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In September 2022, I took my twenty-third bike ride on my quest to travel 350 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail (those miles completed so far of the total of 500 miles planned), this time riding along the west shore of the Tiburon peninsula and east edge of Richardson Bay, at the north end of San Francisco Bay, following Bay Trail Map 24.
Tiburon has an elevation of 13 feet with a population of 9,000. Tiburon means “shark” in Spanish.
This Bay Trail ride began at the north end of Tiburon, at a place called Blackie’s Pasture where a bronze statue commemorates a horse that once lived here, known to all locals. The parking lot nearby, along Brunini Way, has lots of spaces.
The Bay Trail has a few names here, including the Tiburon Peninsula Historical Trail and the Old Rail Trail.
The Tiburon Historical Trail is a joint project of the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society and runs between Blackie’s Pasture and the Donahue Depot in downtown Tiburon.
The Old Rail trail was formerly a railroad bed carrying San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad freight trains along the shore to the ferry terminal where freight cars were transported by ferry to San Francisco. Information boards (a/k/a interpretive signs) along the trail share the town’s railroad history with photographs of then and now as well as Blackie’s story:
“For 28 years, all leaving from or returning to Belvedere or Tiburon passed a swaybacked horse named Blackie grazing in his pasture. Blackie was a former cavalry horse later used as a cutting horse at rodeos, appearing in the Salinas, California rodeo.” His owner, Anthony Connell, retired Blackie at age 12 to his private pasture here at the corner of Tiburon Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road.
A copper plaque mounted on a stone in the field commemorates Blackie’s life from 1926 to 1966 and says, “Blackie, our beloved sway-backed horse stood in this pasture for 28 of his 40 years. Children honored his preference for carrots and apples. You could not pass by without looking for Blackie, and, when you found him, you invariably smiled.”
A narrow creek flows along the north border of Blackie’s pasture. Nearby, a train trestle crossed Tiburon Boulevard for 84 years until it was torn down in 1968.
The Tiburon Peninsula extends south with Richardson Bay to its west. Richardson Bay, like many of the small named Bays in the area, is actually an extension of the San Francisco Bay.
The Bay Trail takes a cyclist – or a pedestrian – through Richardson Bay Park along the west edge of Tiburon. It continues alongside Tiburon Boulevard, ending at Tiburon’s ferry terminal and Point Tiburon Shoreline Park.
Marin County is a great supporter of biking. There is a bike repair station set up on the east side of Richardson Bay Park. Fun fact: A local claims the mountain bike was invented in Marin County.
An additional portion of the Bay Trail planned but not completed will extend northeast from the ferry terminal past Lyford Cove and Keil Cove and then north along the eastern edge of the Bay along Paradise Drive past Paradise Cove. Paradise Drive leads back north to Corte Madera.
Imagine the Tiburon peninsula as a large oven mitt with one thumb pointing to the right. Where the thumb sticks out (into Richardson Bay), it’s Belvedere Island, joined to the peninsula by a few land connectors with roads going over them.
One can see residences built along the north and western edges of Richardson Bay. In 1957, a development plan was thwarted by concerned local residents. The development of thousands of homes would have been built on landfill filling in the Bay. Today the 900 acres of Richardson Bay waters are protected by the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary for the thousands of wintering birds and other wildlife that call this place home.
Waterbirds frequenting this area include the Ruddy, Bufflehead and Greater Scaup ducks, the American Coot (black with blue feet), the Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Elegant Tern, snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron.
The sanctuary is closed to all watercraft from October 1st to March 31st each year to protect tens of thousands of these migrating waterbirds. Depending on the time of year, the Surf Scoter and Greater Scaup travel north to Alaska and Canada; the Elegant Tern, Black Oystercatchers, and Greater Scaup head south towards Baja California; the Elegant Tern and Brown Pelican fly into western Mexico; and the Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe head east across the southern United States and northern Mexico.
Interpretive signs along the trail tell us “The tide levels determine where each animal inhabits the rocky shore” along Richardson Bay. These creatures include clams, cockles, ghost shrimp, marine worms, limpets, barnacles, rock louse, native oysters, mussels, periwinkles, mud crabs, lined shore crabs, and sideswimmers.
