Archive for August, 2011
Last week I went to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, a new reserve in the former salt ponds you see as you get on the San Mateo Bridge heading west. It’s part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the biggest wetlands project in California. Strange place, and very different from my mental images of the bay area. I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of the Bay Area as one of the world’s major salt producers. Actually, though, it’s a natural result of the topography (south of Hayward, the bay averages only 1-3 feet in depth) and the dry-summer climate. Salt forms naturally in the shallow areas of the bay and has been harvested since the times of the Ohlone. The first salt ponds were built in the 1850’s and were developed like other forms of agriculture, small plots consolidating into larger and larger ones. Nowadays, Cargill, the giant corporation that’s currently recalling ground up turkey, is the last one still producing salt, 650,000 tons per year according to their website. In 2003, they consolidated their production and sold/donated-for-tax-write-offs over 15,000 acres (25 square miles) which are slowly being turned into nature reserves.
Eden Landing is only recently opened to the public and is still a work in progress. There are levee roads to walk on, former ponds in various stages of restoration, lots of birdlife, weedy pioneer plants with a few new native plantings at the margins, and the ruins of one of the salt production facilities. It’s the kind of landscape that is rather bleak in full sunlight, but beautiful in the first and last hours of the day.
The main focus of the restoration project has been to open the dikes and return the landscape to tidal wetlands and create habit for endangered wildlife such as snowy plover, clapper rail, black rail, and salt marsh harvest mouse. I only saw the more common species of wetland birds, but lots of those. The ruins of the salt works and about 10% of the salt ponds are going to be kept as a remnant of the site’s history and as photographer bait.
The ponds are most striking when you look down on them from the sky and see the colors of the micro-organisms living in the water. Different colors form depending on the salinity of the water: green, rust brown, orange, milky pink, and at the highest salinity a shocking purple. I could see rust in one pool and pink in another when I leaned out over them and looked downward. The NASA aerial photo below is completely untouched; those are the natural colors of the ponds.
QUEST did a segment on the project, focusing on the southernmost of the three sites, Alviso:
One of the areas that I saw on my visit (but didn’t photograph) was opened to Alameda Creek this week and will soon be opened to the bay.
— Addendum 1/7/12 — Chuck B. at My Back 40 Feet has a collection of posts on the Bay Area salt ponds and photos from a visit to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge a little bit further south, worth a look.
These are my other two drawings from my trips to Yosemite, sketches of two stone buildings,the Le Conte Memorial Building and the Ahwahnee Hotel. The Le Conte was built in honor of geologist Joseph Le Conte, one of the founders of the Sierra Club. The park’s first visitor center, it was designed by Bernard Maybeck’s brother-in-law and built with granite dressed to a rough, blocky ashlar set in regular courses. The Sierra Club now runs it as a children’s library.
The Ahwahnee got listed 26th on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture. It was built in 1927 with 5,000 tons of granite, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of timber. Beautiful on the outside, I’ve heard that the rooms have all the chic of a 1970’s Radisson. I got some of the proportions wrong when I was working out the perspective, but what can I say, Anita and I design gardens rather than buildings.
Landscape Architect graffiti that is, not Los Angeles, and with chalk and signs rather than spray paint. Anita is on an ASLA public awareness committee that has organized a national event for today. The ASLA thinks the general public doesn’t really know what landscape architects do and doesn’t realize how much of the world has been designed by landscape architects. It sort of gets back to the inherent problem of good design: when it is done well it often looks like nothing was done. So, like members of any community with graphic skills and the belief that their voice has not been sufficiently heard, some landscape architects — the ASLA says thousands — are going out to bomb and tag the streets. I’m not totally clear on all of the specifics, but the ASLA website has graphics to download and links and info on over 130 organized events for anyone interested. (Actually, the better place to go is probably the Facebook page for the event, with photos uploaded by the various people participating.) Marking stencils on the street did have a fun guerrilla vibe to it; Anita kept checking the label on her can to make sure it wasn’t permanent.
My contribution was to mark the El Cerrito rain gardens near our house. I posted about them last fall after the city first put it in. After about a year now, they’re still doing great.
