The Marin Headlands – for those who have not seen them

If you have never been to the Marin Headlands, let me attempt to describe them to you. Think of dark red rocks, rich brown soil, green pine needles, and California gold grasses. Opposite the mini-metropolis of San Francisco and across the deep water channel called the Golden Gate (hence the name of the bridge) sits the Headlands, high up on the geologically twisted cliffs that have been grinding, pulling, folding and stacking up for millennia. Slowly, even in geological terms, tectonic forces pushed the hills east and up. Standing next to Battery 129 you can see it with your own eyes, and it is stunning.
But that appeals to the geologist in me. Most people can’t get their eyes off the view. On one side you can view much of the entire Bay Area, fog notwithstanding. The other side, my favorite by the way, you can see as far as your human eyes and the curvature of the Earth will allow.
I’m sure many of you noted words like ‘battery’ and ‘military.’ During World War II, the army dug deep into the hills and created a labyrinth of tunnels and gun emplacements. To keep the Japanese Navy from getting into the Bay, huge guns and squads of soldiers were set up to take advantage of the Headlands’ broad view of the Pacific. They had even planned to blow up the Bridge in order to blockade the Bay. It was a threat that was too real in the minds of those living on the West coast and yet it seems so alien to our thinking today. My mother and grandmother lived in LA at this time. Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my grandmother quit her job, packed up her daughter and moved to Chicago. Just like that. We don’t really understand that fear today, but at the time, such behaviors were not only logical but seemingly necessary.
Today, some of those tunnels are open to the public. Debris from storms and wildlife has taken over. Ferns and redwoods surround concrete passages; water drips down from vines hanging over the stark entrances; and deep pits once meant to swivel the big guns are now pools of fog, mist, and rain. Were it not for the Park Service I suspect our ruins would be similar to those of the Maya: hidden under Mother Nature to be found centuries later. I always liked the comparison, being a lifelong closet Indiana Jones.
Inside Battery 129, people whose motives escape me have spray painted garbage on the tunnel walls. The Park Service has kept up and cleaned or overpainted the damage… with one exception: three Lascaux Horses. Some cleaver artist reproduced the cave paintings in modern media. I first saw them in the early ‘90s so I honestly don’t know how long they’ve been there. I do know that I admire the Park Service for not erasing them.
Such descriptions fail to do the area justice, and no one should be surprised. I offer this information only so that those reading my notes without the advantage of knowing the location can see why it has such an impact on my life. Perhaps it is a call for you to come and visit too.

One thought on “The Marin Headlands – for those who have not seen them

  1. I need to arrange some time for my wife and I to explore some areas like this. It is only about a 4 1/2 hour drive to the east bay for us. Maybe on some of her three day weekends, if the weather will allow us over the pass.

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