San Bruno Mountain (3/15/2022)

Today I climbed back up San Bruno Mountain. Via the Firth Canyon “Trailhead” (if you can even call it that??). And, I had an amazing adventure.

My initial plan was to visit the Siplichiquin Shellmound (aka San Bruno Shellmound), but looks like you can’t park anywhere near it. AND, there’s a chain link fence around it. You must need to be on a guided hike to see it? Will need to look into that! Maybe San Bruno Mountain Watch folks?

My Plan B was to check out some of the other trailheads on the East side. I’m curious if there’s a less steep way to get up that side than what I tried last time at the San Bruno Mountain Ecological Reserve. I wasn’t thinking they’d be accessible, as I did a Google Maps street view of one of them previously. And, a closed kind of sign was there. The other part of my Plan B was to do the San Bruno Mountain Summit Trail.

First stop was Firth Canyon. Got there, and it’s a tiny green space corner amongst a residential area. I laughed when I took the space in. There were two swings hanging from the very large trees there. Aw, a nice little spot for neighborhood kids to hang out at.

But, WAIT. Looking past that, there looked to be a dry creek bed ahead. It looked somewhat passable? Got to a spot where I had to cross the creek bed, and it smelled like things had burned there. Unfortunately, some random garbage was there. Guess young folks come and party here.

A determined woodpecker had been doing some house project work above me, and I was able to see it AND ID it! Hairy Woodpecker! So rare to see them so easily and not so high up, and it stayed in the same spot for a while, to boot. I was done taking photos of it, when I turned back around and noticed a dirt stepping stone path up the hillside on my left. THE TRAIL!

Headed up and saw a Pacific Pea in bloom at the base of it. I was indeed on the right path. It led me up to the end of a residential road to the left and the start of a dirt trail road to the right. I figured if I followed the dirt, I was on target.

Along with a lot of poison oak, familiar native flora appeared. Hummingbird Sage and Toyon and Coast Live Oaks and California Buttercup. Got to a plateau of sorts, where you can walk out onto a large area of the creek bed. Mossy-covered rocks and a cavern were ahead, but it didn’t look like something I could continue on. So, I kept on the dirt.

Passed by a stunning Trametes mushroom flower embedded into the base of a tree, as well as a single blooming Annual Honesty (?). And, a delightful mushroom bracket of some kind that was trying to swallow a tree branch.

I got to a spot where a very single track trail on a sloped meadow was ahead. And, another dirt stepping stone path led up to what must’ve been the continuation of the trail. The clearing ahead looked promising, so I went to check it out.

Now, I thought MAYBE I’d see a Checker Lily at some point, near the top (were I to reach it). Brian saw ONE up on the Summit Trail, so I figured it was possible to maybe see one high up? But, I was about to officially enter the clearing when I spotted a Checker Lily on my left. Right alongside the narrow trail. Huh! Took photos and was very pleased I got to see one!

I entered the clearing, and there were MANY Checker Lilies! On both sides. In a variety of colors. The sloped meadow was AMAZING. Purple Sanicle and Henderson’s Shooting Stars and Blue Dicks and a ton of Hummingbird Sage not yet in bloom! And, so many dang Checker Lilies. I felt like I had entered Checker Lily Heaven. And, that this was a special and secret spot. I had not seen anyone nor heard anyone ahead so far. Had the place to myself. I quite felt like Alice discovering Wonderland in that moment. I even felt like crying. It was that kind of feeling. Like I found something very few people ever saw.

The super slim trail just kind of ended at this lovely collection of large rocks with ferns and succulents growing in and around them. So, I had seen a meadow paradise. And, it was time to leave it. I felt like I had THE HIGHLIGHT of my Naturing time.


I went back, managing to avoid the teeny baby lupine on the path, and I was about to head up the main trail staircase. I stopped to see more Checker Lilies at the base of it. On both sides. And alongside it to the top. And, ALL OVER THE PLACE FROM THEN ON. I swear, every possible coloring can be seen on this trail. There were so many Checker Lilies that I had to vigilantly watch where I stepped to avoid stepping on some! It was NUTSO. I could not believe it.

