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Landscapes of Golden Gate BioBlitz

With 2,700 students and 300 scientists counting species in the parks of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area this weekend, the total effect is much bigger than the sum of its parts. See photos of some of the wide array of environments covered in this year’s BioBlitz, and get a sense of the landscapes around...

With 2,700 students and 300 scientists counting species in the parks of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area this weekend, the total effect is much bigger than the sum of its parts. See photos of some of the wide array of environments covered in this year’s BioBlitz, and get a sense of the landscapes around San Francisco beyond the cable cars and bridges.

Mossy Rock in Lagunitas Creek (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The base of this moss-covered rock is slowly being smoothed by Lagunitas Creek, in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Early spring maple leaves glow yellow-green against the cool blues of hemlock and lichen.  (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The woods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park contain the iconic redwoods as well oak, maple, fir, pine, and more. Here the early spring maple leaves glow yellow-green against the cooler blues of hemlock and lichen. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Nearing the Top of Mount Barnabe (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Pop out of any of the many wooded areas in the region, and you’re likely to find a soft blanket of grass, mostly of non-native varieties. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

View From Mount Barnabe (Photo by Andrew Howley)

From the top of Mount Barnabe, countless other hills and mountains are visible, each roughly comparable in plant and animal life. In the distance, the shallow waters of the furthest reaches of Tomales Bay show lightly against the wooded ridge beyond. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Deer at Point Reyes Visitor Center (Photo by Andrew Howley)

In valleys like Olema, the rich soils of the mountains are washed down and spread out, making perfect ground for agriculture and grazing, whether by horses, cattle, or a few surprised black-tail deer. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Dunes and Distant Cliffs at Limantour Beach (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Just a dozen or so miles from where I saw the deer, the Limantour Spit shoots a bar of sand along the coast of Drakes Bay, named (150 years later) for the English privateer who stopped near here in 1579 after plundering Spanish towns and ships along the entire western coast of the New World. Along the horizon rise the steep bright cliffs above Drakes Beach at Point Reyes. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

People Silhouetted Against Pacific Clouds (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Looking south from Limantour, it’s clear that low flat beaches like this are not the norm along this section of coast. Far more common are clashes of wave against rocks, at the base of the steep drops from every car commercial director’s favorite stretch of highway. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Small Waterway Leading to Estero de Limantour, California (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Just beyond the dunes, winding waterways lead to and make up several estuaries, or “esteros” as the early Spanish explorers named them. The brackish water hosts its own menagerie of plant and animal species, dramatically different from those of the freshwater creeks just a little further inland. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Speaking of heading inland, do so and you’ll kick yourself for not visiting Muir Woods, home of one of the only old-growth stands of coastal redwoods in existence. Named for the solitary naturalist whose explorations and writings helped lead to the creation of the first national parks in the United States, this park is a precious reminder of the glory of these forests before modern exploitation of their lumber. It is also a reminder of the strength of these trees. It won’t happen any time soon, but left to their nature, eventually the secondary- and third- growth forests of today will attain such grandeur again. (Photo by Jen Shook)

Wildflowers Soften a Rocky Outcrop on the Pacific Coast (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Perhaps one of the main reasons BioBlitz tends to happen around this time each year is the wildflower bloom across North America. Throughout the Golden Gate Parks, from the depths of the forests, to the shores of the bays, to the cliffs above the ocean, speckles of color were sprinkled over the landscape as though Bob Ross was flicking a paintbrush down on us from Heaven. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

California Poppies Add Color to a Long Field of Green (Photo by Andrew Howley)

One of the most recognizable of the wildflowers in the area is the yellow-orange California poppy. Here it is as we come further south still to the Marin Headlands. Groups of more than a few trees are exceedingly rare in these parts, with a chaparral covering of low shrubs that provided me glimpses of a chaparral whipsnake, a western scrub jay, and a jackrabbit the size of a small horse (or so it seemed). (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The Golden Gate Bridge is just visible between hills in the Marin Headlands. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Hiking through the Marin Headlands after being separated from San Francisco and the main BioBlitz activities happening there, it was a thrilling sight to see the Golden Gate Bridge appear in a gap between distant hills. As opposed to seeming like an invasion of the wilderness by civilization, in this context the bridge seemed very much a connector between the two. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Sausalito and Tiburon From the Marin Headlands (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The Marin Headlands are named for a local Miwok leader who resisted the efforts of the Spanish missionaries. He eventually lived out his days in the new society, but his name remains as a reminder of ancient ways of an ancient culture. From this area, you can look down to the northeast and see the very modern ways of very modern culture, in the upscale suburban landscape of Sausalito and Tiburon. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Wind and Rain Make for a Rude Awakening at Hawk Camp, North of San Francisco (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Just to show that there are no absolutes in the fluctuating landscapes of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, here is the surprising yet very well established stand of pines that surrounded my tent at the Hawk Camp. If it looks blurred, that’s due to the fact that the beautiful misty fog you see was howling through at tens of miles per hour, as also evidenced in the near horizontal orientation of the long grass. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Bridge Between Wilderness and Civilization (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The difference between the landscapes on either side of the Golden Gate Bridge could inspire fear that it’s only a matter of time before this side is just as citified as the other. But the positive reaction many people have to the architectural beauty of that bridge points in another direction. The reason there are so many natural areas around San Francisco is not because the city hasn’t gotten there yet. It’s because people have looked at their environment and made conscious decisions about what wilderness to keep intact (like Muir Woods), which formerly exploited areas to allow to rewild (like Taylor State Park), and which parts of the city to develop specifically for living things (like Golden Gate Park itself).

“Our world” isn’t separate from or antithetical to “nature.” There are ways we can live, work, play, and grow positively with both. BioBlitz is one way we can take stock in the balance of things and get realigned to being aware of, appreciative of, and dedicated to the well being of living things in any landscape or environment.

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Andrew Howley
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.