Mount Tamalpais and the Untold Story of Its West Peak
North of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge stands Mount Tamalpais. It is a majestic and sacred landmark on the horizon that all locals recognize. But many locals may not have heard its story of war and environmental degradation told in a new documentary, The Invisible Peak.
People often travel to “Mount Tam” for its beautiful vistas and diverse landscapes. When it’s clear visitors can see the Farallon Islands, the Marin County hills, San Francisco, the hills and cities of the East Bay, Mount Diablo, and sometimes even the Sierra Nevada’s snow-covered peaks. Hikers can encounter dark, cool Redwood forests, and hot, dry manzanita slopes on the same day.
Mount Tamalpais’s unique beauty adds a sense of specialness — sacredness — to the place. The Coast Miwok, who have lived in the area for thousands of years, view Mount Tamalpais as their most sacred mountain. Gary Snyder, a writer, environmental activist, and San Francisco native, described the place as a “temple and a teacher, a helper and a friend.” Even the Dalai Lama held an ancient Tibetan ceremony designed to create harmony between people and their environment on its peaks.
The amazing beauty and sacred history of Mount Tamalpais stands in stark contrast to the story of war and environmental degradation told in The Invisible Peak.
In 1951 the military bulldozed Mount Tamalpais’s west peak to put in a radar station and barracks for 300 people. Half a million cubic yards — 32 vertical feet — of the mountain was removed. One of the few habitats for Large Sargent Cypress trees in the Bay Area was destroyed. Mount Tamalpais was permanently disfigured.
Although the military had originally promised to restore the site, it amended its lease agreement with the Marin Municipal Water District in 1955 to remove the requirement to leave Mount Tamalpais in its original state. It was a short-sighted decision that still haunts the site with abandoned power lines, pipes, construction debris, and the skeleton of Cold War structures.
The Invisible Peak raises the call for cleanup. While this may seem like a lofty ambition, there is strong local support to restore Mount Tamalpais’ west peak. In a recent KQED interview, the Marin Municipal Water District expressed its hope to restore the site and “lovingly recreate the geomorphology of the mountain.” People immediately called into the station offering to volunteer.
Today the Marin County Board of Supervisors is considering joining forces with other local, state, and federal agencies to form the Tamalpais Lands Collaborative. Once that is in place, fundraising to restore the west peak can begin in earnest.
The Invisible Peak doesn’t just encourage restoration though; it also sparks a desire to see the landscape first hand. Currently, out of the three million annual visitors to Mount Tamalpais, only a fraction of one percent venture beyond the rusting and intimidating fences surrounding the west peak. But more may be encouraged to do so now. This means that the west peak may live again in the spirits of all who visit.
I’m actually on my way…
Please check out the short documentary below.
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