During low tide, crustaceans living in the mudflats and rocky shore seek refuge in rocky crevices and small pools of water under the rocks. Mollusks close their “doors” or cling to rocks.
Interpretive signs share that “below the surface of Richardson Bay lie lush eelgrass meadows. This vital habitat provides refuge for a variety of fish and crustaceans.”
“Richardson Bay is the most important location in the San Francisco Bay for Pacific herring, which is a critical food source for Bay wildlife during the winter months. Herring rely on eelgrass blades to lay their roe (eggs) and form an essential link in the Richardson Bay food web.” The herring spawn ten to fifteen times per winter.
Osprey dive down from above to catch fish here. Leopard sharks, a small shark often seen along the Bay shoreline, hunt for small fish and crustaceans. Pacific harbor seals hang out here in pursuit of the herring and other fish. Bat stingrays forage for small fish, worms, and mollusks. Flocks of waterbirds feed here at low tide.
Following the Bay Trail south through Richardson Bay Park, one has a choice of staying along the water or riding slightly inland on higher ground.
Choosing to stay near the water, I could see a hill ahead, which is Belvedere Island, extending west from the Tiburon Peninsula and linked to the peninsula at the north and south end by one road.
On the day of my ride, the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, cloaked in fog, peeked up over the Sausalito hills on the western edge of Richardson Bay.
Two miles south of Blackie’s Pasture, the Bay Trail/Old Rail Trail splits. One branch goes off to the right onto Belvedere Island along the water, while the left branch follows Tiburon Boulevard south towards downtown Tiburon and its ferry terminal. I followed San Rafael Street to the right, then right again onto West Shore Road around Belvedere Island to its tip. There were many homes on West Shore Road built at the edge of the water with their front porches extending out on the water like floating pontoons that raised and lowered with the tide.
I rode along West Shore Road almost to Peninsula Point, hoping to continue around and cross back to Tiburon from that side along Belvedere Cove. However, before the Point, the road was closed by a cinder block wall. I turned back until I came to the other branch of the Bay Trail (a/k/a Old Rail Trail) and headed south to downtown Tiburon.
One flagstop station for the Northwest Pacific Railroad was the Hilarita station, serving the Hilarita Dairy. This community was situated where the Bay Trail branches between Belvedere Island and downtown Tiburon.
The dairy was named for Hilarita Reed Lyford, whose parents, Hilaria Sanchez and John Thomas Reed, received the property as a Mexican land grant in 1834. This Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio grant covers all of the Tiburon Peninsula, Belvedere Island, and some of Mill Valley nearby.
In 1942, the U.S. Navy built temporary housing in Tiburon for service personnel and their families. The Navy personnel worked at the Navy Net Depot, which built and repaired anti-submarine nets used to protect the Golden Gate. Similar to a boom which blocks the waterway for surface ships, but below the water surface, a net was placed across the mouth of the Golden Gate, between San Francisco and Marin County during World War II. Net-laying ships placed and removed the nets. The U.S. Navy used these nets throughout the Pacific to protect major naval bases.
Submarine nets were first used in World War I after the first submarines went into use. The most extensive use of these nets during that war was the Dover Barrage, which spanned the English Channel and was considered a very effective deterrent against foreign submarines. The former net depot in Tiburon is now the Romberg Tiburon Environmental Center.
At 5.1 miles down the Bay Trail from Blackie’s Pasture, in downtown Tiburon, I came upon a turnoff to the right to Historic Ark Row, which is a short, narrow, cute street with many shops and restaurants. Worth a visit another day.
I continued along Tiburon Boulevard to its intersection with Del Mar and had a picnic lunch at Point Tiburon Shoreline Park. No bikes are allowed on the sidewalk in this area; one has to stay in the street. This was the end of this section of the Bay Trail.
From Point Tiburon Shoreline Park, at the southernmost tip of the Tiburon peninsula, Angel Island sits large and close across Raccoon Strait. One ferry will take you across the water to Ayala Cove on Angel Island, where you can circumnavigate the island on a combination of paved and hard-pack dirt roads and trails.
