Muir Woods. Perhaps the place I was most excited to explore on my own.
As it happens I became transfixed with the woods and racked up a total of 4 visits to the $10 National State Park, (free after 5pm).
Entrance to the Woods
The forest is incredible. Giant redwoods, thousands of years old and the largest species of tree in the world, spire skywards creating an architectural maze of trails and mossy protection that is the habitat of hundreds of deer and fauna. You literally are surrounded by a prehistoric, dinosaur world and you really couldn’t feel any smaller!
The main floor trails are wonderful but occupied by large groups of tourists, particularly by midday; The Cathedral one of the most prominent and astounding sections of the woodland, named for its eerie silence and Religious echoing atmosphere that it creates, is a particularly beautiful area and one of the most photographed points.
But delve deeper and further into the enchanted forest and you will be able to find pockets of completely distilled oasis’ with the only noise being the trees themselves; moving, spouting and bristling in the wind.
Some of the trees, you will find, have been victims of forest fires and have had their internal structure eaten out, but still, somehow remain upright. Some stand proudly on their own whereas others will cling onto their surrounding neighbors in a bid defy gravity.
On my first visit, which was on my own, I spent about 5 hours on the forest floor, doing endless loops of trails, every-time becoming more and more bewitched by the incredible nature of the trees- these were once able to fit comfortably into your hand- now they are amongst the tallest trees in the world!!
On one loop I bumped into a Chilean photographer who was trying to capture pictures of rare bird. He accompanied me for about an hour, telling of all the different wildlife he had come across in the woods including Bobcats and Mountain Lion and advising me on the best routes to take. He gave me some photograph tips and even became my own personal photographer, taking most of the pictures of me
On subsequent visits I decided to rummage deeper into the more quaint sections of woodland and eventually climbed to the top of the woods and out towards the famous Dipsea trail- one of the most notoriously difficult running tracks in the Marin county.
The 2 hour trail took me right to the summit of the valley, with spectacular views across both sides of the sea, the forest and the city.
The Dipsea Steps up to the running route and the view from the top
From here one could either head down to Stinson beach- another 7 miles further away from the city- or head back into the woods and along the Dipsea towards home. This was my third visit to the Muir Woods region and as it was approaching sunset and I was fairly beat from a day of jogging through the woods I decided to head towards home.
However, it then occurred to me that the sun was dipping at an accelerating rate and I had no money for a bus to take me the rest of the 10 mile route home. By the time the sun was on the periphery of the horizon, I was out of the woods and jogging along the astutely named Panoramic Highway- an equally enthralling experience and where most car adverts are filmed as the road hairpins through the valleys with both forest and coast in the background.
I honestly don’t really know how I would have made it home, but there was, strangely, never any doubt or worry in my mind as I was jogging along the tip of the valley. I was so mesmerized by the sunset that it didn’t even occur to me to wave down one of the passing cars.
Luckily though I was picked up by two girls who were on their way back to Marin, despite the lack of intention that I was in need of a lift.
‘Do you need a lift?’ they yelled as I faced away and towards the sea. ‘Erm, yeh I think so’ – it literally came as I surprise that I was in this situation so was completely caught off guard. ‘Well get in! You’re not carrying a gun or anything are you?’
So that’s the story of how I got home- by hitch-hiking, without actually hitch-hiking. It was so weird for me, I’ve never hitch-hiked ever before and that would almost certainly never happen in England. Yet, I suppose the aura that the forest and valley emits, creates a weird humane vibe, where everyone feels minute and equal- maybe that’s just a very hippy and poetic hypothesis, but I felt so taken aback that I was being helped when I didn’t cry for any aid. Apparently though, its quite common, a lot of runners will do the Dipsea then hitch a lift back to Marin- according to John.
In summary, Muir Woods is one of the most elegant attractions that San Francisco has to offer and one of the reasons why it makes San Francisco so great. There is an abundance of nature and wildlife literally 15 miles from the vibrant inner city life.
You will feel like a dwarf, stood along colossal giants that are made from nothing but strong fibrous stems and cellulose. Its a surreal and unearthly experience that must be visited when heading to San Fran- especially as the sun begins to set and penetrates thin rays through the canopy linings and onto the forest floor.