Strolling the Dry Marshes of Silicon Valley

August 2018 Hiking


The tale

People don’t often associate California with “marshland.” But much of the south end of the South Bay is dedicated to preserving its wetlands.

For more than a week, smoke from forest fires have obscured my view of the Santa Cruz Mountains, so I decided to explore one of the parks that span the indeterminate reach between the water and area-appropriate ads on the 101. Sunnyvale Baylands Park is small — about 70 acres — though it connects to a larger network of area jogging tracks. The park is also flat and mostly paved; I didn’t bother wearing my boots. On this particular morning, it was also cool and overcast. 57°F when I arrived. 64°F when I left.

The entry fee is $6 per car, but I found the entrance booth empty. A sign on the window said they’d open “8am tomorrow.” No one stopped me as I drove in and parked.

There was no map. I didn’t need one. The park was small and open enough to let me see almost every highlight at a glance. There was an open green lawn where people were flying remote controlled airplanes. The Baylands Grove was off to the left. To the north was a raised walkway. I shrugged on my fleece jacked and headed that way.

Years ago, pickleweed was added to the seasonal wetlands as a habitat for the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. On this day I saw more squirrels than nocturnal mice, which were probably sleeping among the scrubby expanses of knee-high succulents.

The wooden walkway ended at an overlook of the (currently dry) wetlands, but I saw more than I expected. Buildings of glass and steel — bits of Silicon Valley — dotted the skyline. As I looked to the south, I spotted my day-job office, a stone’s throw from Levi’s Stadium. A drone buzzed overhead. Wild country, this was not.

Retracing my steps, I found a manicured grove that was dedicated in 1993. Soon after, I found a fenced-off area belonging to Animal Assisted Happiness, whose 1999-era HTML (yes, I’m that kind of geek) doesn’t stop children from getting a few bright moments in otherwise troubled lives. Or so the fliers posted on their fence say.

Also, I found a feather.


Walkway leading to an open field
Walkway leading to an open field.

Some of the paths were paved. Others were not. Either way, it was all level.

Saltlands of the area
Saltlands of the area.

Saltlands of the area are seasonally covered in water. But not this season.

Animal Assisted playland
Animal Assisted playland.

Fun-looking area behind the fences of Animal Assisted Happiness.

I found a feather
I found a feather.

For next time

Maybe come back at sunset on a less hazy day. Might make a pleasant stroll.