Muir Woods, Marin Headlands, Salinas & Monterey

My dad visited us last week, and we had a great time. It’s the first time that he’s been to our house, so we were happy to share with him what we’ve done, what we’re planning to do — lots of things like that.

What I wanted to write about in this post, though, is how amazing the Bay Area is. All the normal stuff is of course incredible: San Francisco is a jewel of a city, Napa/Sonoma are terrific, Stanford is super, and of course Reactivity is a highlight of any tour. But here’s the thing: we filled up 4 days of amazing stuff without seeing any of that.

First we went to Muir Woods — a place that I always feel is plucked right out of the Pliestocene. Huge trees, huge ferns, always foggy & damp. You just feel like a dinosaur could step out at any moment. We were super-lucky to see salmon & trout swimming upriver to spawn. Now that’s tough work. I was particulary struck by the nature of light there — always changing, always something different. One minute you’ll get that ambient glow of dense fog; the next you’ll see sun streaming through the trees like a cathedral. I guess these coastal Redwoods are the little brothers of the really big trees — the Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. Still, amazing.

After Muir Woods, we spent a couple of hours hiking around the Marin Headlands. First, let me just say that if you want to get the best picture of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve got to do it from there. You can just see everything. The natural beauty of the place is stunning, and strikingly different from Muir Woods, which is very closeby. Where thoughts of the natural world dominate while you’re in Muir Woods, though, when I’m in the Headlands, I find my thoughts much more about the relationship between humans & the environment. Here’s what I mean: the Marin Headlands are basically built of big hills right where the San Francisco Bay connects to the Pacific Ocean (the Golden Gate). Which means 2 things: it’s a good place to see people coming into the Bay on boats. The other thing is that it’s a really good place to shoot at them from. In particular “bad guys” like the Spanish or the Japanese or the Soviets. The Headlands are filled with lookout posts and army bases and missile sites. The oldest one we saw was built in 1906 — to protect the Bay against the Spanish. And the gun turret moorings for machine guns to protect us during WWII. And of course the Nike missiles to protect us against the Soviet threat.

I always think about how absurd these defenses look in hindsight. (Sort of like the dirigible hangars at Moffet Field.) They not only weren’t needed as defenses, they were absurd overreactions. It’s easy to laugh at them now and think about how scared we must have been to put them up. But I have to wonder what things that we’re doing now — in our current over-reaction — will look absurd to future generations.

Even having said all that, the Headlands are a beautiful place. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

We also did something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while now: we went to the National Steinbeck Center, in Salinas. Dad & I both really love John Steinbeck’s writing — it was fun to go see a bit of history about him and the place he grew up in. One interesting tidbit: Steinbeck worked for the Spreckles Sugar Company several summers. 🙂 The museum isn’t all that big, and I think it’s really geared more towards school field trips, but as a Steinbeck fan, I’m glad that we went.

We ended up doing 17-mile drive in Monterey as well. Man. Just an amazing, beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline.

Anyway, it was a nice weekend, full of new & old insights for me.

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