The Tallest of Them All ~ Muir Woods National Monument

Advice from a Tree:  Stand tall and proud/Sink your roots deep into the earth/Be content with your natural beauty/Go out on a limb/Drink plenty of water/Remember your roots/Enjoy the view!  ~  (c) Ilan Shamir*

The tallest of them all is the Coast Redwood, reaching as high as 380 feet up into the heavens.  We had already seen her bulkier relative, the Giant Sequoia, so we were looking forward to our visit to Muir Woods National Monument.

During peak season it is a must to arrive by 9 am to get a parking space.  We did just that and within an hour the tour buses and cars streamed in.  Our reward for arriving early was no crowds and a lovely, peaceful walk among these giants.  This forest has a mystical, fairy-tale feel, somewhat eerie at times, with tendrils of fog snaking among the trees.  Other times it was so peaceful and quiet (in the Cathedral Grove) that we felt as if we were on hallowed ground – really lovely.

These ancient Coast Redwoods covered many northern California valleys before the 1800’s, then logging took its toll.  In 1905 U.S. Congressman William Kent and wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent purchased land here to protect one of the last stands of these giants.  They donated 295 acres to the federal government to ensure lifetime protection.  In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Muir Woods a National Monument and at Mr. Kent’s request it was named for renown conservationist John Muir.

Muir Woods can’t boast the tallest redwood on record but does have some reaching upwards of 250 feet, which is amazing given its start comes from a seed no bigger than what you would find in a tomato.  Most redwoods in this stand are 500-800 years old, with the oldest in the forest topping out at 1200 years.  Marine layer fog provides needed moisture for these redwoods, even in the dry season.

Another giant who calls this forest home is the banana slug, the second largest species of slug in the world, growing as long as 9.8 inches.  They move at a speedy 6.5 inches per minute.  Just follow the trail of slime and you are certain to spy one of these unusual mollusks.

Once we had finished wandering the trails and seen the hordes arriving, we decided to hop onto the Dipsea Trail, right off the parking lot.  This is a 9.5 miler round-trip if you go all the way to Stinson Beach but we cut it short at 6.5 miles, stopping at the bluffs overlooking San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Reyes.  It is considered a moderate hike through a beautiful redwood and fir forest.

A trail marker near the top of the bluff peeked our curiosity.

It marks a point on the trail for the annual Dipsea Race, the oldest trail race in America, first run in 1905.  Open to the first 500 entrants, it is run the second Sunday in June and is described as a “grueling and treacherous” 7.4 mile trek from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach.  Sounds suicidal to me!

If you are in these parts and want to see the tallest of them all, Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect place to spend a few hours.  Who knows, you might even get lucky like we did and catch a glimpse of the slippery banana slug.

*NOTE:  To view the poem Advice from a Tree, by Ilan Shamir, in its entirety, see this website or to listen to Mr. Shamir recite his poem to the beat of his cottonwood drum, go here.

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