Living in the Bay Area for so long I had never heard of this “Water Temple.” The more I read up on it, the more curious I became. And since this park is only open on weekdays, I persuaded the girls to come with me to check it out on the last day of their Spring Break.
This is a new discovery of mine. I only learnt about this monument when I was doing some research on sights to see in and around Hwy 280.
The twins were on Spring Break, and since I thought it might be raining that week, I didn’t make any plans to go anywhere. As it turns out, the week of the twins’ Spring Break was gorgeous. But it was too late to make any last minute travel plans and as their break came to a close decided to take them on a quick “road trip” to see the Pulgas Water Temple.
Pulgas Water Temple
Pulgas Water Temple is a monument that was built in 1938 to commemorate the 24-year water project to bring fresh drinking water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir to San Francisco and the surrounding areas.
Pulgas Water Temple is located about one half of a mile south of the Cañada Road trailhead on the west side of Canada Road off Hwy 280 in Woodside, California. To get to Pulgas Water Temple take Hwy 280 and exit Edgewood Road. Go west towards the mountains. When you reach Edgewood Road turn right and drive down a few miles past Filoli Gardens.
Edgewood Road is a popular biking trail and you see lots of bikes on this road, even families with little kids on their bikes are riding on this scenic drive.
The Story of Pulgas Water Temple
San Francisco built Pulgas Water Temple as a monument to the engineering feat that brought drinking water more than 160 miles across California from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Bay Area.
This water comes from melted snowpack that flows via aqueducts from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir, and then in a tunnel that runs under the southern part of the San Francisco Bay.
The water continues in this tunnel up the San Francisco penninsula passing along the base of the hills just west of Stanford University.
The water finally enters the reservoirs at what is known as the “Water Temple” – which is the Crystal Springs Reservoir & San Andreas Lake.
The Hetch Hetchy Project a modern day Marvel
The Hetch Hetchy Project took 24 years to build through the Great Depression at a cost of $102 million. As quoted on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s web site, “On October 28, 1934, the roar of Hetch Hetchy mountain water greeted everyone gathered at Pulgas Water Temple to celebrate its arrival. With vivid memories of the fire that had raged unchecked after the Great Earthquake of 1906, the city rejoiced in its new secure, plentiful supply of high quality drinking water.”
Pulgas Water Temple and ode to the engineering feat
Pulgas Water Temple is a little park that is gated and only open on weekdays from 9 – 4pm. The park closes at 4pm sharp. There are no markers or signs on the road directing you to this monument. It’s a rather obscure and camouflaged park that you could easily drive past if you weren’t paying attention.
As you enter the park, there is a small parking lot for visitors. There are no park operators or any offices in this park. There is a self-guided trail that leads you to the monument. On the trail are informational boards that explain the local water culture, the source of water, and information on vegetation in and around the Bay Area.
You know what occurred to me after reading the boards on the Ohlone people who are indigenes to the Bay Area? I understand now where the name Ohlone College came from.
The beautiful Pulgas Temple Monument
As you follow this small trail you reach the grand finale – The Pulgas Water Temple. This monument is beautiful. Like a Greek Parthenon complete with a gorgeous water reflecting pool, this is a beautiful monument in honor of our precious resource – water.
According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the fluted columns of this monument were designed intentionally to reflect the architecture of ancient Greeks and Romans whose engineering methods were used to build the new water system.
Pulgas Water Temple was designed in the Beaux Arts style by William Merchant, a San Francisco architect.
Artist and master stone carver Albert Bernasconi brought Merchant’s Greek and Roman style drawings to life. The San Francisco Utilities Commission web site describes the engraving above the column in this way: “The engraving expresses the city’s joyful relief: I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people.”
On a weekday, this park is serene and peaceful. Very few visitors were here on the Friday that we went. We strolled around the monument and grassy area, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of this wonderful little park.
There are multiple educational boards that share details on how fresh drinking water is brought to our area. I found all this to be so informative, and I have newfound respect for the engineers who made this aqueduct possible to provide drinking water to the Bay Area. It is very cool!
I learnt a lot about our local drinking water supply from those educational boards
I’ve stopped by the Crystal Springs Reservoir and San Andreas Lake countless times on my way to Half Moon Bay, but I never knew they store drinking water for San Francisco.
You don’t need much time at the park; it’s very small. I got the impression that this monument is not something that was presented necessarily as a tourist attraction, but rather to pay tribute and to thank the people who worked on the water project.
The objective of this monument is more to honor the engineers, architects, and workforce who designed and built the water system to bring fresh drinking water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way down to our area.
You know how every year the state measures the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains?
I understand now how important that snowpack is to our drinking water supply, as this is the melted snowpack that flows in the aqueducts to the Bay Area.
The Pulga Water Temple park was very enlightening. It gave us new appreciation, and a better understanding of the infrastructure that enables fresh drinking water to arrive in our faucets in our kitchens and baths. This was a fascinating experience for me.
If you have time on a weekday, stop by the Pulgas Water Temple. It’s a fun and enducational excursion to get an idea of how our drinking water is brought to our homes. Here is a link for more information San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
From the Pulgas Temple you can head North on Hwy 280 to check out the Crystal Springs Reservoir and the San Andreas Lake. This area is very scenic and is another popular bike trail.
The Stanford University web site The San Andreas fault and the Bay Area describes the “Water Temple” as the area where the two lakes – San Andreas Lake and the Crystal Springs Reservoir, store fresh mountain drinking water for the city of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area cities. In fact these two lakes are the primary water source for the City of San Francisco.
After visiting this park you can head to Palo Alto and University Avenue where tons of restaurants and cafes line the strip, or head to Stanford Shopping Center, an outdoor mall with flagship stores and restaurants.