Buena Vista Park, San Francisco

May 12, 2017


Photographer: Patti Weeks
Summary Author: Patti Weeks

Visitors to San Francisco, California, expect to see hilly terrain but might be surprised to see a tree-covered hill popping up 575 ft (175 m) in the middle of the city, as seen in this photograph. Buena Vista Park is the oldest park in San Francisco, established in 1867. Once a barren, dune-like sandy hill, it’s now lush with vegetation and provides walking trails, recreational areas and remarkable views of the city. Of the park’s 36 acres, six of them comprise the northern Natural Area and contains one of San Francisco’s most expansive forests of native coast live oaks. But the park also contains non-native trees and plants, introduced from Europe as early as the 1700s. Around 40 percent of the flora in San Francisco is non-native, much classified as invasive. Invasive species tend to choke out native species and threaten entire ecosystems.

Hard to imagine, but much of the of the San Francisco Bay surface area was once covered in massive sand dunes: bare dunes that were in continual motion on the western Pacific side, and the more stable dune scrub on the eastern bay side. Coastal dune scrub is a deep-rooted, native plant community that survives the harsh conditions of the battering winds and sea salt air and aids dune stabilization.

In the first few years of the burgeoning California Gold Rush (1848–1855), builders and real estate speculators began leveling the tall hills of deep sand and moving thousands of tons of the dunes. For decades they filled the surrounding tidal marshes in the bay with the sand to create land for sale for the growing population of colonial settlers. The earthquake of 1989, which caused considerable damage to the Marina district, proved this undertaking to be a poor idea. Buena Vista Park is one of the dunes in San Francisco that was spared leveling and transportation.

This photo was taken on an uncharacteristic fog-free day from the 922-ft (281 m) Twin Peaks overlook. To the right of Buena Vista Park in the photo is the western edge of downtown San Francisco. Seen almost directly behind the park, isolated in the San Francisco Bay, is the island of Alcatraz, site of the infamous federal penitentiary. Nicknamed The Rock, Alcatraz Island is now a National Historic Landmark.

Photo Details: SONY DSC-HX400V camera; 24–210 mm lens, ƒ/2.8–6.3; 18.55 mm focal length; ƒ/5 aperture; 1/2000 sec. exposure time; ISO 200.