Jess Blumensheid
Writer | Editor | Nomad

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The Marin Headlands

Many favor the region north of the Golden Gate Bridge for its expansive panoramas and stylish Sausalito, with its bustling sidewalk cafes, high-traffic bike lanes and multimillion-dollar hillside manses. But beyond the minivan-laden vista points on Conzumel Road is a majestic and even mysterious landscape of rolling hills, hidden fortresses and steep coastal mudstone trails that lead to intimate beaches. 

The Marin Headlands is a 2,100-acre reserve where the fog is thick and cool and distant sounds waver from the 150-year-old Point Bonita Lighthouse. Formerly the land of the Miwok and Ohlone people, the Headlands were later acquired by the government for military training from 1776 to the Cold War. What remains is a sprinkling of eucalyptus- and oak-shaded swaths that house the white Endicott buildings, named after the 10th-century secretary of war William C. Endicott and recognizable by their antiquated charm, rusty-red roofs and breezy porches. Some are still used today to house the Marin Headlands Hostel and Center for the Arts, where an artist-in-residency program features about 45 from around the world each year.

Dark fortress tunnels lead to an intricate system of trails lined with grassy fields of coyote brush and fennel, and cliffside paths cut into the native radiolarian chert rock that during dry seasons has a copper-toned hue. The descent down the steep cliffside Upper Fisherman's trail follows an enchanting footpath peppered with yellow blossoms and fierce-looking poison oak that disperses like varicose veins. Seagulls swarm above the calm waves, which can be heard crashing against giant rock formations jutting out of the water as you approach the trail's final curve. Even on the foggiest of days, the dark, coarse sand absorbs the sun's heat, making for a peaceful resting place popular among hikers and the occasional nude bather. 

Most majestic of all is the 19th-century Point Bonita Lighthouse, a hidden landmark that is connected to the main headlands by a half-mile sea cliff trail comprised of wooden bridges, carved rock tunnels and 306-foot drop-offs into the ocean. Sailboats and large cargo vessels can be seen gliding in the distance as beastly falcons cut through the dense fog like a knife in butter. All is quiet but the sound of the crashing waves and  the house's despondent fog horn that drones every 30 seconds. It is the resonating sigh of this otherwise soft-spoken landscape. The punctual ohm of an introvert deep in thought. An astute whisper that beckons you to listen.