Among the ancient trees

My husband and I spent the weekend out in California’s Bay Area, and while it wasn’t his first trip to the area, it was mine. I wanted to find some things to do that would be new for him, and so I polled friends on Facebook for some suggestions. Several friends mentioned Muir Woods, and one used these words: “A few minutes north of there is Muir Woods where you can stare at the bottoms of very big trees.” I thought, “I must go.”

Another friend who lives in the Bay Area cautioned that traffic had been terrible getting to Muir Woods and that several of her out-of-town friends who tried to visit there had given up because of that. But I was determined. After all, how can someone who writes about trees miss out on this opportunity?

We tried for an early start, getting breakfast bagels to eat in the car, and that seemed to make the traffic and parking problem less of an issue. Even in the parking lot, I felt like I was entering an enchanted place.


A tree canopy in the parking lot invites visitors into this enchanted place.

I quickly realized my friend’s comment about staring at the bottoms of these trees was dead on. It’s hard to even imagine the scale, and I post these pictures knowing full well that even the pictures don’t do justice. It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon in person instead of looking at its pictures. Pictures alone cannot convey the majesty of this place.


Looking up at one of Muir Woods’ majestic redwoods

Muir Woods is a national monument, instead of a national park, because the landowners who were donating the land wanted it saved more quickly than national park status would have. William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent bought the land to protect it from logging that wiped out much of the redwood growth in the area, and then they donated it to the federal government, hoping to ensure it would remain unlogged, which it has. The Kents asked that the place be named in honor of John Muir, the great conservationist who played a key role in the National Parks movement. In his letter thanking the Kents, Muir wrote of this place: “This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. You have done me a great honor.”My husband and I only had a few hours to spend here (we ended up staying longer than planned), but I have to agree with Muir. It’s a fantastic place for tree lovers.


Just before the park entrance is a bronze 3D map of the area, complete with a “You are here” star.

It had rained the night before our visit, and the 3D map just before the entrance was covered in “streams” and “lakes.” My husband I wondered if these places on the map matched actual streams and lakes in real life. I forgot to ask any of the rangers, though, but I like to think they reflect reality.

Despite the giant sequoia’s rightful claim of being the largest tree, the redwood is the tallest living thing on the planet. (The sequoia’s claim comes from its girth, not its height.) Redwood trees can grow for thousands of years and reach heights of 200+ feet. The ranger we met told us it was comparable to a 30-story building. Like I said, hard to conceive of a tree that tall, even when you’re standing at the base of it looking up. In addition to its height, the tree’s longevity is difficult to grasp.


An exhibit showing the cross section of a fallen redwood


This tree was born in 909 AD and lived for more than 1,000 years. Markers point to key historical dates during which the tree was alive and thriving.

In a “fiction intersects with real life” moment, this past Saturday’s comic strip Pearls Before Swine showed Goat planning a trip to see a forest of redwoods. Rat refused to come along because of the trees’ longevity. (We didn’t see Goat or PBS‘ creator Stephan Pastis during our visit.) It’s just as well that Rat wouldn’t go see the trees. His ego is big enough without finding out how small the giant redwood’s cone is.


The humble beginnings of the mighty redwood

We wandered around this beautiful place for hours, never completely escaping other people, but finding some trails that would take us away from the main bustle of tourists at the floor of the forest. Going uphill let us look at the middles of these very large trees. We never did get above their tops.


At the base of the forest


Always looking up …


The sun filtered through the tops, but the forest floor was quite chilly.

If you visit, bring layers. The sun doesn’t always reach the forest floor, and it’s considerably cooler there than in the city. We started out with a few layers but had to return to the car for gloves and warmer clothes.

We took the Ocean View trail part of the way up, and that helped us warm up.


To warm up,  escape the crowds and encounter more silence, try the Ocean View trail.

We didn’t have time or energy to get to the “Ocean View” part of the trail at the top, but it was worth taking the trail to see fewer people and more beautiful places along the way, including groves of young redwoods:


Young redwoods growing along the Ocean View trail


My favorite photo from our visit

Photography was tough during our visit, and my husband and I both struggled to find the right settings for great photos. But this picture above is my favorite from our visit, as it reminds me of the beauty and magic of this place.

Have you ever visited Muir Woods or other protected redwood forests? If you have seen redwoods and the giant sequoias, how do they compare? If you’ve never seen either, I encourage you to make the effort to go someday. It’s humbling to walk in places such as this. And for me, I have a new place to add to my list of very favorite places on earth.

3 thoughts on “Among the ancient trees

  1. Beautiful!! I got to share yours and Chris’ trip. Yes, I’ve seen the Redwoods, and I believe I’ve been to Muir Woods. But, that was probably 50 or more years ago. Thanks for sharing your trip to California. E

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