(Throughout the Browns regular season, I join my travel partner, Delta Airlines, in giving our followers a feel for the cities we’ll visit in 2019.)
MILL VALLEY, CA
There is a place where you can feel as tiny as the smallest pebble on Earth.
And there is nothing in the air but peace and stillness and the sound of a pristine stream gurgling against rocks and the strong aroma of giant redwoods.
It is at Muir Woods National Monument, just 30 minutes across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, where the tallest living things on Earth welcome thousands of visitors each day to share their majesty.
San Francisco is loaded with places to visit and things to do, of course, and I’ve experienced some of the obvious over the years. I’ve meandered Fisherman’s Wharf, ferried across the bay to Alcatraz island, ridden cable car to the Buena Vista Café for Irish coffee, and eaten in Chinatown.
But for sheer natural awesomeness, a visit to the redwoods forest tucked on Mount Tamalpais will take your breath away. And that is even before you attempt to hike the trails that can take you to very near the top of these 250-foot skyscrapers created by God.
President Theodore Roosevelt declared Muir Woods a National Monument in 1908. It is named after John Muir, a naturalist who helped establish the National Park system. Some of the redwoods among the 300 acres have stood for over a thousand years. Most are over 500 years old and have survived floods, fires and vigorous logging.
I was late in discovering this natural and national treasure. But it attracts so many visitors world-wide that a parking spot now must be reserved weeks in advance. Locals circumvent the parking restrictions by purchasing season passes or by biking or utilizing the shuttle bus system.
I took the shuttle bus from nearby Sausalito. That is a thrill ride in itself, believe me.
Imagine a city bus filled with passengers scaling a mountainous, narrow, curvy, two-lane road while dodging adventurous bikers who refuse to give an inch. I thought we were tipping over a cliff a couple times, but the skilled drivers have this treacherous course down to a science.
After paying the reasonable $15 admission fee at the visitor’s center, which includes a much-needed map, you can explore the park at different levels – walking the main trail, which is flat and mostly paved or on wooded risers, or breaking off onto rocky trails that go deep and high into the forest.
I would recommend taking a water bottle, but avoid lugging a heavy backpack. Camping or picnicking is not allowed.
You are immediately struck by the quietness of the forest.
Cell phone signals don’t work, so that helps. Although visitation is heavy, especially on weekends, and walking groups tend to continue conversations past the entrance, it doesn’t take long for the clatter to stop. Periodic signs approaching Cathedral Grove remind visitors to keep quiet and “experience the natural sounds of a living, ancient forest.”
The main trail follows Redwood Creek, which is one of the few streams on the Pacific Coast which still habitates coho salmon and steelhead trout. It was pumped nearly dry on my visit for restoration, but a few stretches of the creek had crystal-clear water flowing. I saw a lonely crawfish in the creek at one point.
The main trail can occupy an hour or so. For the adventurous, I recommend branching out to the other trails.
They have varying degrees of hiking difficulty. I wound up on Canopy View Trail, which took me over 200 feet above the park floor. According to my iPhone app, I climbed 38 floors in a 13-minute interval – the equivalent of about 380 feet in elevation.
If you reach the top before passing out, you’ll probably live to 100. I met a group of Browns fans from Akron on this trail and they were perspiring like me, despite the coolness of the forest.
You’d better be good at map-reading if you choose these trails. They all don’t loop back to the main trail. Some venture off into trails through surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park. I got thrown off course when a trail back to the visitor’s center was closed. I had to circle back through other trails. At least it was mostly downhill.
By the time I made it back to the visitor’s center, I was sore and hungry. There is a café available, but I was in the mood for a bigger menu and a glass of wine.
So, after a trip to the gift shop, I made it back to my car via the shuttle bus – closing my eyes at times during the rickety ride – and drove a few miles for dinner at The Trident on the Sausalito waterfront.
There you can view the magnificent San Francisco skyline across the gorgeous San Francisco Bay. It is the most familiar postcard of the Bay Area.
Kind of hard to believe the redwoods have lived so long and so quietly nearby.