Anita tagged Cesar Chavez/North Waterfront Park in the Berkeley Marina, a good example of a landscape with a subtle design that most visitors probably don’t think of as a ‘designed’ space. Richard Haag, most famous for Gas Works Park in Seattle, was the landscape architect. I’ve heard his original design was much bolder than what got built, but, as it is, with a lot of grass and subtle topography, there are always a ton of people there and it’s the best place in the Bay Area to fly a kite. Not a bad design if you can say that, and worthy of a little temporary graffiti love.
Tomorrow is bloom day. I missed last month’s, though there were some interesting plants in bloom: Monardella villosa, Monardella micrantha, Calylophus hartegii, Lilium regale, Lobelia ‘Queen Victoria,’ one or two others that we don’t always have blooming. This month has fewer things of interest. The geraniums are blooming (‘Bill Wallis’ reblooming, ‘Mavis Simpson’ hanging on since June), the last of our lilies , an ornamental oregano that brings large numbers of honey bees into the garden for the only time of the year, and a lot of the more ever-blooming plants like the orange Canna, the Blessed Calendulas, the Galvezias which seem to always have flowers but rarely in significant quantities.
Overall, not much else is worth photographing at the moment. Partly because August is the tail end of our bloom season, but mostly because we just began several projects and the garden is in that state of chaos that happens before everything begins to get put back together again. Bamboo leaves are strewn everywhere. Though actually I finished the first of the projects this weekend, and just need to tidy it up and then it will be bloggable. We’ve had this garden exactly five years now, and it is getting some upgrades that should make us want to stay here another five.
Along with the north coast, I went to Yosemite several times in the last couple months. Absolutely amazing place, as the millions of people who visit all know. I used to be bothered by the crowds, but I’ve learned to navigate the park and appreciate it without feeling bothered by them. Bringing my bicycle with me has helped immeasurably. The Valley’s a beautiful, flat place to ride around in, and a bicycle is the key to avoiding the daily traffic jams. (The park service really needs to figure out a way to get people parking outside the valley and just using bikes and shuttle buses inside. I’m skeptical it will ever happen, but I can dream, right?) Climbing has also helped me love the valley. Obviously because the climbing is so incredible, but also because I’ve ended up spending longer periods of time sitting and staring. And not just on the climbs. Most days I would meet up with my climbing partner at the bicycle parking at Lower Yosemite Falls, and while I waited for him, I started to really appreciate the effect that the view of the the falls has for people.
It’s the tallest falls in North America, 2,425 feet, and probably the most viewed and photographed. Lawrence Halprin redesigned the approach trail and picnic area a few years ago, and there is a lot of stonework done by the same company that did all the stonework at Stern Grove. I don’t really remember what the approach was like before the redesign and I couldn’t find any before photos of the project online, but I remember a parking lot and a lot of crumbling asphalt. I’m pretty sure the almost French-style view of the falls was already cleared, but possibly with trees starting to grow back in and obscure it again. The redesign took out the parking area, made the trail into a loop, and rehabbed a lot of degraded habitat areas. The park service has a summary of the project.
There’s a photo of the approach here. I can’t count how many times I heard people say, ‘Wow.’ Below is a photo from the other side of the valley.
A study came out last month ranking the sustainability of 27 cities in North America, and San Francisco did the Bay Area proud, topping the list. It was first in Waste (recycling over 75% of its waste), second in Buildings, Transportation and Air Quality, third in Energy, fifth in Water (average consumption is 142 gallons per person per day, compared to the average of 155 gallons), and eighth in CO2 Emissions, Land Use and Environmental Governance. Second place overall was Vancouver, followed by New York, Seattle, and Denver. Los Angeles was 7th (187 gallons of water per person), which was a surprise to me, though I guess I formed my low opinion of LA during the 90’s before a lot of recent efforts to make the city greener. Sacramento was 15th without scoring especially high at anything (20th in water, with 207 gallons per person, damn those lawns). I’m not used to seeing Sacramento included in a national study; it just barely beat the Texas cities. Neither Oakland nor Portland were included in the index, which is kind of a shame. It would be interesting to see them compared to SF; Portland is the leader in a lot of areas of sustainability, and Oakland has set many of the same goals and policies as San Francisco. These kinds of studies are always pretty broad-brush, but this one is pretty good and worth reading, especially if you live in one of the 27 cities.
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