Lands End Trail, San FranciscoGUEST BLOGGERS, USA MAINLAND, WALKING/HIKING — By Judy Clement Wall on June 11, 2011 at 01:50
Story by guest blogger Judy Clement Wall. Photos Copyright © Judy Clement Wall.
Along the San Francisco coast lies a stunning, unexpected bit of wildness called the Lands End Trail that stretches from Ocean Beach northeast to China Beach.
Walking the trail through windswept cypress groves and tumbling hills of ivy and wild flowers, it’s easy to forget where you are. When you find yourself suddenly standing on a jutting outcrop, stunned by the sight of waves crashing against rugged coastal cliffs, sandy beaches, and the Golden Gate Bridge, the crowded city and all its trappings seem a million miles away.
The coastal trail begins at the concrete ruins of the Sutro Baths, just north of Ocean Beach. Built by former San Francisco mayor and entrepreneur Adolph Sutro and opened to the public in 1886, the Sutro Baths were awe inspiring: seven spring and ocean water swimming pools heated to various temperatures, slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive.
The structure was enormous, part of a massive entertainment complex; it could accommodate 10,000 bathers at a time. What remains are the ruins. Perched precariously above thunderous waves, they are beautiful in a way that maybe only ruins can be—spectacular, devolving works of art.
In our current era of law suits and pre-emptive safety precautions, the Sutro Baths are quite disarming, at once accessible and wild. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, they are untended, treacherous and fierce. Signs warn you to be careful, to watch your step. The park brochure implores visitors to “please use caution.” A long staircase down the side of a hill is the only access, and once you reach the bottom, there are no railings, no carefully cleared paths, no sectioned off stretches. You can crawl and climb and traverse at will.
Emerging from the ruins, I set out on the Lands End Trail. Lush green coastal vegetation crowded the path and everywhere I looked wildflowers were in bloom. All along the trail were staircases; some are part of the main Coastal Trail, some are detours. The steep dirt staircase that leads to Mile Rock Beach is one of the latter. At the bottom, after more than 100 steps, the beach itself is small and very rocky, but the crashing waves at high tide are an awesome sight to see—as is the labyrinth, a meditative rock formation created by artist Eduardo Aguilera.
Just past Mile Rock beach, the trail reaches its logical end at Eagles Point with its beautiful, much photographed view of the Golden Gate bridge. I decided to keep going. I wanted to see how close to the bridge I could get. I passed Eagles Point without stopping and caught the far less obvious Coastal Trail, past China and Baker Beaches, up and over the Presidio Bluffs. I paused to take pictures of Crosby Battery, which may have been impressive at the turn of the century when it was built to protect underwater minefields but is now abandoned and sort of aggressively creepy. I didn’t stay long.
I hiked a small trail back down to the beach, about a mile short of the bridge. It was cold and getting late, the fog was rolling in. I felt like an adventurer—a picture at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge my prize. I got as close as I could, dodging the tide, maneuvering rocks and waves. With only a sweatshirt, I wasn’t really dressed for the increasing cold, but I was running by then, so I didn’t feel it.
Here is my reward, my picture, looking through the rocky bluff I couldn’t get past, the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog. This is San Francisco—majestic, beautiful, aggressively urban and somehow still partly wild. Untamed.
Judy Clement Wall is a freelance writer who lives, works and plays in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read and link to more of her work through her blog, Zebra Sounds.