Wednesday, July 02, 2008

California: Muir Woods

Welcome to the next installment in the continuing saga about our trip to California. :)

As I mentioned in my last California-related post, after sleeping in the Sofitel feather bed, we woke up a little grossed out and with terrible backaches on the Friday of our vacation. Despite the lack of a good night's sleep, we left the hotel fairly early in the morning and headed north towards Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods is basically a forest of gigantic Coastal Redwoods just north of San Francisco in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It was named after John Muir, an author/scientist who was widely considered one of the first people to promote the preservation of nature in the U.S.

While Muir Woods was only about 40 miles away from our hotel, it seemed like it took forever to get there. I think part of it was just the anticipation of getting to see and drive over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time! We saw signs for the bridge as soon as we hit downtown, but actually getting through downtown was kind of a nightmare with all of the crazy city traffic. When we finally got our first glimpse of the bridge we were both just astounded at is sheer size. No pictures or television news stories (like GMA's recent feature on the bridge as their 6th Wonder of America) could prepare us for this magnificent architectural marvel. It was completely astounding. Although Chad was a little nervous about driving across, he didn't freak out like many of his scared-of-heights relatives would have done, so I was very proud of him.

After crossing the bridge and winding through some crazy hairpin turns for about another 20+ minutes, we arrived at Muir Woods, only to find that the place was already completely packed with people. We drove through three full parking lots before parking on the road almost a mile from the entrance. When we finally made it back to the main gate into the park, I was a little overwhelmed by the crowds--especially by the many groups of small children who were on school field trips. It was so chaotic I was a little worried that the forest wouldn't even be enjoyable! We bought our tickets and a map and rushed through the gates to escape the crowds, and after leaving the masses behind things were a lot more peaceful.

Muir woods itself might be the only place on our vacation that I didn't take way too many pictures. When I uploaded that second set of pictures last night, I found that I was actually a little disappointed that I didn't have more shots that reflected how massive these trees really are! I think I captured the towering height of the trees pretty well, but many of them are not nearly as skinny as they look in this picture! Walking amidst these incredibly gigantic and incredibly old specimens of nature was fascinating. If it weren't for the plethora of tourists (which thankfully thinned out a lot once we walked a little way from the entrance), I think that Muir Woods would be one of the most serene and peaceful places on the planet.

Since Chad and I are all about activity on our vacations, we made our way towards the trail heads and started hiking up a path that lead away from Muir Woods and into Mt. Tamalpais State Park. It was a beautiful hike up the mountain, and because the trail was a "moderate to difficult" one, we didn't pass many people going either way, which was nice. It was challenging enough that we got really hot going uphill, even in the shade of the tall trees! The weather was so much warmer than we anticipated. We took about an hour and a half to hike about 3 miles up the Bootjack Trail to a parking/picnic area, and then after a snack and a short break we started back down the mountain on a different path. We stopped by a ranger station on the way down, and Mr. Ranger recommended taking a old fire road back to the trail we were looking for, which Chad was guessing would eventually run right into the road where our car was parked. We were kind of disappointed in Mr. Ranger's directions at first, since walking on the old road wasn't nearly as scenic as walking on the wooded trails. However, when we came to the clearing where the road and trail met, we happened upon this gorgeous view of the ocean and the city--the most beautiful view we'd seen all day. For the second time on our trip, getting slightly off our intended path turned out to be a good thing in the end!

We hiked through a few other beautifully wooded areas on the way down, but much of the path we took was completely exposed to the abnormally hot sun. Since we hadn't anticipated the heat and the lack of shade, we ended up being hot, exhausted and a little sunburned by the time our hike was over. According to the trail map, we went about 8 miles total. Thankfully, Chad's excellent map reading skills led us back to the exact spot on the road where our car was parked! He was quite the impressive navigator!

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