Saturday, January 4, 2014

Muir Woods

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In keeping with my efforts along Redwood Creek, I'd planned to photograph Muir Beach at sunrise this morning. Muir Beach is where Redwood Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. The beach just opened again after a long closure for reconstruction of this relatively tiny parcel of national parkland. Anyway, as I was descending toward Green Gulch Zen Center and the beach beyond it, I saw that a dense fog had moved into the area to squelch my sunrise plans. 

I drove back up the hill and turned toward Muir Woods, through which Redwood Creek flows from its headwaters. I stopped along the way to check out the sun rising on yet another Spare the Air Day. Isn't smog pretty. I shot a panorama that would print 130 inches wide, for no particular reason. Photoshop takes a very long time to stitch a panorama like this with D800E files on my aging 32-bit computer with 4GB of RAM. That's okay. I did laundry while I waited.

Muir Woods was free this morning, so I saved seven bucks. I remember when the fee was two bucks, and it doesn't seem like it was all that long ago.

I entered the park with no ideas about what I would photograph, but I never feel like I'm going to do the place justice. I mean, it's a national park. With redwoods. It seems like there would be grandeur for the taking. And I guess it is pretty grand.

But I still believe that if I really want to dive deep into photographing redwoods, I need to go elsewhere. I need a place where I can get off the paths. As a part of the Tam Blog, though, it can't be beat. There are redwoods on other parts of the mountain, but nothing that compares to Muir Woods.

The last time I drove past Muir Woods it was total chaos, with cars parked everywhere, citations on dozens of windshields, pedestrians walking to the entrance from a mile away. I can only imagine what it was like along the boardwalk among the big trees. Did the teeming hordes "enter quietly" when they reached the Cathedral Grove? I pity any rangers who were tasked with persuading the crowds that reverence is a quiet form of revelry. (I googled those words to see if they have a common etymology and learned that a rock band called Fallen Martyr actually recorded a song called Revelry and Reverence. Do you suppose anyone has listened to that song on headphones while strolling through Muir Woods?)

Most of the tanoak in Muir Woods is infected with Sudden Oak Death fungus, which makes the already dry conditions seem even more pronounced. Not only is Redwood Creek barely moving (although it was even drier when I was here in January 2009), but all the green ferns and tree limbs seem to be coated with a thin layer of dust, and half-dead tanoaks speckled with brown leaves contribute to the gloom.

Despite all that, I had a fine walk out to Bridge 4, where I looped back via the Hillside Trail.

Just as I got back to the parking lot, a pair of pileated woodpeckers flew into the woods along Redwood Creek, calling out with their distinctive voices. Unfortunately, they stayed high in the trees and I never got a clear view up close, but I did snag this image while the woodpecker tried to snag a meal from a small hole in this tall alder tree.

I left Muir Woods to gather up the trail camera and move it to a new location along Redwood Creek. I decided to put it near the deer carcass I recently found, and while I was setting it up this young red-tail who'd been cruising down the creek stopped to land on this branch. An adult red-tail would have flown away as soon as it saw me, but this young fellow gave me just enough time to fire off a frame.

The fog had burned off the coast by this time, so I decided to check out Muir Beach and get the lay of the land. It's quite different now, with a larger parking lot and fancy restrooms. Much of the former parking lot has been turned into willow habitat, although the willows right now are just sticks in the ground. A long bridge, which is what you see behind the trees above, takes visitors directly from the parking lot to a trail out to the beach. The whole thing is much more "tamed" than it used to be. Dogs are still allowed, and you need to watch your step because there's quite a bit of poop underfoot.

I really hadn't planned to do any photography under the mid-day light, but I brought my camera along, just in case. I enjoyed seeing the strong offshore winds giving the shorebreak some shape as well as some nice rooster tails.

From the southern end of the beach I looked back and noticed rainbows in the spindrift. I guess the sun is so low this time of year that you can still see this kind of thing even in the middle of the day.

Redwood Creek, by the way, flows across the north end of the beach. Right now it's basically an inland freshwater bay since it lacks the oomph to flow all the way to the ocean. Coho salmon must be patient fish.

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  1. I am not that fond of manicured trails and paths with barriers on each side but my, when you have the entire place all to yourself, I'll take it any day. Love those wave shots.

    1. Arriving early is key to beating the crowds, and you can even hike a loop (via Ben Johnson and Dipsea) that takes you back around the edge of Muir Woods so you get a longer hike and miss the crowds altogether. It's fun to do a project about a mountain where you get to include wave shots....

  2. I loved reading this post and looking at the gorgeous photos of California's majesty. Look forward to reading more. Where is the panorama, though?

    1. It's along the aptly named Panoramic Highway south of the turnoff down to Muir Woods.