Looking at a map of Silicon Valley, you could be forgiven for thinking that all of our wildlife is conveniently located just off Highway 101
Menlo Park’s Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, Palo Alto’s Baylands Nature Preserve, Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Study Area in Mountain View, and Sunnyvale Baylands Park all have easy access from the freeway.
Driving north on 101 from Mountain View past the Palo Alto Baylands is a typical example. Any closer, and these wetlands would be a drive-through. Take the East Bayshore exit, turn bayward on Embarcadero Road and moments later you’ll be far away from the entire population of Silicon Valley, i.e. the employees and patrons of Starbucks.
What to do
Here you’ll find 15 miles of trails to walk, hike, and bike. There’s also wind surfing, canoing, kayaking, and sailing. If you like plane spotting, there’s a bench pointed right at the final approach to Palo Alto Airport. The bird spotting is even better, some of the best in California in fact.
The best way to recognize the baylands’ wildlife is to start at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center. Check out the exhibits, grab a brochure, and chat with a ranger to help figure out what to see and why.
Take a hike
But don’t leave the way you came in just yet. Instead, exit the back and take a long walk off a long pier. That narrow, rickety, raised wooden platform will lead you far across the marshes heading for San Francisco Bay.
After going two hundred feet or so you’ll come to a crossroads. But you can’t take either of the piers leading left and right that pass directly beneath electrical towers parading into the marshy distance: that’s because each pier is blocked by a chain link door. The only thing missing from these doors to nowhere is Rod Serling’s voiceover introduction.
On the water
So back into Ms. Evans’ nature center and out the way you came. If you brought a sailboat, kayak, or windsail, follow the path a quarter mile east to the sailing station and sail or paddle next door to the Peter Pannishly named Hooks Island. Or if you’re in a more contemplative mood just sit back and admire the nearby fountain and duck pond.
If walking or biking is more to your taste, try Byxbee Park a few hundred yards back down Embarcadero Road. Named after John Byxbee, the man who first proposed developing the baylands in 1921, this park is notable for its unusually white and pearlescent paths. That’s because they’re made of crushed oyster shells, making you feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of the Walrus and the Carpenter.
An unusual choice of material? That’s because the park is designed as art. Yep. According to Palo Alto, “Byxbee Park is an exciting example of the art of the 1990’s.” Apparently the park, “expresses a particular site’s unique physical and historical characteristics, and a reaffirmation of oneness with nature and natural forces.”
Me, I thought natural areas did that, well, naturally.
But however you decide to do it—as art lover or as nature lover—enjoy the baylands. And the next time you drive past, remember that the geese commute along 101 the same as the rest of us. Then look up and honk if you like waterfowl.
They might just honk back.
If you go
Palo Alto Baylands Preserve
Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center
2775 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto
Tuesday through Friday from 2pm to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm