I just love it when I come up with a clear, measurable goal to first investigate, and then write about. For instance, I’ve walked to all of Redwood City’s parks, and written about them. More ambitiously, I walked to and through each of Redwood City’s seventeen defined neighborhoods, and then written individual posts about each (except, so far, it’s downtown neighborhood; I write so much about Redwood City’s downtown already that I’m having a hard time working up the energy to write a post that tries to capture the essential character of the area, especially given that it continues to undergo tremendous changes). And I really enjoyed trying to follow Redwood Creek from its source (well, as close as I could get) to where it spills into the bay.
Given the fun — and the challenges — that following Redwood Creek posed, I’ve been meaning for some time to do the same with Cordilleras Creek. Given that I had just written about some of the damages caused when that creek overflowed during our recent storms, this week I decided to trace the rest of the creek by heading upstream towards its starting point, deep in the canyon at the bottom of Pulgas Ridge, and then working my way back down to El Camino Real (beyond which I pretty much covered last week).
For much of its length, Cordilleras Creek basically serves as the border between Redwood City and San Carlos. Unlike with Redwood Creek, Cordilleras is almost entirely open to the sky, only heading underground to pass beneath roadways and the Caltrain tracks. But like Redwood Creek, it can be tricky to follow: much of it is located in the middle of residential blocks, making it visible only to the homes that back upon it. From the street, it really isn’t visible. Thus, when following the creek one has to simply walk down the nearest parallel street, and watch for where it ducks beneath the rare cross street.
Here is a map showing the entire length of Cordilleras Creek:
If you look closely, you’ll see the creek as a blue line flowing from the lower left corner of the map to the upper right corner. For orientation, that red line marking off the upper right corner is Highway 101, and the water just beyond it separates Bair Island (that bit of yellow in the very corner) from the “mainland.” The portion of the map colored in yellow is Redwood City land, while the portion in brown is San Carlos. The bits in gray are unincorporated parts of San Mateo County. Finally, note the dotted line that lays over much of the creek; that dotted line delineates the boundaries of Redwood City.
My home — from which I begin nearly all of my walks — stands close to Sequoia Hospital. On the above map, my home is about dead center, left-to-right, and about a quarter of the way up from the bottom (If you are following along, look for a small patch of green; that is Dove Beeger park, directly across Whipple Avenue from Sequoia Hospital). As you can see, I had to walk well into the unincorporated part of the county in order to follow the creek. I actually did this by walking up behind the hospital and following Upland Road to the north. Upland dead-ends at a gate, but pedestrians like myself can go past that gate and cross over onto Upland Court. Following Upland Court, I came to Cordilleras Road, which I followed south and then west to where it comes out onto Edgewood Road, just a few blocks down from the entrance to Edgewood Park.
To that point, the walk was easy; although Cordilleras Road does not have sidewalks beyond Canyon Road, the traffic on that street is relatively light, and so by keeping alert I felt quite safe. No so when I got to Edgewood Road, however: that street, as you likely well know, not only has no sidewalks in that area, but also has plenty of fast-moving traffic. And I not only needed to make my way to the entrance to Edgewood Park, but I then had to cross over and head a short way up Crestview Drive. From Crestview I turned left onto Edmonds Road, and followed it as far as I could: past the entrance to the Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve and all nearly all the way to the end of the street.
If you look closely at the map I shared earlier, it appears that Cordilleras Creek doesn’t begin on the other side of Edgewood Road (which is the white line that roughly follows the creek in the map’s lower-left quadrant). That map, at least in this respect, is wrong. Here is a different map, showing a closer look at the true origins of Cordilleras Creek (you may want to click on this one to get a version you can zoom in on):
As you can see, the creek originates deep within the green portion of the map, north of Edgewood Road; in the heart of the Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve. As for me, though, I only made it as far as that white blob near the middle of the map, where a couple of interesting things are located. The largest is the one that kept me somewhat hesitant from proceeding much farther: the Cordilleras Mental Health Center. Normally I might have pushed on, but the center is halfway through being completely rebuilt, and there was a great deal of construction activity:
This place has a great deal of history: in 1952 the county built a hospital for tuberculosis patients on this spot. Years later, it became a 117-bed psychiatric facility serving mentally ill residents. Those 117 beds are split between two separate treatment programs: a locked 68-bed Mental Health Rehabilitation Center (MHRC) and a 49-bed Adult Residential Facility (ARF). The latter is not locked, incidentally; patients of that program are pretty much free to come and go (unlike those in the MHRC, of course).
In 2014 the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors accepted a feasibility study for the replacement of the three-story facility, which was by then quite old and getting hard to maintain. Using Measure A bond funds, the project soon got underway. It was supposed to be completed by the Winter of 2019/2020, but, thanks to the pandemic, I presume, it still has some way to go.
The new center will consist of four relatively small residential structures plus a large central campus center (that’s the building you see in the above picture). In total the center will have space for 80 MHRC patients, plus 57 in the ARF. A handy sign near the entrance to the center shows how the buildings will be laid out:
In addition to the Mental Health Center, there are two other facilities located on this nearly 20-acre parcel. One is what you can just make out to the left of, and beyond, the main building:
This smaller building with the turquoise metal roof — which you can identify in the map on the sign I showed earlier — is San Mateo County Fire Station #18. Beyond that — and not visible — is the Canyon Oaks Youth Center, a residential treatment facility addressing the needs of youth who have experienced significant trauma. The Youth Center not only works to support their health and recovery, but also acts as a community school (grades 7-12) offering vocational classes.
Getting back to Cordilleras Creek, it flows through this canyon in a fairly natural state:
The above is how it looks as it approaches Edgewood Road. The creek ducks under that street, just west of Crestview Drive, and reemerges to then make its way through the entrance area to Edgewood Park. From there, it parallels Edgewood Road on the south side until it reaches Cordilleras Road, where it ducks beneath the street and emerges on the north side of Cordilleras Road. As it goes, you’ll not be surprised to learn, it picks up additional volume, fed in large part by culverts and pipes draining water from the many adjacent private properties:
I find the homes along Cordilleras Road to be fascinating. There are a number of new, modern homes, as you’d expect for a Bay Area neighborhood. But there is apparently some great history here as well. I need to dig into this further, but the area was originally developed, I believe, with weekend cabins and camps for folks living in San Francisco. Thus, you get places like this one, at 2007 Cordilleras Road, that apparently was constructed in 1928 (and clearly has been well kept up):
Here’s another terrific little place that surely was built as a cabin of some sort:
It is a relative newcomer, it seems, having been built in 1935…
Cordilleras Road, as you may know, starts and ends at Edgewood Road. At its eastern terminus, the creek — which has faithfully followed Cordilleras Road on the northern side for the entire length of the street — ducks beneath Edgewood Road and then heads northwest, very roughly following Edgewood Road out to Alameda de las Pulgas. Where the creek crosses Edgewood itself is a bit hard to see unless you really look for it: the bushes are quite thick. But head east and turn onto Scenic Drive (which is a signal), and you’ll get a nice view of the creek on the west side:
From here Cordilleras Creek runs well behind a number of houses, so you have to take it on faith that the creek is still there, all the way out to Alameda. There, too, you really have to do a bit of looking to actually find the creek. On the west side of the street, the place where it crosses under is behind a fence:
The east side is even worse; thick vines cover the fence there, making it very difficult indeed to get any glimpse of the creek:
From here, to follow the creek I could have used either Edgewood Road or Eaton Avenue: it runs between them. However, it is somewhat closer to Eaton than to Edgewood, so I opted to follow that street. Unless you have better eyes than me, though, you won’t be able to see the creek again until it crosses beneath Warwick Street, which is quite a ways down from Alameda de las Pulgas:
At least here you can get a clear view of the creek. Looking over that low wall in the above picture, I was interest to note that someone apparently lost a fair amount of good firewood to the creek:
Incidentally, while I was making my way along Eaton Avenue towards Warwick, I noticed one rather massive consequence of our recent heavy rains:
How lucky can you get? From the looks of things, the tree completely missed the house, and only took out a section of fence. It could have so easily smashed a good part of that two story house!
