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Golden Gate Park - The Lyorn's Den

Sun Nov. 5th, 2006

11:04 pm - Golden Gate Park

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Another "it's not autumn if you're in California"-day, and I found myself on the move before 11am. Which seems to be a popular time to get going, as the BART train was more than half full and became crowded in Oakland (where the three East Bay lines meet). I had studied my maps and got to my chosen starting point at the south-eastern corner of Golden Gate Park with minimal fuss. What fuss there was, was created by twenty five-cent coins: Not only need you pay for the MUNI ticket with the exact amount of change, you need it in coins. The BART ticket machines will change a dollar note, but sometimes only into really small change.

The subway train became a streetcar and passed a bunch of cute, vaguely Victorian houses at the southern edge (if I got my geography right) of Haight-Ashbury. One small house was painted hot pink. I wonder if it was the same that Ceridwen and I saw when taking a guided tour. I have the photograph at home, but I didn't manage to get my cell phone out and running in time to make another photo for comparison. Some things remain a mystery.

From the streetcar stop it wasn't far to the park. Some beggars were sitting in front of it, shouting for small change. As MUNI had eaten all my small change, I ignored them. My plan for the day was, walk through the park to the sea, look at everything interesting, check locations from Collisions in Time and maybe Burning Bright, get something to eat, find a way back -- if it's still early, go to Pier 39 and buy fudge. The plan, I'm proud to say, mostly worked. Except for the "food" and the "early" part.

The first interesting thing I saw was the Conservatory of Flowers. I do not have a picture of it, because it's all white and was much too bright for my sad excuse for a camera. Here's one from Wikipedia. The whole building was built in Dublin, packed into boxes, shipped around half the world, stored for a while, and finally erected in the Golden Gate park. It's a mini-botanical garden with tropical plants: Lowland tropics, highland tropics, water plants and potted plants.

Plants More plants Some red flower I do not know how many trees that are
Water plants Strange plants Some pink flower This is called a Hairy Old Man Palm Lowland tropical plants. The colourful bits in the background are stained glass. The strange light on the left is caused by it.

Stepping outside again, the sunny day was positively chilling. I got me a map and continued vaguely westward. There are normal, full-sized streets running through the park, but in the eastern part they are closed to car traffic and full of bicyclers, in-line-skaters, joggers, as well as a few people with scooters or skateboards. Crossing the street isn't easy.

JFK Drive with streetlamp

On a bridge, there was a swing-dance lesson in full, eh, swing. I turned left for the Japanese Tea Garden. On the way there, I passed a large, dark and eccentric building: The DeYoung Museum (image). AFAIK it has American Art. I didn't feel like going inside anything, though. If the promised three months of winter rain ever set in, there will be enough time for museums and galleries. The following pictures were taken in front of the museum.

I wonder what he is thinking. Whatever

Next I visited the Japanese Tea Garden, which is a nice and tiny place full of winding paths, small ponds and miniature streamlets, Asian plants, a Buddha or two, some pagoda, and the occasional strange thing:

Strange Thing in the Tea Garden

Just a few steps further is an entrance to the botanical garden. The botanical garden is large, ordered by ecosystems and continents, and the only animals present are half-tame grey squirrels.
Grey squirrel

I cannot describe the smells. You had the pungent, spicy smell of evergreens, and suddenly the soft yellow one of a camellia, damp green moss and sage and sequoia, all between one step and the next. I had hoped to learn to name some plants, but it was far too much to remember even a single thing. I could have spent the whole day there, but I had the rare luxury of knowing that I might have enough time to come back.

A little farther and you reach Stow lake, a circular lake around Strawberry Hill. The water is green, seagulls and ducks keep an eye open for folks who may bring food, and you can rent rowboats and pedal boats. When you look over the water from the eastern side, you see a totally incongruent Chinese pavilion on Strawberry hill.

Chinese pavilion

Two bridges lead over the sea to the hill. I've never seen I hill I didn't want to climb, and this one, at only 125m, was even within my range, so I did that. The hill is natural, I read, a normal, medium-sized San Francisco hill. Near the top is a water reservoir which is filled by pumps (electric these days, before that, a windmill at the western edge of the park powered the pumps), and empties in a narrow waterfall into Stow Lake.

Looking down the waterfall

(It probably does some other things too, I do not know.) On the hilltop, the ground was sandy and you had a great view, with my cell phone camera mostly failed to capture.

View from Strawberry Hill

(On this picture, you should see the top of the Golden Gate bride next to the tree on the right, and fog drifting in over it...)

The not-so-good thing about Stow Lake is that the road that runs around it is not closed to motorized traffic, so it's very noisy and smells of exhaust fumes as cars circle the lake and look for parking spaces. I understand that the park is so large that closing it to traffic completely would make large parts of it inaccessible, but it still got on my nerves.

Highway One crosses the park in the middle and divides it into an eastern and a western part. Most of the sights are in the eastern part. The western part has a large meadow for sports and parties. A street runs right next to it, so you do not have to schlep your stuff for half a mile. And there I found the perfect place for the SCA party in Collisions in Time.

Golden Gate park meadow

You can see the picnic place center-left, and a line of parking cars center-right.

Crooked trees

On a narrow, car-less road lined by strange, crooked trees I passed the stadium, where some people were playing soccer, walked on through mostly quiet park and bushes and finally left the park at its southwest corner. (I had aimed for north-west, but when I noticed I didn't care enough to track back.)

Just in case you were wondering where you are.

Between the park and the sea there is a street, and a boardwalk (no boards, though), and the beach. You step out of the shade of the trees and all that green, and you are in an open, blue place in full sunlight.

(The beach is not quite as wide as it appears in this picture, but wide enough that I didn't walk to the shore.) The sun was already more west than south. Some people were still on the beach, lying in the sun, walking or wading, others had parked their cars with the open tail gates to the sun and were lounging or picnicking in their cars. I sat down on the wall to cool down and give my feet a rest. Going south to the street car stop would have been shortest and fastest, but it was only afternoon, I was hungry, and there was more to see. (Isn't there always?) I turned north, which had the added advantage to keep the sun out of my eyes. (I need a baseball cap. You'd think getting a baseball cap in the US should be the easiest thing in the world? Think again. They are taking it so seriously that they have special stores for baseball caps, where the darned things cost 20 Dollars or more.)

The esplanade went by the Golden Gate park (which is only a few hundred metres wide in North-South direction) rose up to a cliff corner. Up there is Cliff House (the small white dot on the last picture), with the road making a sharp turn behind it: front to the sea, beach to the left and ruins of an old bath to the right.

Old baths Beach between baths and Cliff HouseSea and rocks.

Inside is a restaurant, but it looked posh and I felt scruffy, so I walked to the bus stop a little further down (or, rather, up) the road.

The city busses creak and clank down Geary Boulevard, making you think that any moment now they will lose some vital part, past the few blocks that are Japantown, and then plunge into Downtown. I got off at Powell Street, grabbed a coffee and walked two blocks to the Powell Street Bart Station, waiting for my stomach to settle down. The bus ride had gotten rid of any hunger I might have felt, and I was very, very tired. It was already late evening at the corner of Powell and Market Street, when up at Cliff House the sun had still been up, and when I got off the BART train and walked to my car, the full moon was riding high in the night sky. Somewhere on the way back to the hotel the coffee kicked in, and when I arrived in my room I discovered that it was only half past six.

For those of you who want to take a less-close look, here's the Google satellite map (I'm not sure if this link will work.)

And, On walking the hills of San Francisco

Big thank you to Marc for uploading the pictures on his site!