With no particular destination in mind, we headed for the Northern California coast. The temperature dropped after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and it seemed that the morning’s fog had just cleared. After rolling through Mill Valley on Highway 1, we set off down a winding road into the valley toward Muir Woods National Monument, not knowing what to expect.
Above all else, we should’ve expected it to be busy. It was a nice Saturday and we arrived after lunch. With some luck, we pulled in past the “lot full” sign and found a glorious “motorcycles only” parking spot. We celebrated this small victory for a moment and were met with more good news at the entrance – our National Parks Pass got us in for free.
Redwood National Park is about 6 hours from where we live, so Muir Woods is a perfect closer-to-home alternative. Tall trees and wide paths led us on a self-guided tour through what is one of the last uncut groves of redwood trees near the San Francisco Bay.
Before the 1800’s, the northern California coast was covered in redwood trees. When the Gold Rush hit California, nearly all of the trees in San Francisco and Oakland were cut down to build the cities. William Kent bought the land that Muir Woods stands on, then donated it to the U.S. government to protect it. Kent was also responsible for introducing the legislation that created the National Park Service. The park is named for John Muir, a writer and conservationist who worked tirelessly to preserve the natural beauty and wilderness of California.
Redwood sorrel covers the ground in bright green shamrock shapes. The varying shades from the moss creeping across the stones on the creek bank to the pale, mint-colored lichen growing on the tree bark was a visual sea of green. My day job requires me to be obsessed with varying textures and colors of fabrics, so wandering around in Muir Woods was truly a sensory overload. From the ropy tree bark and smooth river rocks to the fluffy moss and pillowy mushrooms, I had to exercise restraint to keep from touching anything.
Though it was a cloudy day, when there were bursts of blue sky, the tall trees still shaded the forest floor. According to our park brochure, redwood trees can grow to be 379 feet tall. There are trees in this park that are estimated to be 1000 years old, though most of the tallest trees we saw were 500 to 800 years old. It’s hard to believe that Northern California was covered in trees like this just 200 years ago.
After a few hours wandering the park trail, staring skyward at the treetops and enjoying the fresh air, it was time to head back across the bridge to home.
Words by: Hayley Johnson | Photos by: Nick Johnson