Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hiking California: Muir Woods

Last year I picked up a $5 copy of "Best Hikes for Children: San Francisco Bay Area." It lists 90 interesting hikes, ranging from easy (strolling among the ferns near Fish Ranch Road) to the difficult (climbing ladders on Steep Ravine Trail in the North Bay).

Ron, Benny and I have done a few hikes from this book:

Huckleberry Path Nature Trail
Corte Madera Ecological Reserve Trail
The Miwok Trail

On Monday, Benny and I knocked down another one: No. 84, the Redwood Grove Trail Loop in Muir Woods.

(We tried to hike this one last year on Mother's Day, but by the time we arrived at the national park, the place was mobbed and parked cars lined the road practically back to Hwy. 101. So we instead walked along an exhaust-filled, traffic-choked roadway, otherwise known as the Corte Madera Ecological Reserve Trail.)

So I had Benny tucked into the car yesterday by 8:30 a.m., even though it was a non-holiday Monday. It was a good thing I did, because we we were lucky to find a place in the first overflow parking lot. Tour buses in front of the entrance were disgorging hundreds of tourists every minute.

This, of course, is not a hiking trail, but a wooden sidewalk curving along the line of Redwood Creek. You don't really walk, you shuffle along in a crowd. The tourists were mostly foreign, thank goodness, so the kids were well-behaved. The trees were lovely and Benny liked to have me read the descriptions that matched the numbered signposts. I'm raising my own little vacation dork right here.

But I was feeling a little stressed out; I mean, I left San Francisco to get away from people. TIme to take a side trail. Since Muir Woods does not have many picnic sites, my only option was to take Benny on the Camp Alice Eastwood trail, 3 miles round-trip, where we could eat our lunch. That, or buy an $8 organic salad at the gift shop's cafe and watch Benny spit out the leaves.

(Option 3, which was to find a secluded spot somewhere and eat really fast, wasn't an option because Benny's absorbed all this California environmentalist attitude and wouldn't allow it. Sigh.)

So we headed up the trail. Hiking makes me nervous because I'm terrible at reading trail maps and have a deep-seated fear of wandering in circles until the trail mix runs and I finally collapse and become part of "the nurturing decay of the forest understory." The first crossroad blessedly had a little signpost which, as is my habit, I read out loud three times to make sure I was going the right way. The second fork had no signs. I then blindfolded Benny and spun him around three times to point the way. No, I actually puzzled over the map, chose a fork and trudged up another couple of switchbacks. When we arrived at a dusty, bare clearing labeled "Camp Alice Eastwood," we started cheering and slapping high-fives.

The walk back was much easier, but Benny was getting tired. Back on the main trail, confused tourists kept asking me which way was the visitor's center. Honestly, how can anyone get lost on a wooden sidewalk? When I told Benny I couldn't afford to buy him a combination compass/magnifying glass/telescope/egg-beater/barometer, he burst into tears and cried all the way to the car. I dosed him with Milano mint cookies and he slept all the way home.

All in all, Muir Woods are very nice and the side trails could be spectacular, for all I know. But Benny and I think the redwoods further up the coast, which we saw on the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg, were much more impressive.

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