Travels Without Charley
MARIN COUNTY, CA. -- Muir Woods
While John Steinbeck was in San Francisco exactly 50 years ago, he took Charley across the Golden Gate Bridge on US Highway 101 to Muir Woods.
As it is now, it was a beautiful place -- 240 dark and damp acres of old growth Coast Redwoods only 12 miles north of downtown.
Why he wanted to see more giant trees after having seen so many on his slow drive through Oregon and California redwood country is a mystery.
Maybe he just wanted to get away for a few hours to a cool, quiet place that was neither a church nor a bar.
When Steinbeck visited Muir Woods in 1960 a lot of things were different. It may or may not have been officially called Muir Woods National Monument then. But the same 500-year-old trees he saw are still standing tall.
No visitor center was there in 1960 to sell him nature books, organic local salads, coffee and gluten-free pastries. And instead of two miles of boardwalks and paved walkways, he'd have had only dirt paths to walk on with Charley.
Muir Woods was purchased by a private individual more than 100 years ago and given to the federal government for safekeeping -- exactly the opposite ownership arrangement I and my free-market brethren would prefer.
So far, Muir Woods appears to be well maintained and carefully protected. But it's no place for silently communing with nature.
It's a place for weddings and tour groups. On a Monday morning at 10, five sightseeing buses and 30 cars had already delivered more than a 100 people through the front gate.
And, sorry, Charley, today it's no place for dogs. Not even on a leash.