For more than 20 years I lived in its shadow. On its northwest side, mornings came late as the sun took a long time to clear its summit, allowing the nighttime chill to linger longer and embed itself a little more deeply into my home. Its 120-year-old forest, planted by a late-19th Century mayor, was an impenetrable enigma, a uniform sea of blue gum eucalyptus that resisted any effort to see into its depths from my neighborhood. I used to stare at the forest rising from the hill behind my apartment building and longed to see within it, to be within it, yet no known public access existed. And so it remained a mystery.
From within its blue-green heart rises a tower of unique geometry, one of the iconic symbols of the San Francisco landscape. The Sutro Tower, at 977' the tallest free-standing antenna tower in the world, broadcasts the signals of 11 televisions stations, 4 FM radio stations and about 20 wireless communications services in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The 80-acre Sutro Forest on Mt. Sutro is now under the ownership of UCSF, which holds it as open space for the public to use. Access to the trails was blocked off for several decades due to neighborhood fears of homeless encampments. After several years of improvements and maintenance, though, it finally opened this summer, and D. and I went to explore it at long last on Christmas Eve Day. Here's some of the pics I took.
Lingering autumn color greets us by the trailhead.
Heading up the Historic Trail, through a thick forest of non-native blue gum eucalyptus planted by former mayor Adolph Sutro to "[clothe] the earth with emerald robes" and "[make] nature beautiful to look upon."
♪♫♪ I wish that I had Jesse's tree ♪♫♪
Where can I find a forest like that?
The low winter sun slants through the ivy-choked forest.
Forget-me-nots are beginning to bloom.
Ivy climbs a fire-scarred tree trunk.
Some of the ivy-choked understory.
This passionflower, a garden escapee from a nearby neighborhood, is still in bloom.
The understory is full of interesting textures.
Wild cucumber is in bloom. It grows from an underground tuber that can be several feet long and a foot and a half in diameter.
The trail follows Woodland Canyon up the northeast side of Mt. Sutro.
A messy place in the trail is flanked by incongruous orange cones.
The trail brings us higher up the canyon.
Our planned route will take us through the Fairy Gates.
No snickering, you!
Leatherleaf fern and California polypody, side by side on an outcrop of chert.
The fairy gate.
As the trail rises the canopy thins and more sky is visible.
And as we come out of the forest onto Johnstone Dr., we behold the Trident of Doom, a.k.a. the Sutro Tower.
As we cross Clarendon Ave. we turn and catch a glimpse of downtown San Francisco and part of the Bay Bridge.
Yes, it's a very hazy day.
The path continues toward the Sutro Tower, taking us past lovely woodland flowers.
We set off down a residential street, trying to get closer to the tower.
I cannot imagine living this close to its base, having it rising up out of my back yard.
Some interesting things to see along the street as we try to get closer to the tower.
Neighboring Buddhas and gargoyles, strange bedfellows.
OK, now, that's just sad. Whatever it is.
We find a road leading up toward the Trident of Doom, a.k.a. the Sutro Tower.
We follow a trail going into the woods.
The tower teases us from above the treetops as the trail circles the forested summit of the hill.
The trail finally emerges from the woods on the southeast side of the hill, where we can view Twin Peaks, a popular scenic overlook close to the geographical center of the city.
The Sutro Tower looks across to her sister antenna towers on Twin Peaks, the City and County of San Francisco's Central Radio Station. This facility provides communications support for the City Police and Fire Departments, 911 dispatch system, Sheriff, District Attorney, Office of Emergency Management, Public Utilities Commission and the Unified School District (operating radio station KALW).
This is the 31,000 sq. ft. broadcast building at the base of the tower. The 5.6-acre complex also includes a garage and storage building, guard station, diesel-powered emergency generators, two underground diesel storage tanks in concrete vaults for leak containment, ancillary antennas, and assorted miscellaneous equipment. It used to be the site of one of Adolph Sutro's mansions until the tower was built in 1972.
A few of the many antennae located on the broadcast building roof at the Sutro Tower's base, receiving signals from area broadcasters for retransmission and testing.
Stepping back and looking up, we behold the Sutro Tower (a.k.a. Trident of Doom), in all its wondrousness.
The tower's foundation made up of 15 million pounds of concrete. Its center of gravity is below the hilltop.
The tower is 977' high, in addition to 834' of mountain elevation at the base. The top of the tower is therefore 1,811' above sea level, making it the most visible structure in the San Francisco Bay Area. (By comparison, the height of the Golden Gate Bridge towers above sea level is only 746'.)
The tower generates over 20 million watts of power.
At last count the tower utilized 118 antennae.
Approximately 184 other small and ancillary antennas exist for backup and other communications services including those of the California Highway Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Postal Inspector and SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio's terrestrial repeater 48.
On our way back down we pass by the security gate and see the tower's mailbox. I guess they want to keep up with TV Guide or something.
Oh wait, they already know what's on TV because they're the ones who are actually broadcasting, aren't they?
We find a path that takes a shortcut almost straight down the hill to where we are parked, and on the way we pass by someone's secret Christmas Eve cache of party goodies sitting by the side of the trail.
Walking down the street to the car we are surprised to see a huge cross orb weaver spider crawling around near someone's front steps.
Sweetgum leaves are bright on the drab sidewalk.
A wreath of bay leaves on a doorway signals the Yule season.