Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Muir Woods National Monument

with 41 comments

Four years ago today we drove along Muir Woods Rd. north of San Francisco, where I stopped in the cloud forest to take pictures of the lichen- and moss-covered trees.

Then we pushed on to the Muir Woods National Monument, which the other pictures in this post show.

I’d rather not have visited such a popular place on a weekend. That said, when you’re traveling you can’t afford to sit out two days, so thither we went on a Saturday morning.

With judicious aiming and timing I managed to keep my pictures free from all traces of the crowds.

I was sorry to hear that on Christmas Eve in 2019 a man walking in this park was killed when a redwood tree fell on him.

Related quotation for today: “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.” — John Muir in his journal in 1869. In 1911 he offered a shorter version in My First Summer in the Sierra: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” In addition to those two authentic quotations, various incorrect versions circulate on the Internet.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 29, 2020 at 4:39 AM

41 Responses

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  1. A very verdant vision. Other than along the coast of Maine, I’ve never seen such a mossy, lichen-y woods.

    Robert Parker

    October 29, 2020 at 5:46 AM

  2. I especially love the mossy tree trunks


    October 29, 2020 at 5:57 AM

    • The moss was certainly lush in places. And because this area is a rainforest, you often get misty as well as mossy; maybe we can combine them into mossty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 6:09 AM

  3. The second Muir quotation is one of my favorites. Muir woods is one of those places I visited while living in the Bay area, but never really saw. Funny, how our interests and our vision changes over the years. I smiled at your second photo, imagining the parallel trunks as the legs of some elfish creature. Your first photo’s interesting; it’s a nice contrast to the redwood photos that emphasize height and verticality.


    October 29, 2020 at 7:44 AM

    • Yes, I’ve sometimes thought back to all the native plants on Long Island that I must have grown up seeing but paid no attention to. The second picture here suggested legs (and leggings) to me, too. In the land of the redwoods, renowned for their height, plenty of other things are sight-worthy, as you said about the first photo.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 8:11 AM

  4. That is some tightly bound moss in those images! You managed some great shots, noticing many textures and layers of life. Those quotes stand quite true in our woodlands. I learned early on doing cleanup on this place, that it is impossible to just clear wood without disturbing many other life forms. Today we have allowed nature to reclaim what is hers, and only remove wood that has just fallen perhaps blocking a buggy path. Most people may pass through thinking the orchard is a wreck, but we see life everywhere, and it’s flourishing!


    October 29, 2020 at 8:11 AM

    • Now that’s a good statement: “we see life everywhere, and it’s flourishing!” Glad to hear that in some places you’re allowing “nature to reclaim what is hers.”

      A rainforest is so different from anything available to me in central Texas or you in central Oklahoma; there was no way in such a scenic place that I wasn’t going to get some good pictures. If only I lived closer I’d gladly follow the changes throughout the year, as I do with what’s available near home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 8:41 AM

  5. Looking at your fall pictures was like walking through an art gallery. The artist in you created these wonderful images that are so typical of our West Coast rainforests.I notice that the ferns still look lush and green at the Muir Woods National Monument so late into the fall season.

    Peter Klopp

    October 29, 2020 at 8:25 AM

    • Thanks for your appreciation of these pictures. My impression is that what I saw at Muir Woods is similar, minus the redwoods, to what you see along the rainy coast of British Columbia. The same Pacific Ocean sits west of both. On our visit to the Canadian Rockies in 2017, at some highway intersections we saw signs telling how many hours it would take to drive to Vancouver. I’d originally toyed with the idea of doing that, but there was so much to see in the Rockies and the Alberta Badlands that we spent all our time in those areas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 8:50 AM

      • The West Coast on Vancouver Island is indeed a spectacular place to visit. Perhaps it should be the next destination for your travels, Steve.

        Peter Klopp

        October 29, 2020 at 8:54 AM

        • We were there in 2000, so we’ll probably go other places once the pandemic subsides, hopefully next year.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 29, 2020 at 8:56 AM

  6. I’ve been there!! Such a special place, I enjoyed a day-long hike. My memories of Muir are where I go when I need some calming/relaxing and your photos capture its beauty and remarkable quality well.


