Trails Report: Dry October in Mount Sutro Forest

About ten days ago, we went up into Mount Sutro Forest. There’d been a string of sunny days, the closest to summer that San Francisco gets.

The trails were  dry and  last month’s puddles were gone. Unusually, there’s no mud. (This does make for easier hiking.) The removal and thinning of the brush has clearly reduced the forest’s ability to capture and retain moisture.

triple archStill – the vegetation everywhere was alive and green and growing. (Except, of course, in areas where it had been torn up and chipped. Or where vines had been cut off so they’d die and dry out.) We were pleased to see the “triple arch” on the South Ridge hadn’t been destroyed.

forest sceneAs usual at this time of the year, some of the driest areas were in the Native Garden on the summit.

native garden dryThe denuded areas where UCSF performed its “urgent fire safety work” last month looked pretty dismal too. This area is near one of the water tanks. The understory has basically been removed, together with a lot of slender trees. This isn’t going to retain much moisture.

denuded areaElsewhere, the acacia trees that form the sub-canopy were flourishing. These trees fix nitrogen, and so help provide food for all the other plants of the forest, from the smallest grasses and flowers to the towering eucalyptus.

path 1

path 2 Eucalyptus forests with an acacia sub-canopy are even better at sucking up carbon and storing it than eucalyptus forests without acacia.

sunlight in the forestThe blackberry understory – one of the best habitat shrubs for birds and other wildlife (including coyotes!)  – was growing back from the last time it had been mowed down, and there were some flowers.

blackberry understoryContinuing on down the trail, we saw this snag covered in epiphytes. Leather fern?

epiphyteThere weren’t too many people around; this hiker was one of the few we saw.


Ishi in 1914

Ishi in 1914

We’ve written before about this little shrine, a small shallow cave in the rocks beside a trail. When we first encountered it, back in 2009, it was a shrine to Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe. ishi shrine

It remained that way for more than a year. But eventually, someone removed the picture that had stood on a little natural stone shelf. It remained empty for a while, and then it morphed into an eclectic, ever-changing little area.

shrine July 2011It always felt like more than just a display of random items, and occasionally, we’d write about what we found there. A cairn of stones. An elephant and a fortune card. A tiny painting of a peace sign, and a mysterious box.

It’s been reorganized again. There’s a twig broom leaning on one side; someone’s put a lichen-covered twig in there. There’s a little white gnome, and on a sand-dollar, someone has written: Dying is believing that nothing stays on.

the eclectic shrine
But what intrigued us most this time was not the human inputs into the shrine – but an interesting cobweb. It wasn’t the classical orb-weaver’s radial design – it looked like a pouch.
interesting spider webNaturalists at the California Academy of Science who looked at the photograph think it might belong to a “Bowl-and-Doily Spider.” This spider builds a two-part web: the bowl above, and a flat web, the doily, below. And it hangs out at the bottom of the bowl. This particular web, though, apparently had no one at home.


We walked to the Aldea campus by the Fairy Gates trail, which suffered in the “work” performed last month – most of the bushes that screened the campus from the trail and kept the sense of seclusion has been removed. Bushes below the path have also been cleared. It’s barer and drier. But still dramatic, with the small gap between the rocks to pass through.

fairy gatesWe ended our walk as evening fell with this view of Sutro Tower barely visible through the tall trees. (Look carefully!)

sutro tower just visible behind the trees

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1 Response to Trails Report: Dry October in Mount Sutro Forest

  1. Tony Holiday says:

    Wonderful post, as usual!

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