Rock Springs with Michael – 11 September 2017

Mount Tamalpais is a popular destination and touchstone in Marin County. High on its flanks was our destination for the first of our Footloose Hikes Fall 2017. Rock Springs is a large parking area on the western side of the mountain with nearby spectacular views of the entry to the Golden Gate and the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. On a clear day you can spot the Farallon Islands 30 miles off the coast or is that Japan in the distance?

We’ve taken a number of hikes recently on the eastern side of Mount Tam passing by the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater and hiking up to the peaks: the East Peak (2571’) with its fire lookout, the saddle of the middle peak (2470’) and the formerly highest West Peak (2560’). There seems to be a sliding scale for these altitudes depending on the source. The top of the West Peak was leased from the Marin Municipal Water District, the State of California and private landholders (1942 – 1950). Then it was flattened unceremoniously to make a US Air Force Radar Station. Its passionate restoration is the shared goal of many groups Cf. The views of the San Francisco Bay Area from these eastern aeries never fail to thrill and impress. We can share the excitement and awe with the previous generations of this “room with a view” which they enjoyed by riding the “Crookedest Railway in the World” up Mt. Tam from the Mill Valley Depot from 1896-1929. Tourists and travelers during these years would come not only for San Francisco but also for the epic rail ride to the top of the mountain. A fire destroyed a lot of the rail bed in 1929 and this combined with the blazing success of the automobile spelled the end of this colorful page in history. This video is called “Sound Summit 2017 Teaser” by the great Gary Yost celebrating both this year’s Sound Summit and also the varied beauties and perspectives of Mount Tamalpais. This is an excellent summary, note the broad expanse of the mountain to the west beyond the various peaks on the right in the first photo. It’s a much bigger mountain than just its eastern promontories and has an enormous footprint. I recall looking down on Marin from a mile up while coming into SFO and seeing a sea of green with no visible human “improvements”. It was looked like the mental image I have of what it was like 10,000 or more years ago when this was the home of the Coast Miwoks.


We gather round to share some of our summer experiences. In the midst of hurricanes and earthquakes of all kinds it was a joy to renew our face to face time together. At times we might feel like the man in Winslow Homer’s painting GULF STREAM – sprawled on the deck of his sailboat
in a stormy sea, a broken mast, sharks circling and an imminent tornado. But there is help on the horizon and strength, comfort and courage from being a part a caring group like ours, our camaraderie of the trails.

Many in the group went up to Oregon and other vantage points to watch our star transfixed for those brief full-of-awe, un-shining moments. There was a feeling of amazement, wonder and excitement by our Solar Eclipse ambassadors. Others of us tried to find a partial view of the eclipse in this area only to be bolloxed by the Bay Area fog. Scott volunteered to collect any slightly used eclipse glasses for his “Astronomers Without Borders” group.

Sharing the summer, Judy discovered Oxford summer courses for adults previously and has shared it with Sue M. who loved the opportunity as well.

Heading out on the Cataract Trail into the stately Douglas Firs, into the forest.

Michael pointed out the expansive and distinctive holes made by the Pileated Woodpecker on a Douglas Fir Stump. In the Sibley Guide to Birds, David Sibley writes that this is our largest woodpecker, “this spectacular crow-size species is found in mature forests, where it searches for its favorite food — carpenter ants — by excavating large rectangular holes.” P.319

The Cataract Trail follows Cataract Creek nearby the Rock Spring parking area. It was “in existence in 1898 but rerouted in 1926 and 1991. Trail and the entire north side were closed during WWII.” The Mickey O’Brien Trail was originally called “The Barth’s Creek Trail”. “it was renamed in 1948 improved by Boy Scout Troop 15. Michael O’Brien was president of the TCC (Tamalpais Conservation Club) in 1925-26”. And the Simmon’s Trail was
“Almost certainly named for Col. Charles Alonzo Simmons who arrived in San Francisco in 1921 to assume his duties as executive secretary of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.” With other enthusiasts, he organized a number of Hospitality Hikes on Mount Tam. Finally, Poison Oak can turn some amazing colors in the fall giving giving some of us immigrant easterners a feeling of autumns in the Adirondacks and us hikers a fair warning.
The rare information comes from A RAMBLER’S GUIDE TO THE TRAILS OF MT. TAMALPAIS, MUIR WOODS AND THE MARIN HEADLANDS, The Olmstead & Bros. Map Co. P.O. Box 5351, Berkeley, CA. 94705 10th Edition I think the annotated map is available at REI. The book seems to be OP and valuable.

There were a number of crossings of Cataract Creek on the trail. The creek seems very benign and backwater in these autumn days but with the winter rains we’d be more than thankful for these bridges. The lower reaches of the Cataract Creek (and Trail) in the winter and spring are spectacular with perhaps the best water falls in Marin County. The “Weekend Sherpa” website calls them a veritable “bobsled course of waterfalls; over a mile of twisting, turning, tumbling water . . . ”

Water ripples blue
pooling beneath
long green grasses –
sky above.

Michael shares with us in a shady grove.

Jill and Barb respecting the roots on the Mickey O’Brien Trail on the way to Barth’s Retreat. According to our “Rambler’s Guide” source: “Prof. Emil Barth, pedagogue (a word not much used these days), pianist, organist, flutist and composer arrived in San Francisco from Germany in 1886 and was a constant hiker and trail builder until his death in 1926. He build his camp at an early date.”

This is just an aside. Somehow I heard Michael say Bart’s Retreat and of course flashed on one of our local 19th century notables. Black Bart plied his trade not only in the Gold Rush Country but also in nearby Sonoma County. But it was Barth not Bart (just like kith and kin). Still, asides are fun and i’m easily distracted.

Lunch at Barth’s with a table by the window and a deliciously varied menu, reservations suggested.

Taking a break while the others catch up

As we head down Simmons Trail, Barb minds the rocks – roots and rocks. Mt. Tam is “home to several rock types; sandstone (graywacke), shale, greenstone, chert, quartz, tourmaline, and the green serpentine , which is the state rock of California.”

Michael who recently returned from his 14th Burning Man experience is sharing a remarkable tree construct, a tribute to the TREE OF TENERE.
He sent us this video of that moment. The following gives some more detail.

He also gave us some background on the original.énéré

We complete our circle hike at the end of the Simmons Trail surrounded by some “golden” grasses and a dry stream bed with just a splash of crimson – poison oak. The map tells me that the dry stream course is called Ziesche Creek so being a “Z” we must make note of it. Letting the Rambler speak:
“Edward Ziesche (also Zachiesche) who died in 1904, had a cabin in this area, which was used as a ranger patrol headquarters until 1917. He was secretary of the Tamalpais Club, perhaps the first hiking organization on the mountain, established circa 1880 as ‘a group of jolly pious Germans’.”

Autumn 9/11/2017 beginnings – the great circle route . . . completing this circle.

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