Other highlights were pale purple irises (TBIDed), newtome Denseflower Indian Paintbrush, Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Western Blue-eyed Grass, and Coast Paintbrush. All among the BAJILLION CHECKER LILIES.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “She can’t possibly mean A BAJILLION. Impossible!” But, you’d be wrong. There were THAT MANY. And, there were still a bit more still yet to bloom!

On my way through all this Checker Lily and wildflower splendor, I heard a “Hoo Hoo!” a couple times. I finally stopped to record it, as I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Mourning Dove? I looked around for where the sound might be coming from, and a Band-tailed Pigeon was in a tree in front of me! Wish I’d been closer so my photos of it were less grainy, but I’m so glad it stuck around long enough for me to get great looks at it in my binocs. That golden striped neck, WOW! I’ve never seen one still before. And, I’ve only ever seen one once before in Point Reyes Station. Can’t wait til my birthday when I treat myself to a digital camera upgrade for better photos!!

Got to another plateau of sorts, and I decided to venture out on a detour again. This one was ODD. It passed by a strange concrete structure that looked like an octagonal raised garden bed or something. Water filled its angular troughs, and random plants were growing in it. Weird! The trail crossed another dry creek outlet and turned into another single track trail slope. But, there were abandoned things in that creek bed! A part of a trailer that somehow had a tree growing through it? Some piece of an engine, entirely rusted out? A crate? I really want to know what this stuff was! A mishap accident from quarry activity that no one bothered to clean up? Hoping to find a guided/docent-led hike on San Bruno soon to find out about such things…

It was about this time, looking down into the deep creek bed below me, when I realized it was maybe a little dangerous to be out alone in such a remote area. Especially when I’m always a bit nervy walking back DOWN a mountain. I consciously decided to be super careful where and how I stepped going forward. Not that I wasn’t before, but. You know what I mean.

The trail opened up, and a beige rock wall appeared on the left. California Poppies were about. Two large and blackish butterflies were zooming high above and not in my view for long. Something that looked like coyote or bobcat scat showed up twice on that trail. Exciting! Oh! And, a medium sized orangish butterfly popped out from behind a Coyote Brush bush and was immediately out of sight. Dangit!

I rounded a corner where the trail ended and a paved driveway appeared. It went up to a water tank looking thing. Huh! Don’t think this road is on the map? Interesting. I was tempted to walk up it to see if I might have a chance at seeing those butterflies, but I didn’t want to chance it. I was hoping to get to the top of my original trail. So, back I went.

I continued on the trail that started to decrease in Checker Lilies and increase in Hummingbird Sage. This whole place is probably amazing in the morning when the sun’s on it. It was then that I noticed how not cold it was. I had come from the chilly and slightly windy Inner Sunset onto the sunny side of the city. And, right on that Northeast facing part of the mountain, it was downright BALMY. I realized I was actually sweating. I wasn’t even in the sun. At all. It was a trip. Yes, I may be half-Asian, but it was honestly WARM OUT. Like t-shirt and shorts kinda weather right there. Not that I’d wear a t-shirt and shorts, but. You know what I mean.

After a couple more switchbacks up, I realized it was getting later than I had planned. The top would have to wait another day. If I wanted to take my time heading down, I should start that. So, I did.

Lucky me, with the overnight rain, the trails were not dry and dusty. And, those dirt stepping stone paths were great for walking down on! I still wish I had a walking stick with me, but it was not anywhere as bad as I had imagined it’d be.

Got to that momentous spot where the staircase leading to the true Checker Lily Nirvana met the single track trail to that glorious wildflower meadow. And, I turned to take one more look up. Boatloads of Checker Lilies looked back down at me. It was a magical place. And, I want to share it. I just might go again this Sunday to show Brian. Those Checker Lilies won’t last forever!

Arrived back where I started, and I heard that Hairy Woodpecker in the same spot above me. Working away, like before. Felt for a second like no time had passed. But, that makes sense. When you’re Alice in Wonderland.

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