SALT. Angelina Jolie at her best; beautiful and photogenic as always. However salt as we know it in the Bay Area brings to mind the checker board pattern of stunning reds and burnt oranges that we see as we fly into SFO on a clear day. Some might even say it too is beautiful and photogenic and I would be one of those people. What started as a logical business venture for several mom and pop companies in the Bay Area in the mid nineteenth century became the backbone of multinational food giant, Cargill in the twentieth century after they bought Leslie Salt. Leslie Salt had itself grown into a giant by purchasing and consolidating the mom and pop shops over the previous decades. And, that my friends, is how salt took over the south bay. Just to be clear, I am no longer talking about KGB agent Evelyn Salt (aka Angelina Jolie).
Fortunately we are in the process of giving the shoreline back to the Bay and transforming old salt ponds into ecologically rich wetlands. As Ann Graham explained when I was back at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center, doing this is not just a matter of breaking levees and letting the old mix with new. Doing so would create a dead zone in the bay where nothing could live and a lot would die. So it is a painstaking process involving dilution and, well, to be honest, that is where she lost me. However what is important is that the process is in motion and we are returning the shores back to the bay.
Much of my journey today was along the still existing salt ponds between Highway 84 and Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City with an oasis in between called Bedwell Bayfront Park. As I gazed over these salt ponds along Highway 84 I had simultaneous images of The Grand Canyon and the salt flats in Utah, both of which I have gotten up close and personal with. One I didn’t want to leave and the other I couldn’t wait to escape from. The salt flats in Utah seem to go on forever and back in 1991 my good friend Kirk Taber and I kept his 1982 aqua green Honda Civic at a steady 75 mph to hasten our exit from a vast salt desert that seemed to consume us whole. Had we pushed that old Civic any harder I am certain the salt flats really would have consumed us and we would still be out there somewhere. The Grand Canyon, however, is the most amazing and majestic site I have had the privilege to experience. Ask my wife, however, and she might tell you about the squirrels that climbed up my back and had me squirming like a seven year school girl as I attempted to eat lunch.
This morning I looked out at our local salt ponds with their channels, ponds, crystallized canyons and marble patterned shorelines and imagined how it might appear from an ant’s perspective (if it could live there) – massive, infinite and disturbingly beautiful. However about halfway into my hike I came across Bedwell Bayfront Park, a 160 acre peninsula that juts into the bay at Highways 84 and 101. Surrounded by both salt ponds and wetlands, it was teaming with human activity which was not surprising for a late Saturday morning in Menlo Park. Remote airplane and helicopter aficionados flew their contraptions over the lower park lands in the south west corner of the park while amateur radio groups gathered for a convention at the “peak” along the eastern edge with U-hauls and campers decked out with laptops and listening devices connected to massive thirty to forty foot antennae via a spider’s web of cables. As I made for the exit, Team N Training was in the parking lot gearing up for another race while a young girl learned to ride a bike for the first time on a paved section of Bay Trail. The hills here are interlaced with a mix of dirt and paved trails that climb gradually and are easy to navigate. The Bay Trail follows its perimeter at sea level and makes a great training run or long walk.
Today wasn’t all about salt, dead zones, and humans enjoying the park. I did come across a few avian varieties in the channel between the Bay Trail and salt ponds. Present in the trailside channel was a snowy egret, ducks, and, yes, more Canada Geese – and yes, they hissed at me! The only oddball among all of them was a black crested cormorant. Besides the city cormorants who make the eastern span of the Bay Bridge their home, they have been surprisingly sparse in the south bay. However, here was one, resting on a partly submerged orange pylon. It seems that even when surrounded by old salt ponds, life flourishes on the Bay Trail.