The ferry Ukiah was built in the Tiburon railroad yards and took her maiden voyage in January 1891. She could carry 4,000 passengers and 16 loaded freight cars. 291 feet long and 78 feet wide, she was one of the largest ferryboats in the world.
After 83 years carrying trains pulled first by wood-burning (steam) and later oil-burning and diesel engines, the last ferry discharged eight freight cars in September of 1967. Tiburon, a railroad town, was retiring to a new life. As noted above, the former railroad bed is now the multipurpose path used for the Bay Trail and Old Rail Trail.
The Donahue Depot, the terminus of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad, was visible not far from my park bench. Peter Donahue, its owner and railroad visionary, built the railroad in the 1880’s. Three tunnels were blasted out of local hills. Trainload after trainload of ballast filled in the marshes between here and San Rafael to the north.
A deepwater anchorage was left to allow the large ferryboats to carry their heavy cargo of train cars and passengers coming off of the trains. A huge framework known as “the gallows frame” lifted the apron of the pier to allow the railcars to be pushed onto the waiting ferries headed for San Francisco.
Not far from where I had lunch, I approached a waterside restaurant (the Caprice, I think) with an interesting old wooden pier extending into the water. The end of the pier was round, encircling Elephant Rock sticking out of the water. From the pier there were nice views of Angel Island and better views of the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Some spectacular views of the Golden Gate and its iconic fog blanket are seen from this portion of the Bay Trail.
From the Tiburon ferry terminal, you can also take the ferry to the San Francisco waterfront. An alternate way to reach this portion of the Bay Trail would be to take the ferry in the reverse direction to Tiburon from San Francisco’s Pier 41 or the Ferry Building. Or you could start with the ferry from Oakland (which validates for free parking near Jack London Square), ride to San Francisco, and pick up a second ferry from there to Tiburon. The Tiburon ferry will pass very close to Alcatraz Island traveling to and from the San Francisco waterfront, although Alcatraz is not visible from Tiburon, as Angel Island is a very large island and blocks the view.
From one of several park benches here, I saw a harbor seal, bobbing its head out of the water near the shore. Harbor seals are abundant along the California coast and one of the most commonly sighted marine mammals in and around the San Francisco Bay. They are the smallest earless seals living off our coast. Adults average 100 to 300 pounds and grow 5 to 6 feet in length.
There are approximately 46,000 harbor seals living in California waters. Their diet consists of whatever is locally and seasonally abundant – including small fish, squid, and crustaceans. Harbor seals spend a great deal of time hauled out on rocky outcrops or beaches. They rarely stray more than five miles from a haul-out site. Typically, their fur is light grey in color. However, around San Francisco, approximately 40% of harbor seals have rust-colored fur resulting from iron oxide on their hair shafts.
Locals commented that it was very windy this day. Riding south, I felt a strong cold wind behind me. I wore my mauve brushed-cotton shirt, buttoned up, the whole time. I figured the wind would be at my back returning north, providing some relief. Instead, it was twice as strong as I rode north at the end of the day, whipping up white caps on the water. On my return ride, I could see Mount Tamalpais looming in the distance.
Once back at Blackie’s Pasture and Richardson Bay Park, I rode along a bicycle/pedestrian cut-through on the northwest side of the parking lot, but the path ended quickly. This curve gave me a nice view looking back east across Richardson Bay towards Belvedere Island and the park on the left.
The Bay Trail website says the Tiburon Bay Trail has some of the most beautiful shoreline the Bay Trail has in the regional nine-county system. I can tell you that views from other sections of the Trail can compete, especially since half of the ride along Tiburon Boulevard has no view of the shoreline.
My total ride was 8.82 miles, about half of which were return miles. My odometer had reached 309 miles. Cycling time was about two and a half hours. This was another great ride with unexpected history and more spectacular views.
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Funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners:
Tiburon Peninsula Foundation; Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society; Audubon California; Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary; Tiburon Peninsula Foundation; the Old Rail Trail.
Information sources: S.F. Bay Trail website, Map 24; interpretive exhibits (information boards) along the Bay Trail; Google searches; Wikipedia; Wikipedia – Tiburon ; Tiburon Peninsula Foundation; The Old Rail Trail ; the Ferry Depot Museum; the Navy Net Depot in Tiburon; anti-submarine nets