    October 29, 2020 at 8:53 AM

    • Good, I’m glad this post brings back happy memories for you. Your day-long hike outdid the two or three hours we spent at Muir Woods, though on other days we made up the time at two other redwood-rich preserves in the area. We hadn’t visited California in over 20 years, so the return was overdue; we weren’t disappointed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 9:02 AM

      • Your post is timely; just the other night, having trouble falling asleep, I remembered our walk, the quiet, the birds that we saw (or nearly saw), the lush growth. That sort of thing relaxes me. We were fortunate to go mid-week and there weren’t too many others on the trails that we took. My husband lived in Berkeley as a kid for a year and had fond memories and I’d never been, though my mom was a California girl and grew up partially in SF. Anyhow, it is a special place. Thanks for your photos!


        October 29, 2020 at 1:45 PM

        • Sure thing. It’s good to get some of these “ancient” pictures out to people for whom they’re meaningful.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 29, 2020 at 2:50 PM

  7. Redwoods never disappoint, do they? Regarding crowds, I understand there is growing concern that these trees are or will suffer from being loved too much. I think they are considering boardwalks and barriers to keep soil from being compacted by so many feet.


    October 29, 2020 at 10:26 AM

    • I’ve certainly not found redwoods disappointing (except maybe the sequoia we saw that had been planted in New Zealand, and that wasn’t the tree’s fault). I think boardwalks already exist in some places; maybe more are in the offing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 2:54 PM

      • I’m hoping someone is thinking to plant some of them northward, into Oregon or even Wa.


        October 30, 2020 at 11:38 AM

        • I don’t know what the tree’s natural range is.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 30, 2020 at 1:57 PM

          • Sequoia sempervirens extends just barely up into Oregon. As climate changes, the trees are being stressed by hotter temperatures and drier conditions, even less fog, and so it seems a really good idea for people to help them shift north.


            October 31, 2020 at 9:54 AM

  8. It’s “ages” ago that we were there, but I still have good memories of those magnificent trees and the mystical atmosphere.


    October 29, 2020 at 2:43 PM

    • I’m pleased to hear this brings back memories of the place and its “mystical atmosphere.” For me it’s been only four years, so I still vividly remember parts of the visit, especially those that I have pictures of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2020 at 2:56 PM

  9. Beautiful shots, Steve. I love redwoods. What are the odds that one would fall on someone I wonder? Got to be a million to one.

    Eliza Waters

    October 29, 2020 at 9:31 PM

    • You sent me searching: “In the UK, only six people a year are killed by
      falling trees or branches. In a population of 60 million, this means a one in 10 million chance of dying from a falling tree, or a one in 20 million chance of being killed by a tree in a public open space. In other words, there is more chance of being killed by lightning (1:19 million) or of winning the National Lottery (1:14 million) than being killed by a tree on public land.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2020 at 7:23 AM

      • I knew I could count on you, Steve! 🙂

        Eliza Waters

        October 30, 2020 at 7:28 AM

        • I learned to count at an early age. By the way, some years ago a large tree fell on my sister’s house in New York and crashed through the roof. She could have been killed but escaped with only a broken rib. That was a close call.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 30, 2020 at 7:57 AM

          • Wow, scary for your sister… glad she escaped with her life.

            Eliza Waters

            October 30, 2020 at 8:06 AM

            • She did; the house didn’t. They ended up selling it to a builder and bought another house in the same town.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 30, 2020 at 8:43 AM

  10. Nice set of images! My favorite is the mossy trunks and leaves … A+.


    October 31, 2020 at 1:06 PM

    • Thanks for your A+. In college I once got that grade in a French phonetics course. The picture you singled out is one I’d forgotten all about till I looked through my archive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2020 at 1:20 PM

  11. I’ve been to Muir Woods many years ago, and loved it!

    Lavinia Ross

    October 31, 2020 at 7:54 PM

    • Then we’re even at one visit apiece. I wouldn’t mind going back someday, and I’ll bet you wouldn’t either.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2020 at 8:11 PM

  12. I wonder if Muir was aware of the incredibly immense network of fungal strands that literally does connect everything when he made this quote.

    Steve Gingold

    November 1, 2020 at 7:00 PM

  13. We entered the Muir Woods area during a road trip from Omaha to Monterey in November 2014 but were unable to find a reasonable parking space, so unfortunately had to give it a miss, due to other commitments. I still hope to return one day.


    November 3, 2020 at 1:41 AM

    • Going there on a Saturday morning, we had a similar experience. When we arrived the parking lots were full and parked cars lined the road outside for maybe a quarter of a mile. We drove back and forth and eventually found an empty space. I do hope you’ll make it back there under more-favorably circumstances.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 3, 2020 at 7:05 AM

  14. Not many people have been hit by a falling redwood. They do not get thousands of years old by falling often.


    November 9, 2020 at 6:36 PM

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