By Douglas Love, Chairman, California History Board
Eleven miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge there is a national treasure. It is visited by over a million people each year and it offers a unique glimpse into California’s past. It is, of course, Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods is one of the last stands of old growth Coast Redwoods in the Bay Area and is unique in that it exists within a major metropolitan area.
Before the 1906 Earthquake, the coastal mountains of California were home to millions of Coast Redwoods. Stretching from Big Sur in the south to the Oregon border in the north, and as far east as the Contra Costa hills, the Sequoia Sempervirens, covered the landscape. These trees are among the largest and oldest living things on earth. They created a one of a kind forest biome in which deer, mountain lion, bear, fox, and salmon were plentiful. They provided the coastal tribes with fuel and building material. When early settlers began migrating to California, they were amazed by the seeming limitless forests of these giant trees. Yet by the early twentieth century, most of the forests were gone, cut down to provide building material for California’s growing population. The once endless forest was reduced to a few isolated stands.
Muir Woods is one of the most easily accessible remaining stands of old growth redwoods in the Bay Area. In 1836, the land which included what is now known as Muir Woods was part of Rancho Sausalito, granted by the Mexican government to William Antonio Richardson. Richardson’s grant included most of the Marin Peninsula. In 1856, Richardson sold most of Rancho Sausalito to Samuel Throckmorton, who subdivided the land and logged most of the redwoods on the Marin Peninsula. Throckmorton preserved the redwoods along Redwood Creek and kept most of the land north of the creek to the upper reaches of Mount Tamalpias as his private ranch and hunting preserve. Public access was limited and visitors were either friends of Throckmorton or individuals who managed to get permission to visit. When Throckmorton died in 1883, he left his estate to his daughter, Susanna.
Susanna Throckmorton inherited 14,000 acres of prime Marin County real estate and her father’s debts. She was “land rich and cash poor” so she sold Ranch Sausalito to the Tamalpias Land and Water Company. The company subdivided the lands as sold lots to private individuals. Redwood Canyon and the Throckmorton ranch were left intact and leased to the Tamalpias Sportsman’s Association who looked after the redwoods and built a road to Redwood Canyon. In 1892, the Bohemian Club held its summer camp out in Redwood Canyon and built a plaster Buddha in one of the groves, now known as Bohemian Grove. In 1903, William Kent, a member of the Sportsman’s Association met with various conservation groups to create the “Mt. Tamalpias National Park Association” and in 1905, he purchased six hundred eleven acres to preserve the redwoods. Kent developed Redwood Canyon into a public park with railroad access, hiking trails and an inn to serve visitors.
In 1907, due to demand for timber and water after the 1906 Earthquake, the North Coast Water Company began condemnation proceedings to acquire Redwood Canyon. The Company wished to log the property and construct a reservoir in Redwood Canyon. Kent donated 295 acres of his property to the federal government and on January 9, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the property Muir Woods National Monument ensuring its preservation for future generations.
Today, Muir Woods National Monument encompasses five hundred eleven acres. There are many trails which connect it with the surrounding Mt. Tamalpias State Park. The most popular is the Main Trail which follows the course of Redwood Creek along the valley floor and winds through Bohemian and Cathedral Groves. Because of its location, it is one of the most visited places in the Bay Area. Hundreds of thousands of visitors go to catch a glimpse of what most of the Coast Range looked like when it was covered with old growth redwood forest. Because of the foresight of William Kent, Muir Woods is truly a national treasure and is a testament to the preservation of the natural and historic treasures of our Golden State.
Getting There: Head north from San Francisco on US 101 and take the Mill Valley exit. Follow the signs to Muir Woods National Monument. From the East Bay and points north, take US 101 south and take the Mill Valley exit and follow the signs to Muir Woods. NOTE: Parking is extremely limited and you may want to take the Marin Transit Muir Woods shuttle. You can find information about the shuttle at: http://www.marintransit.org/routes/66.html.
After a hike in the redwoods, you might want to visit Moylan’s Pub and Brewery, 15 Rowland Way, Novato, (415) 898-4677) for a beer and a bite. If that doesn’t appeal to you, both the towns of Mill Valley and Sausalito have several dining options.