It was a gray morning last week when The Wife and I left the rolling hills of home and headed west across the San Pablo Bay Tidal Wetlands and into the hills of the Coast Ranges. The air was cold, the sky hidden by fog, dense and unmoving. The kind of day that suggests you’d be better off nestled by the fireplace with a hot beverage.
Most of the drive was familiar and thus unremarkable, but soon enough we were rising into the hills and the fog. An all-encompassing grayness took the place of what otherwise would have been a sweeping view toward the coast. The fog, but not the chill it lent to the day, was left behind as we descended a number of switchbacks.
The getting there was easy; the parking was problematic. Even on a day like today, parked vehicles were overflowing onto the roadway. Maybe it was karma, or simply superior situational awareness, that opened our eyes to a slot unobserved by half a dozen other drivers at the end of one row.
On a short hike to the park the oak woodlands typical of California’s hills give way to a coniferous forest, dominated by towering Sequoia sempervirens. The paved trail parallels the babbling Redwood Creek, feeding guests toward the obligatory exhibits and gift shop, then the entrance.
Though there’s no escaping the noise of the crowds ignoring scattered signs asking “Quiet, Please,” the silent presence of these redwoods, many seedlings before World War II, can impress. Light filtered first though fog then the thick forest canopy lends a deep blue cast, deepening the greens of California bay laurel, Douglas firs, bigleaf maples, dogwoods, tanoaks, redwood sorrel and countless ferns; horsetail lady, sword, maiden hair, and gold back to name a few. It’s a wonder that such a place exists so close to San Francisco.
A quiet and easy walk took us deeper into the dense grove; wander first closer to then farther away from the creek. Soon I’m getting kink in my neck gazing at the massive trees in aptly named Cathedral Grove. These trees average 800 years old and taper from a thick base to a top that can’t be seen. They have survived fires, storms and man.
The trail leading back out of the grove crosses the clear waters of Redwood Creek, one of the southernmost streams in which coho salmon spawn. This time of year it’s the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) that will make their way upstream, to be followed by steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). It’d be dishonest to state that I wasn’t hoping we might be blessed to see fish in the creek.
We were blessed. The trail that would return us to our starting point crosses then parallels the creek four or five feet away from its bank. As we neared a small bend the bed of the creek moved. A coho, at least a good 18 or 20 inches, hovered in a couple feet of water. We watched, shushing the less courteous, as the salmon rested in a small eddy below fallen tree branches. Shortly, it was joined by another, similarly sized fish. After seemingly communicating via body language, the two cohos continued upstream. After a two-year absence, two more coho happened returned to Redwood Creek during our visit.
Perhaps it was fell-good aspect of being outdoors and seeing nature at work (often despite humans), but lunch at the Muir Woods Trading Co. Café was particularly good. While Karen enjoyed a hot dog of grass-fed beef, I dove into a house special, the “Marin Melt,” which is built on a foundation of some of the most rustic bread I’ve ever met and two smooth locally produced cheeses. Add a bowl of fresh tomato soup, and it’s a lunch made for a cold morning near the coast.
Though there were no fishing rods involved in this trip, the fish were a welcome surprise.