Christmas Day, my favorite day of the whole trip! It was the least Christmas-like Christmas I’ve ever had, but it was wonderful. It was our first full day in California. If you recall from my previous post, we all went to bed early the night before due to the long day of traveling and the time zone differences. Thus, we had a fairly early start. The seven of us piled into the rented van intent on seeing Muir Woods and the large redwood trees therein.
We left San Francisco and traveled over the golden gate bridge, which is not in fact gold; it’s red (pictures to come in a later post). As we left the city, we got our first glimpse of the mountains and hills of California. It was beautiful. The hills were scrubby and dotted with houses. We traveled through a small valley and town before turning onto a small windy road with a sign warning that vehicles over 30 feet were not to enter. Soon, we noticed that some cars that we thought were in front of us were now going back down the way we came. We started to get concerned, and sure enough the road was completely blocked. A big rig had half fallen off the side. Back down the windy road we went. This was just the beginning of our adventurous Christmas. Up until this point we had been using our phone’s GPS to get directions to Muir Woods, but we had no signal so it couldn’t re-route us. Apparently, AT&T is not the phone carrier of choice for Californians because we struggled with reliable service throughout our trip. I must point out that my dear friend Nancy is probably reading this thinking “This is why paper maps are better!” as she dislikes using GPS. Well Nancy, that’s what we tried to use next. Tried being the operative word. We backtracked to the little gas station down the road. My parents purchased a map and spoke to the cashier, who although was trying to be helpful, my parents found him unintelligible. Thankfully, the people parked next to us we kind enough to give us directions for an alternate route to Muir Woods. Off we went.
This route took us through small residential streets with houses perched on the side of the steep hills. Up and up we went. At the top of the hill was an intersection and straight across was the road leading down into Muir Woods. The road was car-sickness inducing, although no one got sick thanks to Dramamine! The sights were beautiful. I wish I had taken pictures. As someone who has lived in Georgia my whole life, I felt like I finally understood what going down into a valley felt like. Sure, in Georgia we have hills and valleys, but it such that I rarely notice that I’m actually in a valley. Here it was obvious. There were hills all around as we descended. It was wonderful. What was not so wonderful, was that when we reached the bottom of the valley, where the stand of large redwoods is located, it was packed. The closest parking lot near the entrance gate was full. Park rangers were directing traffic to additional parking farther away. No big deal, we can walk, right? Well that parking lot was full too! At the end of that parking lot was another sign for additional parking. Hoping for the best we followed it. The additional parking was off the side of the road. We continued down the road a ways hoping for a parking spot, but alas, after the last car there were tons of signs prohibiting parking! There were clearly gravel strips along either side of the road that would be perfect parking spots. Why couldn’t we park there? There was even a small gravel lot. But nope, not allowed.
At this point, we decided to come back to Muir Woods later in the day and hope for better parking conditions. Next on our itinerary was going to Stanton Beach, which we were told had waterfalls right on the beach! On our way, we stopped by this neat little picnic and camping area called Bootjack Trails. It was quite hilly and there were several little streams running all over. I enjoyed scampering about while we took a break from driving. Strangely, next to the camping areas there were these wooden boxes on stilts such that the bottom was about waist height. The boxes had a door and shelves on the inside. My guess is that it was for food, but I’m not sure since I feel like you wouldn’t want to sleep right next to your food while camping.
On our way down the mountains to the beach, there were some fantastic views. We stopped and pulled over at a particularly scenic spot as seen in the pictures below.
Down at the beach, there were lots of people playing in the sand. Walking on the beach in the winter in my hiking boots seemed very strange to me. I tried very hard to keep the sand out of my shoes. The beach was nice, and people were all about, but no waterfalls were immediately evident. Far down the beach, I spied some large rocks jutting into the water. I was determined to walk down there to see if the waterfall was to be found. Dad and Tyler came along with me. Lo and behold, we did find a waterfall! A bit pitiful and hardly worthy of the name waterfall, but indeed there was water, and indeed it was falling. However, I got to witness something unexpectedly awesome. In between some of the big rocks, were regions of shore like slopes with smaller rocks. When a particularly large wave crashed on the rocks and receded, there was enough force to actually move the smaller rocks. This created a most pleasing sound effect! I’m not sure how to describe it; the word clattering comes to mind. I tried to find a video so everyone could hear it, but I couldn’t find anything. Ah well, rest assured, it sounded pretty cool and made me happy to listen to it.
After a while everyone piled back into the van. It was well past lunchtime and we were all hungry. No where near Stanton Beach was open, and we had eaten most of our snacks. Back down to the little town where we had stopped at the gas station so many hours ago. On the way, we called around, using our phones to look up potential places to eat. Alas, no one answered the phone. On our first attempt to Muir Woods, which was deterred by the semi-truck, we spied a Subway that was open. As it was our only option, that’s where we had lunch. Subway has never tasted so good. We made it just in time, too. We were tucking into our food, when the owner closed the doors. As we were leaving, he turned away several groups of people.
After satiating our stomachs as well as the van’s, we headed back to Muir Woods for round two. It was still crowded. Instead of turning around again, we just continued on the road of no parking to see where it went. I’m so happy we did. It deposited us at Muir Beach. Rather than exploring the beach where most people congregated, I promptly declared that I wanted to hike up the hill next to the beach when I spied trail leading to the top. And so I did. Noah, Dad, and Tyler came along too. It was exhilarating. I had been surrounded by beautiful nature all day, but had been in the car and not able to truly enjoy it. When we got to the top, there was a nice couple that took our picture for us.
As we stood up there, enjoying the view, a few people walked up from below on the other side. There was a narrow trail that went down toward the farthest point into the sea on the hill. The trail to the next little knob was covered in small rocks that tumbled in your wake. I am not ashamed to admit that I crab walked down some of the steeper portions. We got to the edge and promptly sat down due to the dizzying drops on either side. Oh, how beautiful it was! At this point Max, my sister’s husband, crested the hill where the nice people had taken our picture. Shortly after, we climbed up and over the top of the hill and made our way back down to the car. The hike up the hill, the amazing views, and the adrenaline-inducing trail to the knob is what made this day my favorite.
At this point, it was just before five o’clock in the evening. We decided to make one last effort to see the redwood trees on our way out of the valley. Since it was late in the day there were plenty of parking spaces. We rushed to the entrance of the trail. Finally, we were able to see the redwood trees! However, sunset falls fast in the valley. I do wish we had been able to see the forest in the daylight and not have to rush, but I was still happy I got to see them. The trees were very, very tall and very, very large. I’m not sure any of my pictures do them justice.
After Muir Woods, we drove back to San Francisco. Mom and Dad took the van back to the rental place. The rest of us went out to dinner at a little Korean restaurant. I don’t remember too much because I was so tired from our adventurous day. I do remember Tyler, Noah, and I dutifully followed Brittany as she guided us through the streets of San Francisco, looking at the menu outside of the restaurant for a long time trying to decide what to eat, the food being tasty, and somehow making it back to the hotel. All in all, a very merry Christmas.