San Francisco’s Hills, Without the Houses

20140328-050449.jpgNorthwest view from Mount Barnabe. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

As San Francisco prepares for 300 scientists to study its surrounding plants and animals in #BioBlitz 2014, similarly steep hills to the north catch the late afternoon sun and breathe a bit easier, unburdened by houses, streets, and antique cable cars.

Still, the human (and specifically industrialized human) footprint is heavy here. Samuel P. Taylor State Park, where these photos were taken Wednesday named for the man who built the first paper mill on the Pacific Coast. Years of logging removed almost all the original old growth redwoods, so the woods today are mostly only 100 years old at best.

The grasses that capture such bright shades of yellow and green are mostly not native to this region, and would not be so extensive were it not for the removal of such vast areas of trees.

There is something to be said though for the fact that these are plants living freely and reclaiming this land for the wild. There is a particular beauty in seeing how the rest of nature responds when we step back and let it do what it will.

These topics are very much at the heart of BioBlitz. “Nature” is not separate from the human world. Our world is part of nature, and other parts of nature are present in every corner of our world.

Of course human activity can cause the total loss of a wild landscape or species, and natural disasters can destroy lives and constructions of deep cultural importance. But far more common is a dynamic and enriching give-and-take.

Sometimes we take land. Sometimes the wild takes the land back. BioBlitz is a great time to stop and take notice of the balance of these powers in our own areas, and to notice and appreciate all the living things in action all around.

Read All #BioBlitz2014 Blog Posts
20140328-051010.jpgPinecone scales from a Douglas fir testify to the constant regeneration of a healthy woodland. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
20140328-051851.jpgA small creek boasts a tight colony of giant horsetail shoots that look almost like a forest of their own. These plants are neither flowers nor ferns, but in a genus of their own, older than the dinosaurs. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
20140328-050858.jpgLeaves from a Big Leaf maple glow against a dark mossy branch. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
20140328-051055.jpgSamuel P. Taylor State Park: I’m lichen it. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
20140328-051513.jpgBy an old wooden fence rail along the hiking trail nearing the summit, leaves, petals, and lingering raindrops made for a scene more like a tended garden. (Photo by Andrew Howley)
20140328-050603.jpgMoss on the side of a redwood catches and soaks up water from rain, dew, or simply mist in the air. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.