San Francisco Bay Trail: Bedwell Bayfront Park

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A recent hike took me to Menlo Park for a walk along the frontage of San Francisco Bay to the beginning of the Dumbarton Bridge on the San Francisco Bay Trail. I later returned to the starting point of that hike to more fully explore Bedwell Bayfront Park, where a perimeter trail is also a segment of the Bay Trail.

The 160-acre park has an interesting history, since it is the site of a former landfill. The area has been rehabilitated and converted into a pleasant open-space park with walking paths and pretty views from the higher locations (about 70 feet elevation). In addition there is a large art installation, the Great Spirit Path. In these respects Bedwell Bayfront Park has some similarities to nearby Byxbee Park in Palo Alto, though each of these parks has its own unique character.

My plan was to walk the entire 2.3-mile perimeter trail and then explore the Great Spirit Path. With that in mind I chose to park in the parking area farthest from the park entrance along the west side, at the beginning of the Great Spirit Path, denoted by the orange dot on my GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

The perimeter path is nearly level, and the interior of the park has grass-covered hills dotted with shrubs and a modest number of trees, as well as quite a few walking paths. Although there are several small structures that undoubtedly relate to the former landfill status, they do not detract from the park experience: an urban park, but on the edge of the San Francisco Bay.

image of view of Bedwell Bayfront Park

View of Bedwell Bayfront Park

Initially I was surprised to find these Bermuda buttercups (Oxalis pes-caprae) already in bloom in late January – a bit early for wildflowers, even in California. When I did some more research I learned that this type of oxalis has a blooming period of December through June, so it was actually in season. I also learned that it is a non-native and is considered by some to be invasive. I am slowly learning that many introduced wildflowers, trees, and other species were introduced in the first place due to their beauty.

image of Bermuda buttercup

Bermuda buttercup

The park is surrounded on the west, north, and east sides by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Near the cutout at the northwest corner of the park’s rectangle there is a small pond where I found a few shorebirds, including these black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus). Even though they have disproportionately long legs, they evidently feed in water that is deep enough to get their belly feathers damp.

image of black-necked stilts

Black-necked stilts

Farther along there were more stilts, along with American avocets (Recurvirostra americana), in a tidal pond. Note the long, upturned bill that is a distinctive characteristic of avocets. I was also interested to note the mud on their feet and lower legs.

image of American avocets

American avocets

All around the park I encountered park users, including families with young children, joggers, dog walkers, and even an apparent boxer practicing footwork and quick moves with a view of the Bay. From the east side of the park you can see buildings that are part of the Facebook Headquarters campus, as well as the Dumbarton Bridge, Mt Diablo, Mission Peak, and so on.

Near the southeast corner there is signage advising park users to remain on the paths, as they pass close to several small mounds that are nesting areas for burrowing owls, a Species of Concern in California.

As I walked around the park, occasionally a commercial airplane flew overhead, most likely on approach to San Francisco Airport. I also noted a few estivating snails on rush-like plants; estivation is a state of dormancy similar to hibernation.

Next to the west side of the park there is a narrow slough, where I found several types of waterfowl. One was American widgeons (Mareca Americana), mostly standing on the dry mud on the far side of the slough. Distinctive features include smaller size than other ducks in the area, as well as the green patch on the head (for males), light blue bill with black tip, and white patch on the wing.

image of American widgeons

American widgeons

There were also several greater scaups (Aythya marila) with green head, black chest, white underside, light blue bill, and yellow eye.

image of greater scaup

Greater scaup

The somewhat similar canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) have lighter backs, brown heads, and dark bills. I also saw several shovelers, which have especially distinctive, almost spoon-like, bills. If you can get a good enough view to pick out the colors and shapes of these body parts, it can be surprisingly straightforward to identify many species of duck.

image of canvasback

Canvasback

After completing my circumnavigation of the perimeter trail I started up the Great Spirit Path to view its impressive rock sculpture. The sculpture was created between 1981 and 1985 in two stages, using nearly 900 natural rocks obtained from a quarry in Sonoma and from a meadow near the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The individual sculptures are based on American Indian pictographs and depict words and phrases in a poem written by the creator of the sculptures. There are 53 sculptures along a ¾-mile path, forming the largest sculpture of its kind in the world. There is a sign with each one, including a diagram of the sculpture and the word or words in the poem that it depicts.

With the welcome rains of recent months, many of the sculptures are surrounded by grass, in some cases now growing between rocks that had been placed quite close together, or in other cases starting to obscure some of the smaller rocks. This picture shows the 7th sculpture, which represents the phrase “with glad heart.” Interpretive guide brochures are available at the major access points to the path and contain the full text of the poem as well as diagrams of all of the sculptures.

image of Great Spirit Path sculpture: “with glad heart”

Great Spirit Path sculpture: “with glad heart”

Near this sculpture I ran across quite a few brilliant flowering plants, called treasure flower (Gazania linearis). Like the oxalis seen earlier in my walk, it is an introduced species considered to be invasive.

image of collection of brilliantly-colored treasure flowers

Collection of brilliantly-colored treasure flowers

The Great Spirit Path climbs fairly quickly up to about 70 feet elevation in the interior of the park, and then continues gently up and down over small hills and undulations. The only individual sculpture I did not view up close was the one representing the phrase “rest here” – as I began to approach I noticed that a couple had stopped there for a brief rest break and it seemed rude to approach any closer.

In this view I show the sculpture representing the word “down.” In the background there is a partial view of the park with a couple of the many trails.

image of Great Spirit Path sculpture: “down”

Great Spirit Path sculpture: “down”

The sculptures associated with the last few lines of the poem are more complex and lead to the last two: “reaching out with supplication” “to the Great Spirit everywhere.” The latter is quite large, over 100 feet in diameter I think, with 3 concentric arcs of rocks and a central cross-like structure. It was a special experience to sense that the poem was reaching a climax and then to arrive at the last sculpture, which is quite spectacular.

Since the end of the Great Spirit Path is almost at the east side of the park, I continued to the northeast corner to a location marked on the park map as a vista point. Even before I arrived at the vista point, as I climbed a slight hill I had a nice view of the Dumbarton Bridge between some trees.

image of Dumbarton Bridge viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

Dumbarton Bridge viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

From the vista point I could see the Dumbarton Bridge still, across mud flats, as well as Mt Umunhum, Mission Peak, Mt Diablo, the San Mateo Bridge, and Mt Tamalpais in Marin County. After enjoying the views I returned to the trailhead by a different path.

Although not a large park, Bedwell Bayfront Park is a pleasant place to go for a short, relatively relaxed hike.

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