fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

finding fish, but not fishing, close to home

4 Comments

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Fern Silhouette

Muir Woods National Monument in the hills just north of San Francisco could be like someplace near you. That place that’s relatively well-known and frequented by out-of-town visitors, one that you always mean to visit but never set aside the time to do so. The trees of Muir Woods quietly stand in a valley accessed by roads that progressively shrink from a highway to a local boulevard and, finally, a small two-lane country road that twists down the hillsides without the comfort of guard rails. It’s a drive that requires patience. It’s worth finding, however, because this 560-acre national monument encompasses one of last groves of old-growth coast redwoods on the planet, and the only one in the San Francisco Bay area.

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.

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Near Cathedral Grove

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.

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Evidence that the Redwood Creek coho salmon may have a future...

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.

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4 thoughts on “finding fish, but not fishing, close to home

  1. Beautiful photos of a treasured place, for sure. And I like
    the fact that you’re clearly incapable of enjoying a day without
    somehow finding a way to relate it to fishing. You’re not well, but
    you’re in good company. Next time you’re out and about head south
    to Carmel and see if you can get a hold of Clint Eastwood.

  2. I always forget what great places we have in the Bay Area.
    I think we’ll have to make a trek with the boys up to Muir Woods!
    Glad you had a nice time.

  3. This is one of those places that leaves you speechless. The beauty of Muir Woods National Monument is just incredible.

    Now that I got that out of the way, you should have smacked those big mouths. You can’t enjoy what is around you with all that noise.

    Thanks for the reminder of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

    Mark

  4. Wow, I’ve seen Muir Woods many times on PBS, but never from
    the perspective you’ve managed to capture. Thank you.

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