even shrouded with fog it is still breathtaking: 
Marin Headlands coastline
The numerous rocks protrude from the water along the coastline, like jagged gray teeth. For sea birds, they are a sanctuary. For boats it is a serious hazard. Indeed, throughout my entire hike I could hear the foghorns from north and south, warning seafarers so keep their distance.
Cormorants on a rock.
I turned about and went back to the trail that was going up to Battery Townsley. On my way I could hear many birds in the brush. The chaparral is a perfect hiding place for little birds but that nakes it very difficult to see them. Eventually, I did manage to photograph two of those little brown birds: A white crowned sparrow, it was.
White-crowned Sparrow, adult and juvenile
The only challenging part of the loop I hiked is the ascend to Battery Townsley, and even that is on wide and convenient road and is only 0.4 miles long.
Outside Battery Townsley, a view from Wolf Ridge Trail.
During the 1940's the coast of California was fortified against attack from the sea. Battery Townsley was one of the gun batteries that were placed to protect the Golden Gate. In a heavily armored bunker was installed this huge 16-inch gun that could shoot projectiles as far as 25 miles into the ocean and required a team of 35 men to operate. The guns were fired, but only for practice and never used in combat. Eventually, they were scrapped. (The gun in the picture above was brought from the USS Missouri at the end of the Korean War.)
Battery Townsley
Shortly after I left Battery Townsley the trail connects with the Wolf Ridge Trail, and turned east, taking it down back to the lagoon. There were a few pretty flowers along the trail:
Coastal Tarweed (Deinandra corymbosa)

Common Sandaster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia)

But mostly it was the green-gray chaparral, dense scrub filled with invisible, yet very audible, little birds.
A line of fern seeming two hills
I had expected the fog to lift up but it just seem to get denser. Wisps of cloud were hanging low over the valley and shrouding the hills.

The trail leads directly into the Headlands Institute. There's a picnic bench there, where I sat down for a quick lunch and admired the deer that were grazing right next to me without fear.

After my lunch break, I took the loop trail around the Rodeo Lagoon. The north portion of the trail is right next to the road with very little to see, so I strode it quickly and crossed the bridge east of the lagoon.
Cattails on the northern shore of Rodeo Lagoon
The lagoon was very calm, and overgrown with algae. The fog over the reflection made it look like a scene from some magical fantasy world.
Rodeo Lagoon
I didn't see any sword sticking out of the water. Just this heron who, right after I took its photo, got lucky at catching something.
Great Blue Heron
The trail along the lagoon's southern shore is hidden deep in the vegetation, green year-round.

I was particularly impressed by this gnarled Eucalyptus tree, branching out its colorful boughs, as if grabbing for something. I love trees with personalities.

The trail ascends mildly on the hillside, allowing a full view of Rodeo Beach and the large sandbar that locks the lagoon water, separating it from the ocean.

It was right there, before going down to the beach, thatI found the highlight of my hike: a wild orchid! Still in bloom, so late in the year, a coastal Piperia elegans.
Piperia elegans, coastal
And I was also very happy to meet this lovely California Wildrose along my path :-)
California wildrose (Rosa californica)
Downhill I left the trail and, taking off my shoes, I completed my loop along the ocean strandline walking properly barefoot all the way back to the parking lot.
Western Gull at Rodeo Beach
This entire hike took me about 2.5 hours of a very leisurely walk. And yes, I do know that September 20 isn't officially the last day of summer, but on the following day it was pouring rain.


  1. very nice trail

    The dolphins and the deer impressed me most :-)

  2. wonderful! and finding an orchid in September is really amazing :-)
    this looks like a beautiful trail. and it seems to me that mount Tamalpais is really a delightful place. all the trails there are so pretty :-)

    1. It is an awesome place! I wish I could hike there more often!

    2. Lovely Talila, thank you for sharing! I don't se a pic of an orchid, did I miss it? Lots of beautiful flowers, the deer and the dolphins are amazing. Sorry Doug was late getting the kids there, they really wanted to make the hike! Hopefully next month.

    3. The Piperia elegans is the orchid. Doesn't look very fancy, but it is an orchid, a royalty among flowers! Actually, we were about 40 minutes late starting the hike. I hope Doug and the kids got to spend some time at the beach, at least. There were the dolphin again, and also river otters at the lagoon right by the beach.