A few months ago, I felt the need to get out of the city, to explore, and wander a bit. It is possible to have more than enough of San Francisco. Enough of the honking, enough of the smells of the city, enough of the pushing and shoving on the bus, and enough of the fog.
I escaped north up Highway 101 (or “the 101” as Californian’s call it), and I spent a nice, warm, fog-less Saturday in Sonoma. I saw the old Mission right off Sonoma’s town square and stopped at Gundlach Bundschu winery for a few sips and a little ambience. On the way back to San Francisco, I decided to push off the hustle and bustle of the city a bit longer when I saw the exit sign on the highway for Muir Woods.
That makes it sound like I made a quick stop and was back on my way in a matter of moments. Getting to Muir Woods is nothing like that. There’s no easy in and out. The drive in is slow and incredibly winding and beautiful. I knew for sure that after spending the afternoon wine tasting I didn’t want to be driving back out on those roads in the dark after sunset. So the remaining light of the day was my deadline.
Muir Woods is named for John Muir, the pioneering scientist, naturalist, and environmental advocate. It’s hard to imagine a man more identified with the natural beauty of Northern California. He’s practically the patron saint of the Bay Area and Yosemite, and rightly so.
Muir lobbied tirelessly for the creation of the the national park system during his lifetime and the protection of Yosemite. He struggled to accomplish this despite his growing fame and recognition, until the tide finally turned and he received this letter from then President Theodore Roosevelt. The letter asked Muir to accompany the President to Yosemite. I love Muir’s hand written response.
That camping trip made all the difference and shortly thereafter brought about the federal protection that Muir sought, the national parks that we know today. Below is a video clip (11:41 min) from Ken Burn’s National Parks documentary about Muir and Roosevelt’s camping trip.
Click to see a clip (11:41 min) about Muir and Roosevelt’s camping trip.
“I had a perfectly glorious time with the President and the mountains. I never before had a more interesting, hearty, and manly companion. I stuffed him pretty well regarding the timber thieves and the other spoilers of the forest.”
-John Muir on Theordore Roosevelt
If you’re visiting the area and trying to fit Muir Woods into an already packed itinerary in the Bay Area, consider adding it at the end of your day, instead of the beginning. Even though it was spring break season, the last couple hours of the day in Muir Woods were pretty quiet (and free!) — not too many other people underfoot and plenty of moments alone amid the trees.
It was so empty that when I decided I wanted a picture of myself I couldn’t find anyone else around to take it. So I propped my camera up on the wood railing and set the self-timer to take my own picture. That’s why I’m kneeling to get into the frame!
How’s that for a little perspective on just how big the tree trunks really are.
Have you ever been to Muir Woods? Was it as quiet and peaceful as my visit, or were you packed in among throngs of other tourists?
P.S. – I haven’t been to Yosemite yet, but I can’t wait to go! It’s high on my Bay Area Bucket List.
- You can read more from the collection of John Muir’s letters from Calisphere.
- Here’s a little bio of Muir from PBS’s National Parks website. If you haven’t watched Ken Burn’s documentary called The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I highly recommend it! It may be his best yet. It’s available for streaming on Netflix.