by Kate Dernocoeur, guest blogger
If you’re smart, you arrive when the park opens at 8 a.m., before the tour buses. You make your way under the welcome arch by the Visitor Center and into the Muir Woods while you can still feel the hush. This small redwood forest lies in a narrow valley just 11 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, just off Highway 101. It was named in honor of famed naturalist John Muir by William and Elizabeth Kent who “purchased the land to preserve its beauty and restful wilderness; and in 1908, they donated it to the federal government to protect it from destruction,” according to the National Park Service’s website.
And indeed, this place is both beautiful and restful. As you meander along the valley floor on the handicap-accessible trail, the woods hover in a grand way above you, at the redwoods—the tallest living things in the world—begging you to look up. Some are as tall as 37-story skyscrapers.
Of course, this is a place for photography. The light and the trees and the people—all rich in visual depth and interest. Sometimes, photographers seemed more interested in the people than the natural setting, capturing the joy of others as they gaze at the scene.
Everywhere along the path, people pose for their friends next to these amazing, giant trees. My friend, Alison Taggart, is a volunteer photographer for the National Park Service. She loves to capture the wide range of visitors to the park. Sometimes, they capture pictures of her!
There are six miles of trails in the Muir Woods. A few of the options include a half hour loop, a one hour loop, and a 1-1/2 hour loop. If you are hardy and fit, you can climb to the narrow, steep, and tree-rooted trails along the canyon walls, which raises this experience to a new level away from the crowds that can swell as the day goes by.
But even along the valley floor, people generally understand and honor the cathedral-like atmosphere in this green, calm place. Not that it’s always this way. Fires can happen and will hollow out a redwood, “burning out a cave in the trunk of the living tree. Though the fire caves on some of the redwoods look fresh, the last forest fire that occurred in Muir Woods was about 160 years ago,” according to the website.
Although wildlife seems absent, we were treated to a sighting of one very nifty resident. Sorry, I didn’t get the name, but this critter seemed to enjoy watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him (or her).
Caution: driving to Muir Woods can result in frustration if you think you’ll find a parking space at the end of the narrow access road; consider riding the Muir Woods Shuttle if it fits your schedule. Information about it and other features of this remarkable place can be found at the National Park Service’s website: www.nps.gov/muwo.
And if you’d like to see some of Alison’s work documenting the parks in the Bay Area (including Alcatraz among other things), go to http://www.alisontaggartbarone.com/. Thanks, too, to models Melody Dernocoeur and Giovanni Boles.