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San Francisco Waterways: Lobos Creek

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

“With a resolute whisper, Lobos Creek flowed past our home on its mile-long journey to the ocean. It was bordered, at times covered with watercress and alive with minnows and tadpoles, and variety of larvae. In the spring, flowers were rampant and fragrant. In heavy fog, the creek was eerie, rippling out of nowhere and vanishing into nothingness.”

– Ansel Adams, 1985

a cute Zonotrichia leucophrys

I couldn’t believe it. The last free-flowing creek in San Francisco and I hadn’t heard about it before? Lobos Creek. The primary water source for the Presidio. Flowing from within the Presidio’s federal borders, slowly fed by springs, its mouth at Baker Beach. I had to pay a visit.

Excited for a nice creek-side walk, I chose the Lobos Creek Dunes trail- which even had a little mini interpretive trail that included stops by the creek . As I began my stroll along the boardwalk, amid little rolling hills covered in low lying shrubbery- sprays of red and orange flowers here and there- I saw what looked like a river valley lined by a fence. And figured that the fence would open up somewhere for a good view of the creek. When we got to Number 2 on the interpretive trail, the stop marked “A Creek in the City,” there was a bench next to the barbed wire fence. And if I squinted real hard, I could see about a three-foot stretch of flowing water. He he. Some creek trail.

Undaunted, I continued to walk through the beautiful landscape. I’d find the creek in a bit. But I wanted to appreciate

bumble bee cruising the dunes

the strange land I found myself in. Near a few buildings with Monterey cypress standing guard behind them, the Lobos Creek Dunes area is clear of trees, just small rolling hills. I wondered when the stark sand dunes would come. And then, I realized these were the dunes. Small rolling sand hills with all sorts of beautiful little plants covering them.

The foghorn sounding its low tuba, rumbling under my feet. Waves echoing softly behind me. White-crowned sparrows flitting low from bush to bush singing.  A red-tailed hawk screeching. I found myself in a landscape that was part of the larger dune ecosystem that covered half of San Francisco before 1776.

Thanks to the thoughtful and thorough restoration that the Presidio and a community of volunteers did, the area gives you an idea of what much of San Francisco must have looked and felt like. Salty. Foggy. Pink flowers glowing from their carpet of leaves. Windy. Orange Sticky Monkey flowers. Coast buckwheat. Only there were grizzly bears and bobcats roaming among the dunes too.

After I’d satiated myself watching bees and sparrows do their thangs, I decided to find the creek. And probably do some climbing and scrambling just to get there. I guess the Feds are protective of their water.

I walked along Lincoln Way and saw a tiny arm of creek. Climbed down an embankment with a little trail to get closer and found what looked to be a pump station on the creek. Winding my way through cypress trees stitched with lacy green leaves, I kept along the course of the creek, at this point five-feet across. The roar of the ocean got closer. For a couple hundred feet, I lost sight of the river, with another barbed wire fence just to my right and thick bushes inches to my left. I squeezed through and pushed on.

A glimpse of waves. I picked up my pace along the fence. The ground dissolved into soft sand. And I was there- at the beach- Lobos Creek winding its small self down into the Pacific.

Thank you to Found SF for alerting me to Lobos Creek. For great historical pictures of rivers and San Francisco, visit their site here and go on a virtual SF water tour.