Urban Hike: Yerba Buena Island

I’ve been getting distracted from blogging on my boZannical Gardens blog. Bummer! Besides having tons of homework to cope with, I have been directing my writing efforts more towards my growing memoir and blog of autobiographical tales. I’ve still been going on Urban Hikes, though, and have some catching up to do! Plus a few other categories I can post to. So, here we go! 🙂

The PHENOMENAL view of the SF skyline from a beach on Yerba Buena Island.

The PHENOMENAL view of the SF skyline from a beach on Yerba Buena Island.

A week ago I set out on a new adventure. Recently I started expanding my Urban Hike series by busing out of San Francisco proper, starting with a trip to the Marin Headlands and the Point Bonita Lighthouse. This time, I took the bus out into the bay for an exploration of Yerba Buena Island. Yerba Buena is Spanish for “good herb”, and is the name of an endemic groundcover herb here with a minty flavor. It was also the name given by the Spanish to the tiny village on a little cove in the 1840’s, which exploded in population one year to become San Francisco.

My original intention was to explore it, and the attached man-made Treasure Island. A friend of mine had rowed out and posted a pic on Facebook of the city view from an inaccessible beach on YBI, and it occurred to me it wouldn’t be too challenging to get out there. The Bay Bridge passes through a tunnel on Yerba Buena, and there’s a bus out to the growing residential district on Treasure Island. On the bus over I was delighted to be packed in with a bunch of sturdy Irish guys on their way out to play a rugby match. We talked about the island and traded some of my snack food for a Red Bull. Online I had found the bus stop I wanted to use and figured I’d walk the perimeter of YBI and up to the summit, take a couple of cool pix of the city skyline and the bridge from above, and cross the isthmus connecting to TI to spend the majority of my visit exploring the larger artificial island build for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

Whoa, was I wrong on that! Yerba Buena was so magical that I barely explored a fraction of it in three hours out there! It was a foggy day, so the city views were less than optimal when I got there. I was determined to get down to the water’s edge and get my feet wet, but didn’t realize just how steep and inaccessible the slopes were. The western side of the island is covered with native flora, not the least of which is an abundance of poison oak. I was amused to see lots of trails blazed through the thick of it, and wondered how many people unknowingly suffered from their hikes. Tee hee. 🙂

This was not a hike for the wimpy. I really only explored the western slopes, from the road to the water. Whoo, Nelly, my legs were sore the next day from so long on an unstable angle. The roadway is cantilevered on the steep slope, and it was fun to scramble around underneath it. Some great graffiti under there. Also found random chairs here and there, set up for the great views, which always makes good fodder for my Tumblr blog of abandoned chairs. Eventually, I came to a place where I could slide down some unstable crumbling rock and get to the beach below. It was about a five minute slide. Fun! Of course, that meant having to spend over 20 minutes scrambling back up later. A culvert helped with that, giving me something to grab on to here and there.

Gotta say, I was not expecting to come across a young living-in-the-open couple, um, in flagrante delicto on the rocks below. I was expecting to be the first human to ever set foot there. At least, that’s what it felt like, though I knew that was in no way going to be the case. It was fun to imagine it, though. Anyway, they were in a nook in the rocks and were too distracted to notice I was there, and I went the other direction. I totally geeked out on the geology of the cliff faces at the beach. So cool! I found fossils, and could clearly see swirls of chert and layers of sandstone, and even what I think may have been pillow basalt (but I’m not 100% sure on that). After taking some geology classes, it was very exciting to see some nifty features. And there were native ferns living epiphytically on the underside of the roadway, native succulents clinging to the rock face right at the beach, tidepools with crabs and critters, and the views. Oh! the views! The fog cleared a bit and I got my reward for my efforts. I managed to get directly under the Bay Bridge, and the experience was amazing. The pic at the top of this post is really the phenomenal shot of the day.

On my way out I realized I had about twenty minutes to kill before the bus back into the city, and decided to cross the isthmus to the eastern shoreline. So glad I did! I found a sandy beach at the bottom of a staircase from a picnic area, and it had great views of the construction site of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. A couple came rowing ashore in a tiny dinghy. They were living in a small sailboat anchored in Clipper Cove in front of us, and were bringing their dog ashore for some exercise and a romp on the beach. I played with their dog for awhile, and we all yapped for half an hour about the glory of living on a boat. So romantic, but with some challenges. I’m really glad I ran into them, because they were able to direct me to a small path that was almost hidden, which led to a beautiful crumbling WPA stone staircase up the side of the island. I love that stuff.

On with some gallery action. This first is from bus to beach.

This second gallery is of shots from the beach, and the climb back out.

This last gallery is of Clipper Cove and the eastern side of the isthmus.

In any case, I’m hooked. And there’s still so much of the island I have yet to see, not to mention still having to see what’s going on with Treasure Island. I still have yet to climb to the summit of Yerba Buena, plus I want to get closer to the eastern span of the bridge. Can’t wait to go back!

2 responses to “Urban Hike: Yerba Buena Island

  1. I lived for a time at the CG Base at the bottom of the island in the late 70’s and worked at the traffic center at the top of the island. I found that I could walk up a series of steps from the bottom all the way to the top, and did this twice daily. Wonderful views the whole way and not another soul on the route

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