Everything’s bigger in, uh, California
The rocks were the granite wonderlands of Yosemite National Park, the night life was an almost surreal sunset of glowing waterfalls on Glacier Point, 3,400 feet above the valley.
And Sue and I traded Hollywood for Muir Woods. Gladly.
We gave up our traditional pilgrimage to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains this summer because we had to go to California.
And I mean that literally, had to go. I’d been to the giant sequoias and the cliffs of Yosemite several times and she had never seen them.
If you care about someone and you’ve seen those and they haven’t, it’s your duty to show them.
PEACE—Neither of us had been to Muir Woods, a legendary grove of coast redwoods in ultra-chic Marin County northwest of San Francisco.
I’m usually skeptical of things like that but this time the reputation of this very special place was right on target.
Muir Woods is named for John Muir (1838-1914), a mystical Scot—well, that’s sort of redundant, pretty much all Scots are mystical—who literally walked all over California and the American West in the 19th Century.
He thought this grove was something special and if John Muir thought something was special, you can be sure it was...and still is.
You remember the great Andy Griff ith Show where the fast track, heart-attackwaiting to-happen, big city businessman has car trouble and is forced to spend a day and night in Mayberry?
But what he’s found is peace. That’s what Muir Woods is.
This is the point at which I describe to you what Muir Woods is like. Sorry. Here’s the only thing I can do for you.
Take US 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge. Just before it crosses the Pickleweed Inlet bridge turn left onto California 1. Follow the signs to Muir Woods.
Get out of your car and walk under the wooden arch. Say hello to Aunt Bea and Barney for me.
DELIGHT—Sue and I walked into the heart of Muir Woods, a place called “Cathedral Grove.”
He believed “in this temple of peace delegates would gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere else but a forest.”
Roosevelt died before that meeting could take place. About a month later the meeting took place anyway. A plaque commemorates the location.
We didn’t want to stop. We kept going on and on, deeper into the woods. At one point we began hearing a tom-tom although neither wanted to admit to the other.
Final ly we turned almost simultaneously, and whispered “do you hear that?!”
We did. It got louder, punctu- ated by something in between a wail and a shriek. Then it happened again.
The sounds became louder and we began to hear something like a stringed instrument. I’m not kidding.
Then we rounded a corner and.......
We had hiked all the way out of Muir Woods and were in a state park. There was a youth camp and a bunch of kids were sitting around singing “Afternoon Delight,” pausing every once in a while to shriek “whooooo!” at the end of a chorus.
But we escaped the heat by driving up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, tagged “The Range of Light” by—who else?—John Muir.
The giant sequoias aren’t as tall as the coast redwoods but are much more massive.
For instance, the General Grant tree in King’s Canyon National Park is 267 feet high and a staggering 108 feet in circumference at its base.
And it’s the third largest tree in the world. The two ahead of it are the General Sherman and the President (originally named for Warren G. Harding until someone apparently decided it wasn’t appropriate to have anything named for a former newspaper editor), both in nearby Sequoia National Park.
We hiked in both those parks and then, the next day, in Yosemite, going up between Vernal and Nevada falls. It wasn’t the going up that was the achievement, it was the getting back down.
There comes a moment when you realize that you got up here on your own two feet and they are the only way you’re getting back down.
Both days Sue and I had lunch at the grills in the respective national parks and agreed those were the best meals we’d ever eaten in our lives.
Which proves something Mark Twain, who once roamed all over the Range of Light, once wrote: “Nothing improves scenery like ham and eggs.”
GLOWING— Our last night provided a perfect counterpoint to the Muir Woods experience.
With the sun quickly setting behind us, we drove a twisty spur road out to Glacier Point, a promontory 3,400 feet above Yosemite Valley which provides a view that matches or equals any I’ve ever seen.
Everything we’d been looking at all day in chunks and bites, albeit gigantic ones, was spread out in one mind-numbing panorama.
Half Dome, El Capitan, Sentinel Rocks, Royal Arches, Tenaya Canyon and parts of the High Sierras almost look like a monstrous mural in the soft “artists light” tint of a Sierra sunset.
And the water fal ls! They were glowing, especially Nevada Falls. We watched as the shadows consumed lower Vernal Falls then crept up the glacial polished granite toward 600-foot Nevada.
Just as at Muir Woods, people talked in hushed whispers, the only loud sound being the tons of fresh snowmelt pouring over Nevada Falls.
And over the railing? Three thousand, four hundred and ten feet straight down. Absolutely nothing between you and the snack bar where we’d dined three hours previously.
We stood there as the shadows lengthened, reminding us of the passing of time and the cold, hard truth that after we left this vista it was back on the road home.
But then, in a way it’s both impossible to comprehend and simple to explain, we were already home.
Two days earlier, at Sequoia, we’d seen a quote about the wilderness, something to the effect that memories of such a glorious place don’t stay just memories, they actually enter your body and become a part of who you are.”
Which is why we had to come to this place. And why we will have to return.
“In going out (to the wilderness), I found I was actually going in.”—John Muir