MUIR WOODS NATIONAL MONUMENT: AN APPRECIATION
The Golden Gate Bridge spanning the stretch of water between San Francisco and Marin Counties is considered to be the official starting point of The Redwood Highway (U.S. Route 101). This highway takes its name from the coastal redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens). The name is believed to have originated from Spanish padres of the Gaspar de Portola expedition in 1769. They called the evergreen giants they saw “palo colorado”, or “red trees”, an obvious reference to the reddish hue of the tree bark.
Between The Redwood Highway and the Pacific coast is Muir Woods National Monument. Encompassing over 500 acres, this old growth redwood forest is about 12 miles from San Francisco and lies at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais near Mill Valley. I have fond memories of many walks through this grove, feeling humbled at their majesty, and awe-inspired at their beauty. A serene experience just to gaze up at these silent sentinels and realize they are indisputably among the tallest trees in the world (the tallest verified tree in the world, The Hyperion Tree in Redwood National Park, rises more than 380 feet in the air). We are truly fortunate to have this oasis of towering redwoods in the Bay Area. How lucky are we?
These trees are a remnant of the vast redwood groves that existed in the hills surrounding San Francisco Bay. The California Gold Rush of 1848 and the ensuing population explosion created a great need for lumber. Plentiful, durable, non-warping, resistant to rot and termites, redwood trees were a clear target and provided desperately needed lumber. It is estimated that more than 90% of old growth redwood groves were decimated throughout the region. This particular grove was spared because of its relatively isolated location and the fact that nearby Muir Beach did not provide adequate anchorage for easily moving and shipping logs.
It was not until the turn of the century when a concerted effort was made to save what was left of these woods. Politician William Kent purchased several hundred acres of this land and later donated much of it to the federal government, thus protecting the forest. Ultimately, on January 8, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a national monument. The original name suggested was Kent Monument to honor the man who began the process years before, but to the credit of William Kent, he demurred and suggested that it should instead be named for the great conservationist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir.
Many places and things throughout the United States and in his native Scotland are named after Muir. Indeed, I attended John Muir Junior High School in my hometown. However, of all the recognition he received in his lifetime, John Muir was most gratified with Muir Woods. Upon learning of this accolade, he stated: “This is the best tree lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. You have done me great honor and I am proud of it.” High praise from a man whose writings helped conserve and protect many natural wonders throughout the western states. Bay Area residents are blessed to have this one so close at hand and protected for all time.