Having passed the half-century mark myself, I was recently privileged to view some trees that are a lot older than I am. The old-growth, coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument range mostly from 500 to 800 years in age, with the oldest tree being at least 1,200 years old. (We didn’t notice which tree WAS the oldest on our recent afternoon tour.)
These aren’t the drive-through redwoods: you have to go farther inland to see those tremendously wide trees. But the beautiful quality of light streaming through the umbrella-like upper branches of the trees in Muir Woods more than repaid the effort it took to get there. Actually, it took considerable effort: first, we had to rent a car and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we’d driven the curvy roads to the monument itself, we were dismayed to realize that a lot of other folks had had the same idea. Not only were the smallish official lot AND the large overflow parking lot full, but parking on the shoulder of the road went on for more than half a mile past the parking lot itself. In the end, our car was parked nearly a mile from the official lot.
But it was still a golden afternoon–golden and green. The weather was amazingly temperate in the woods: sunny without making us hot, breezy without making us cold. Despite the number of visitors, we never felt crowded as we slowly walked along the old trails, frequently pausing to look up at the branches above us. My youngest son was delighted when, near the end of the main loop trail, we noticed a cluster of people quietly watching some activity on the wooded area above the trail. Sure enough, a doe and her fawn were placidly eating, undisturbed by the audience they were attracting.
My husband wisely advocated that we take the Hillside Trail, which seemed less popular with the masses. Although it was not suitable for strollers, we saw a couple of men with two toddlers and a large stroller, gamely tackling the steep dirt paths. My sympathies were with the young kids, who were actually helping one of the men lift the stroller over some roots; for whatever reason, the other man was not helping at all. On the Hillside Trail, we found a couple of trees with an opening large enough to stand in. Leafy ferns and thick patches of enormous clover bordered the paths, and, again and again, we marvelled at the glorious quality of the light streaming through the leaves and all around us.
If I lived in San Francisco, I would try to visit the Muir Woods often. There were trails that we did not have time to take: Muir Beach, where we stopped to eat a picnic lunch, is not far away, and one tantalizing trail led to a vista of the sea. Evidently, it rains quite a bit in the Muir Woods in the winter, but my husband thought even that would be something to see. For now, we will treasure our memories of a quiet walk through the gentle giants of coastal California.