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Gail Todd

DIY Hike: Presidio: The Ecology Trail

The Presidio’s Ecology Trail leads you through a redwood grove, a historic forest and rare serpentine grasslands where you can view the many birds and butterflies of the Presidio. The trail leads to Inspiration Point, the Presidio’s premier overlook. From here you can visit “Spire,” the newly installed sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy. This sculptor is noted for his ephemeral works that often fade gently into their surroundings over time.

The walk begins at the Presidio Visitor Center in the Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Ave. From there to “Spire” is about a mile.

What you’ll find

At the Visitor Center, pick up a free Presidio map showing all trails and attractions. (The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.) Take some time to wander through the historic structure. The oldest building on the Presidio, the Officers’ Club served under Spanish, Mexican and U.S. flags. In the Mesa Lounge, you can see some of the old adobe walls. The upstairs frequently hosts historical exhibitions.

After leaving the Visitor Center, take a right and go into Building 49 to learn about artist Andy Goldsworthy. A free exhibition (open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday) provides background information about “Spire,” which you will see at the end of the walk. You can also watch excerpts from “Rivers and Tides,” a documentary about Goldsworthy’s work.

The Ecology Trail to Inspiration Point

From the exhibition, walk east a short distance on Moraga, past Pershing Hall, to Funston Avenue. Turn right on Funston to the parking area. The Ecology Trail trailhead will be in front of you. This beautiful trail passes through Tennessee Hollow, where refugee tents sprang up after the 1906 quake. The serpentine grassland, the soil of which is partially composed of greenish serpentine rock, is home to the endangered Presidio clarkia, whose delicate pink flowers bloom May through July. You’ll see plenty of redwoods along the trail as well as nonnative eucalyptus, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress, planted in the 1880s by the Army. The trail also opens out at times for excellent views. (Note: Signs and maps show the Ecology Trail as a loop, but the return portion is not fully developed or signed; it currently goes through some residential areas, and you may wish to return the way you came.)

After about two-thirds of a mile on the trail, you will come to a set of steps to your right, which ascend to Inspiration Point, the Presidio’s finest vantage point. There you can gaze down at the Presidio in all its glory, with San Francisco Bay, Angel Island and Alcatraz to the north. The plaza there is made of bluestone and sandstone and is surrounded by native plants.


From Inspiration Point, look away from the view and across Arguello Boulevard to spot Goldsworthy’s “Spire,” a 100-foot-tall sculpture that paradoxically both blends in with its surroundings and stands out from them. To get a closer look, cross Arguello at the crosswalk to your left and enter the parking lot for the Presidio Café. On your right will be a path leading directly to “Spire.” Installed in the fall of 2008, this sculpture is composed of 37 cypress logs cut down as part of the Presidio’s reforestation. As ephemeral as many other Goldsworthy works, “Spire” will eventually decompose into the environment while the saplings planted around it will grow up and obscure it.

After the walk

Drop in for a slightly fancy lunch at the Presidio Café. You can eat in front of a fireplace or on the outdoor patio. If you feel chilled, the cafe offers 50 kinds of whiskey to warm you up. The Presidio Café is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Sunday brunch. You can then walk out of the Presidio through the Arguello Gate and catch a bus home, or return the way you came.

Getting there

By bike or car, enter the Presidio through the Arguello Gate at Arguello and Pacific. Follow Arguello to Moraga. Turn right. The Visitor Center is on your right.

By bus, the 29 Muni stops directly in front of the Visitor Center. For route and schedule, go to www.sfmta.com.

Photo: Google Image

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