Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tortoise Rock on Ring Mountain

Ring Mountain is in Tiburon and the trailhead is located directly on the side of Paradise Drive, a main exit from Highway 101. Start your hike at the trailhead and take the Phyllis Ellman trail up the hill. To get to Tortoise Rock, the star of this hike, stay left. Explore. Take little trails, always bearing left, and you will see it. Honestly, it looks EXACTLY like a turtle! Stacks of rock make its front legs, and a tower of rock with a quasi-triangular one on top are its head. Wind sculpted bay trees form its shell. It's fun to clamber around on top of it. Sitting on its head, you look out over grassland and wildflowers to San Rafael and Mt. Tam. If you continue up on a paved path to your left, you get to the summit of Ring Mountain which provides even more stunning views than from Tortoise Rock. You see the Richmond Bridge stretching to the East Bay, the Belvedere Peninsula, San Francisco, the top of one spire of the Golden Gate Bridge, and vast expanses of water painted yellow by the sun's reflection. Sit on a rock. Bask in the sun. It's incredible.
**There is a well-known landmark on Ring Mountain called Turtle Rock, not to be confused with the Tortoise Rock I described. Tortoise Rock looks way more like a turtle and so therefore is way cooler than the actual Turtle Rock!**

There are conflicting histories of how Ring Mountain got its name. One says that it was named after George E. Ring, the Marin County Supervisor from 1895-1903. The much cooler version: Ring Mountain is named after the ancient Miwok Native American petroglyph rings etched on the rocks scattered around the mountain. 

Ring Mountain is a geological and botanical gem. Its soil, mostly composed of the green California state rock Serpentine, is toxic to most plants. Because of this, the species adapted to the soil thrive in the absence of competition. Ring Mountain is home to an unusual number of rare and endangered plant species, including a plant that literally grows no where else on earth: the Tiburon Mariposa Lily. 

A place with 360ยบ views of Mt. Tam, San Quentin, San Rafael, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Berkeley, Belvedere, Angel Island, San Francisco, and even the tippy top of the Golden Gate Bridge, Ring Mountain is absolutely one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world. Its protection is a testament to how a few determined individuals can come together and save its natural beauty from pavement and privatization. 

In 1976 a developer named Robert Goetz purchased 435 acres and unveiled grand plans for housing development. Fortunately, the counter reaction was strong. Conservation efforts of the ridge lands and open space commenced with private purchase and development negotiations. Phyllis Ellman, the conservationist for whom the trail is named, led the preservation efforts. The next year the Nature Conservancy, a nationwide organization whose mission is "to preserve the plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive" purchased some acres on Ring Mountain.

It wasn't until six years later in 1982 that the Nature Conservancy finally had enough money from generous donors and members to purchase the land poised for development. In 1995, the land was deeded over to the Open Space District and officially became a public place for all to enjoy.

Why I Love It
It seemed like whenever I talked about this project, whoever I was talking to unfailingly said, "Oh, have you been to Ring Mountain?" Until this project, I hadn't. Similar to the field in Fairfax, it blows my mind that such beauty and sublimity can exist right next to me while I continue to be oblivious. Ring Mountain highlights and underlines for me the importance of exploration and adventure. Because without those things, I'd have never gotten there. I'd have never scampered around on Tortoise Rock, looking out over the hills of native grass to Mt. Tam and San Rafael. I'd have never continued wandering up to the top of the Mountain to sit on a flat, shiny and flaking rock in the sunshine, eating tangerines. I'd have never seen the water currents making patterns on the surface of the water, glittering and white from the sun's reflection. From Ring Mountain, you have the most incredible 360 view all around you. I love trying to figure out where I am, locating landmarks and familiar features. Go try it.


From the San Rafael Transit Center:
Take Golden Gate Transit Route 17 Southbound
Here's the schedule:
Get off at the Paradise Drive Bus Pad
Walk South on Paradise Drive, away from the Village Shopping Center, for a few blocks
Begin your hike at the trailhead on the righthand side of Paradise Drive just past Westward Drive


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