One of my favorite images, taken in 2017, captures a person watching the Bay Area sunset from Grizzly Peak. When Photoshop’s new Super Resolution processing brought me back to some of my images from the same vantage in 2013, I was surprised to realized that I had already captured a very similar image. The difference between the burned-out foreground of 2013 and the lush grasses on 2017 is particularly interesting.
While there’s a real island in the distance on the left side of this image (Angel Island, in this case), the steep Grizzly Peak hills and the road over them transform hilltops into “tree islands” like the one on the right.
Grizzly Peak’s superhuman view of the Bay Area seems so inaccessible; that we could drive there (albeit on steep, winding roads) is surreal. The alignment of mundane cars along the ridge seems like a different phase of matter from the glowing roads and epic accomplishments of civil engineering below. I suspect that those mundane cars will become a lot more interesting when I look back at this picture in 30 years.
My time on sabbatical in Berkeley, California ends tomorrow. This has been an incredible experience (scientifically, photographically, and personally); looking out from Grizzly Peak’s incredible view, I feel like everything has aligned properly. Just as was the case last time I left, this grand view of the Bay Area is one I want to remember.
Until next time, California!
Angel Island played a critical role in the history of immigration to the West Coast, but now it’s a nature preserve (free of invasive eucalyptus trees) with only a couple of light-emitting structures at night. This makes the island dark and mysterious at night, as it floats in front of the lights and civilization of Marin.
I often talk about the “civilization gradient:” the distance required to go from high-density urban land all the way to empty, rural space. Depending on when a given area modernized and switched from, say, horses to cars, this distance can vary drastically. In “older” parts of the US, like the east coast, the gradient was largely established by feasible distances for travel by horse. On the west coast, an area largely developed after the advent of the car, this distance is usually much longer. The best exception to this is the Bay Area, where various parks around the “lip” of the Bay’s “bowl” effectively compress the distance.
In today’s photo, the whole array of Bay Area landscape is visible: the forests and trails along the peak, the industrial buildings of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the quasi-sprawl of Berkeley and Emeryville, and the full urban metropolis of San Francisco at the edge of the clouds.
Up here in the Berkeley Hills, the entire Bay Area stretches out on a clear day. In the distance is Piedmont and the Oakland Airport, but I particularly engage with the sense of scale that the preposterously-steep fire trail adds to the image. There’s a space for humans in the sprawl of the East Bay.