Bay Nature magazineSummer 2012


Happy Plants on New Presidio Dunes

July 1, 2012

Early San Francisco writer Charles Warren Stoddard said the city’s sand “went round and round, as God probably intended it should, until a city sat upon it and kept it quiet.” As a boy in the early 1850s, he and his pals ventured out to the Cliff House by walking on top of the wooden trough that ran circuitously along cliffs above the ocean and Bay to carry water from Lobos Creek at the Presidio’s southwestern edge to what was then the city–a small settlement hugging the peninsula’s northeastern shore. To return home, they navigated several square miles of sand dunes that had “neither track nor trail,” using Mount Tamalpais and Lone Mountain as landmarks until the fog rolled in.

Houses and streets have capped those sand dunes for a century, but the Presidio Trust has brought back a little of old San Francisco with a five-acre dune restoration project in the Presidio’s southwest corner. On the east side of Battery Caulfield Road, restoration workers covered an old maritime cemetery and dump site with 20,000 cubic yards of sand and planted pioneer dune plants. They have unofficially renamed the remediation site “Dead Man’s Dunes.” Across the road they dumped 30,000 cubic yards of sand and planted it with 35 species of low-growing dune annuals such as miniature lupine, coast gilia, and San Francisco lessingia. Lessingia was close to extinction until the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy restored the Lobos Creek Valley, the first major restoration project after the Presidio was transferred out of military jurisdiction. Today, Lobos Creek supplies the Presidio with most of its water, and the Lobos Creek lessingia number in the millions. “It’s incredible how the plants are responding,” said Presidio Trust restoration ecologist Lew Stringer on a day when the dried seeds of the miniature lupine were exploding loud enough to sound like crickets. Learn more at

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.

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