Winter Walk in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest

It was the perfect afternoon for a walk in the company of a friend’s friend who wanted to see Sutro forest. It rained the previous day, but now the weather offered no more than an occasional sprinkle. The tops of the trees reached into the clouds, barely distinguishable from fog.

sutro cloud forest  097The forest was beautiful in the mist, with a deep green my camera doesn’t really capture. In low-light conditions, it gets fifty shades of gray.

sutro cloud forest feb 2015

Winter trail conditions are comfortable in Sutro Forest. We don’t have the deep mud we’ll get in foggy summers; the rain wets the trails, but the surface water runs into the understory. All the trails are evenly damp.

In summer, some trails are wet, even muddy because of the Cloud Forest effect, but open areas (including denuded trails) are dry. With the odd weather patterns we’ve had this winter, it’s been a combination of winter-like and summer-like conditions. We’ve had clouds and rain – and we’ve had summer fog!

joggers in Mt Sutro Cloud ForestThis visit, there were more people out there than usual – joggers, bike riders, hikers like us, and people with dogs. Perhaps because it was the break in the weather, perhaps it was a weekend afternoon, and perhaps it was because the forest is being noticed as a destination for its beauty and almost magical seclusion. There was the article in Via, the AAA magazine, and in January 2015, Where ran a piece on Sutro Forest using one of our favorite forest pictures (with permission). It’s the same one we used as our New Year greeting.

WHERE magazine jan 2015FOR HIKERS: We have a useful ‘pointers’ post here: Hiking in Mount Sutro Forest – Pointers and Map. It tells about access and precautions.


The Native Plant garden on the summit on Mount Sutro is green from the rain. These are the best few months to see it before it goes brown and dry in the summer. Right now, the shrubs are green, the yellow-flowering currant and manzanita  have little flowers.

“That manzanita isn’t native to this place,” said my companion. “It doesn’t matter, unless you’re particular about native plants.” We weren’t, and neither was the Anna’s hummingbird that checked them out. (It was moving too fast for our cameras.)

ribes and manzanita in Mt Sutro native plant gardennative gardenEven the Field of Plastic Flags (a meadow that the Sutro Stewards have been working on planting as a pollinator garden, with mixed success) was green – though mainly with non-native grasses.

 field of plastic flagsWe stopped to admire this small oak tree in the Native Plant garden.

 oak“It’s doing well,” said my companion. “Those eucalyptus trees are blocking the wind for it.” Yes. Native and non-native, thriving together.

On another tree, which wasn’t doing so well and was covered in lichen, someone had hung Christmas tree ornaments – including a highly-appropriate owl. We’d noticed it first last month, and people had helped themselves to some of them

ornaments in dying tree in Sutro Forest Native Gardenornaments on a small tree in Sutro Forest Native GardenISHI’S SHRINE

We walked back past the little shrine that used to be Ishi’s Shrine.

ishi-with-bowIt’s now an eclectic mix of things but still a special place.

For readers who don’t know about this – there’s a history. When we first started this record, the little cave below was a shrine to Ishi, the last of the Yahi Indians. Then the picture was removed – we don’t know by whom. The shrine gradually changed into a sort of place of wishes and things.

Here’s what it looks like right now. But we still remember Ishi each time we walk by it. We left a quarter in his memory anyhow.

forest shrine

Ishi in 1914

Ishi in 1914

The forest is beautiful, especially on foggy or cloudy days. But there’s no denying that some parts of it have been damaged by the tree-felling that’s occurred in 2013 and 2014, and the massive removal of understory vegetation. The area in the picture below got a double-whammy – the area above Medical Center Way road had understory and many trees removed for “fire safety” work around the now-very-visible water-tank; and below the road, many large trees were removed as ‘hazardous’ even if they actually posed no real threat.

pics6 155 logged forestpics6 152 wreckThis used to be some of the lushest and densest area of the forest, full of tree tunnels and loud with the song of the Pacific wren.

So much vegetation has been removed that this thing has surfaced. Not quite sure what it is, but it’s a wreck. Someone has taken a really nice picture of it and labelled it “Hell of a Hull.” (Follow the link to see that picture.)

baby eucalyptus will grow tall one dayIn some places in the forest, it’s trying to come back. This little eucalyptus sapling will one day be as tall as the beautiful mature trees beside it – if it isn’t knocked down first by the euc-haters.

This picture also clearly shows the acacia sub-canopy of the forest. Acacia and eucalyptus together are superb at sequestering carbon. Acacia fixes nitrogen, feeding the other plants and trees. And eucalyptus, with its dense wood, large size, fast growth and long like is one of the best carbon-sinks there is.


We did see and hear quite a few birds, though we didn’t have binoculars: There were Pacific wrens on the other side of the mountain, fox sparrows, song sparrows, juncos, robins, ruby-crowned kinglets, pygmy nuthatches, and Anna’s hummingbirds. It’s not surprising, given that nearly 50 species of birds have been seen and heard in Sutro Forest. The disturbances in the forest and the habitat removal with the understory being destroyed have reduced the sheer numbers, but there are still a lot of birds around.

“This looks like a pretty healthy forest,” said my companion as we explained about all the allegations it was dying. It did. It’s a naturalized forest, which has to be thought of as a forest, a population with some trees that are thriving and some that are declining, and they’re all part of the forest with an ecological role to play. And we have to say it again – the forest is still lovely, and given a chance will heal from all the disturbance and damage.

Mt Sutro cloud forest We’d like to end by sharing a quirky picture – it’s not much good as a photograph… but it suggested an abstract Impressionist water-color of Mount Sutro Cloud Forest.

sutro forest - almost a watercolor 167


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2 Responses to Winter Walk in Mt Sutro Cloud Forest

  1. takebackthegreen says:

    A lovely and poetic post. I especially like the final photograph.

    Leaving science aside, the subjective arguments for the preservation of the Bay Area’s Eucalypts are equally convincing and equally valid.

    They are beautiful.

  2. takebackthegreen says:

    Also, the numerous mentions of the destroyed understory remind me: Has the possibility that the understory clearing has a more sinister motivation been discussed before?

    Individual trees adapt to their environment. They have a considerable mass of tiny, barely submerged roots surrounding their trunks, often for hundreds of feet. Regrading the surrounding ground is often fatal. For example, I’ve seen many yard trees killed by homeowners adding a few inches of topsoil to their yards for landscaping purposes. Mature trees react slowly, but usually die with 2-3 years.

    Likewise, removing thick groundcover changes the airflow over the subsurface roots, which is where respiration takes place. (Photosynthesis in leaves; respiration in roots.) It is not as reliably fatal as adding soil, but would be worth a shot, if one were in the mood to kill, injure or stress undesired trees…

    (Please feel free to move this comment elsewhere, or delete if this subject has been covered before.)

    [Webmaster: We do feel that many of the things that are being done to this forest are destructive, but we’re assuming it’s from misinformation rather than malice.]

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