In case you, like me, were wondering what the tree looked like prior to falling, thanks to Google Earth I can show you:
Beyond Warwick, the creek runs between Eaton Avenue (in San Carlos) and Finger Avenue (in Redwood City). I continued down Eaton until I reached El Camino Real, before returning along Finger Avenue. Sadly, you can’t see much of the creek until you get very close to El Camino Real. If you are willing to walk to the back of the parking lots beside a couple of the businesses on Eaton Avenue near El Camino Real, though, a peek through the bushes will give you a glimpse of the waters, which of course were still flowing nicely:
At El Camino proper you can see the creek easily enough if you are a pedestrian. It crosses beneath the street right about where the “City of San Carlos” sign (in the street’s center median) is located:
Since just across the street (and over the tracks) is the portion of Redwood City’s Centennial neighborhood that I covered in last week’s post, on this walk I stopped following the creek here and started back home along Finger Avenue.
Finger is uniquely interesting in that it has some of Redwood City’s very newest housing as well as what just may be Redwood City’s old remaining single-family home (it was built in 1855, although it has been added on to since). The newest housing I have written about before; it is the recently completed twelve-unit townhouse complex at the corner of El Camino Real and Finger Avenue, where the old Mountain Mike’s Pizza building once stood:
As for (what may be) the oldest house, I’ve tried to photograph it for years, but the fact that it is located far back on a very deep lot (all of the lots on the north side of Finger Avenue reach all the way to the creek and are extremely deep), plus the fact that the property is heavily wooded makes for a difficult time, photography-wise:
You’ll have to take my word for it; the house at 90 Finger Avenue is back there (on the right).
While here, I should also mention this home across the street and a couple of doors down:
This particular home, which was built in 1912 at 127 Finger Avenue, was designated as a historic landmark by the Redwood City Council in 2018. Unfortunately, as you can probably tell, the home was almost completely gutted by a raging fire back in 2021. The home was deemed not to be salvageable and thus was removed from the city’s list of historic landmarks. And now, as observant readers might be able to tell from the sign on the fence, the building is slated to be torn down and replaced by an all-new home from our old friends at TJ Homes…
That about does it for Cordilleras Creek. I can recommend much of the walk, although I would strongly caution anyone from following the portion out along and across Edgewood Road on foot. If you are inclined to investigate the creek’s source, consider parking in the Pulgas Ridge parking area and walking in from there. Otherwise, even through there are no sidewalks, as long as you remain alert to the presence of the occasional automobile, the walk along Cordilleras Road is quite pleasant, as is the stroll down Eaton Avenue. Oh, and if you want to continue on beyond El Camino and do the walk in a single go (rather than in two separate sections, as I ended up doing), be prepared to walk all along El Camino from Finger down to Whipple Avenue. Then, cross El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks, and walk all the way back to just past “F” Street. You’ll then need to follow F to G Street, and take that street out to Industrial Way. From there, after looking at where the creek passes beneath Industrial, you’ll need to follow Industrial back to Whipple Avenue and follow that street over Highway 101 (being very careful; you have to cross a couple of freeway on- and off-ramps). Next, cross over E. Bayshore and follow that street to your left (what you might consider to be north). Get on the bike path, and use it to parallel Highway 101 up to where you’ll see the creek passing beneath you. It heads out onto Bair Island, but at this point you can consider yourself at its end.
Because I did the walk in pieces and added in some detours (I’m always doing that) I wasn’t able to clock the entire distance, but I worked it out using Redwood City’s GIS (Geographic Information System) tool, and it seems that the one-way walk from the Cordilleras Mental Health Center out to where the creek dumps into Bair Island is just about 5.75 miles. Of course, if you have to walk to the starting point and then walk back from the ending point, you pretty much have to double that… I do think it’s worth it, though.
Redwood City’s Summer Activity Guide just landed in my mailbox. If you get one, do check it out: there are a tremendous number of interesting activities going on in the city this summer. Personally, I always begin with the back cover, which lists the concert schedule for both Music in the Park and Sounds of the Shores (the schedule for Music in the Square isn’t included in the printed guide, but never fear: those concerts will run every Friday from June 2 through September 1, after a kick-off fundraiser on May 19). In the event your guide doesn’t make it to your place of residence, or in case it gets recycled before you get a chance to study it, the guide is of course also available online, at https://www.redwoodcity.org/departments/parks-recreation-and-community-services/activities-programs/activity-guide.