On warm, sunny days as you ascend Mount Tamalpais you can smell the heat in the air, a mixture of the sweet aroma of golden brown coastal grasses, and sage, astringent eucalyptus, and the lemony scent of coastal pine, all mixed with the essence of the Pacific Ocean. The air is its own natural aromatherapy. It is yours for free, mile after mile of it as you explore Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Bolinas, Point Reyes, and the other special places that make up this magical area. This journey starts, most appropriately, at the Golden Gate Bridge. Soaring in space, with golden sails that rise out of the deep blue ocean, the Golden Gate is a portal that creates its own reality. To cross it is a transcendental experience. It is as if you are in a place apart, in your own space and time. The experience heightens your senses and awareness. You can feel the deep booming moans of the fog horns, feel the ocean and the supertankers that glide beneath you, and feel the presence of the bridge itself, majestic in the golden sun, or elusive and mysterious in the shrouds of deep fog.
You can sense that this is a special place, a mountain revered by the Miwok Indians for its healing properties. A sacred place that remains so today. The mountain and its many trails transport you through time to the Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth. Redwoods tower over trails that cascade along rivers falling in a series of waterfalls and pools to the ocean some 1,200 feet below.
As you descend trails like Steep Ravine and others, the redwoods grow closer together enfolding the trail in a dense canopy of evergreen, denying the sun any purchase, enabling ferns and moss to grow undisturbed in an ever cool and refreshing dell. Redwoods, downed by winds and time, lie splintered about in massive pieces with their blood red essence exposed. The trails here are forever quiet, bordered by miles of forest and the endless ocean. The only sound here is the song of the waterfalls, the babble of the brook and the call of birds. As you make your way down the mountain, like a painting before you, appear the soft pastels of Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon.
It is not only the 60’s that are forever a part of Bolinas, it is a freedom of spirit, independence, and eccentricity that define this place. To this day, by community consent, there are no signs that direct visitors to this place. While it used to be that locals would tear the signs down, now Bolinas, like a galaxy in its own orbit, is content to exist independent. Set amidst towering, shimmering stands of eucalyptus, and bordered by Point Reyes, the Pacific Ocean and the lagoon that bears its name, Bolinas is an iridescent gem set among an ever expanding urban rough. It is here, in spirit, that Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia still hold court and still set the tone. Not surprisingly, this special spirit attracts artists, poets and others who draw on this source of inspiration. It is these people and the community that they have created that make Bolinas the special place that it is.
Bolinas sits on the ground
By the sea, sky
Bolinas dogs are so funny. Running around all over town. In and out of stores. Alone or in packs. Plain dogs most of them. Mutts. They seem to have a little Bolinas all their own. With rules and regulations, I’m sure I couldn’t begin to fathom.
Amidst the towering redwoods, some more than 2,000 years old, you can feel the reverence of this place. Standing in Cathedral Grove, in Muir Woods, is to be renewed and restored by the universal spirit that is somehow channeled by this grove of ancients. There is a true majesty here, just as real as the trees themselves. These redwoods, like millions upon millions of board feet of Northern California red gold, were originally destined for the saw mills of Mill Valley and beyond. Thankfully, William Kent, like so many others, felt the spirit of this place and purchased the grove in the early 1900’s and donated them in the name of John Muir, one of the greatest conservationists of all time, as a national park. Thanks to William Kent, each and every day of the year, people from around the world come to Muir Woods to admire some of God’s greatest work.
Muir Beach represents the best of one’s imagination come to be. It is as if you have stepped into the perfect California landscape painting in the shelter of the broad, soft green forest clad flanks of Mt. Tamalpais against an endless expanse of Pacific Ocean. The cliffs of the mountains have been sculpted by time and sea in the form of a crescent. At the base of the evergreen cliffs, is a fine white sand beach with a river running into an emerald green ocean. The fields of the valley are lush with organic produce from the Green Gulch Zen Center. To complete the painting, nestled among pines, just up a winding path from the sea is the Pelican Inn, a small 16th Century English Inn with an ever present roaring fire, dark wood paneling and comfort to ward off the coastal fog and damp.
Story and Accompanying Photos by Joe Prickitt