Tag Archives: Mt. Tamalpais

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A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to the Muir Woods, Thanks to New Book

We didn’t initially intend to hike five miles from our house to Muir Woods National Monument and back, but the first day of spring arrived quite beautifully and, inspired by the new book, We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (illustrated by Denise Holmes), my daughter and I set off on a pretty and hilly local trail. We loved the idea of welcoming the season with a hike, as well as the notion of leaving right from our house and walking to the trail head. We thought we’d walk one way, and had arranged for a pick-up at the end of the walk.

Keffer and Tornio are the authors of  The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, reviewed here last year, and their new book, which delightfully arrived in time for spring, expands nicely on their theme of providing easy ideas that families and others can use to create their own nature adventures. The book serves as a journal, as well, with questions that prompt readers to think, write and draw about their nature time.

Our first-choice activity from the book? “Hike on a trail near your home and write about what you discover.” We added some photos as well.

Anna and me, setting off on our adventure.

Pride of Madeira plants were sighted while climbing our first hill out of our neighborhood.

A kind and creative homeowner shows the way to the Dipsea Trail, a trail that winds seven miles from a canyon in our town of Mill Valley, CA, to the sea at Stinson Beach. We will take the Dipsea partway.

We entered Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

Anna is at the precipice, eyeing the trail below.

We descended into canyons of ferns, redwoods and bay trees.

We spotted a spectacular Douglas Iris.

And a Beach Morning Glory.

We made it to the Muir Woods, about 2.5 miles from the start, feeling pretty accomplished.

Muir Woods has lovely creeks running through it that are home to spawning salmon.

Muir Woods is also home to thousands of old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest living things in the world. This redwood fell on Winter Solstice, 2012. A sign nearby told us that it was an elder that had had a good life and deserved respect.

Tired, but also reenergized from being in the beautiful woods, we traced our steps back toward home.

The hikers, five hours and a great adventure later.

Prompted by the book, and this hike, we immediately planned our next one! A few days later, we took the Dipsea Trail in the opposite direction than we had the first time and went into our town for a shorter (but stair-filled) loop walk. Later, we plan to keep going on the Dipsea Trail, past the Muir Woods to the ocean (and take someone up on that ride home).

Some other adventures we are eager to try from We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors this spring and summer include:

Design your yard and garden to be butterfly friendly.

Experiment with starting seeds.

Reuse an object as a garden container.

Find inspiration from nature, and then create a piece of art.

Swim with your family or friends at a local lake, river or pond.

Discover the night sky through stargazing.

Can’t wait!

Would you like to win your own copy of We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors and a pair of KEEN shoes? Enter the Destination Nature giveaway today.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities
How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
Nature Activities to Celebrate Spring

New Year’s Resolution: Spend More Time in Nature

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

I recently had the opportunity to take two very special hikes on Mount Tamalpais, the mountain near my home that is laced with trails for seemingly every mood and workout. One I took when one of my closest and oldest friends came to visit, and the other I took on Christmas Day with my husband Michael. (Unfortunately, Anna had to stay home that day with a bad cold.) Both hikes prompted me to make a pact with my family – we’re going to take one new hike a month and discover a new trail (and perhaps an old favorite here or there.) We count among our blessings the fact that we live in an amazingly rich place with tremendous natural beauty and well-maintained access that allows us to enjoy it.

As with most New Years, I resolve to spend meaningful time with family and friends, improve my health and well-being, and partake in activities that feed the soul. Spending time in nature fulfills all three, while profoundly and, often mysteriously, filling the personal well of wonder and awe.

Andrea and I enjoyed the Matt Davis Trail on Mt. Tam, a winding trail that traverses the mountain before dipping down to sea level:

A friend on the trail, Yukiye:

Michael and I hiked Blithedale Ridge, a shoulder of Mt. Tam that afforded great views of the mountain and lots of camaraderie and cheer among fellow hikers, mountain bikers and family groups who were out a misty and pleasant Christmas Day.

For more ideas about getting into nature, especially with kids, or starting a family nature club, see the Children & Nature Network. I also have a lot of ideas on my Slow Family Resources page.

As always, thanks for joining me on this journey. I wish you time in nature, and all else that fills your soul, in 2012.

You might also like:

Happy New Year: Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home
Wildflowers in Bloom
Hooray for Stewards of Trails and Open Space

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Take a Walk into Mill Valley’s History

My husband, Lippy, recently led an intrepid group of us back in time 100 years to Mill Valley’s Horse and Buggy Days. He did this as a docent with the Mill Valley Historical Society’s “Walk into History”, an amazing event that takes a different path every year to show people the very rich history of our old (by California standards) railroad town.


The first train arrived in 1889. It was a branch of the North Coast & Pacific Railroad and ran on a narrow-gauge single-track, then a double-track to the station. (The station was moved further downtown in 1903 to the spot that remained the train depot, and then a bus depot, and is now the Depot Bookstore).

In 1896, the Mill Valley & Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway installed standard-gauge track for its runs up the mountain. There was a telegraph office at the station. The early train made about 14 trips a day to the San Francisco Ferry. A trip to San Francisco by train and ferry took about 50 minutes at the turn of the century. Today, by car and ferry, it would take about an hour.

Lumber was also an essential part of early Mill Valley’s history. The Mill Valley Lumber Company, which has changed hands many times, remains in a spot near downtown. The railroad passed through here as late as 1940 for passengers and 1955 for freight.


This sign is still on one of the buildings: Railroad employees must not move engines or cars beyond this point.


We stopped at a wonderful stately Victorian on our town’s main street that was originally built as a summer home for the San Francisco family of George Lingard Payne, of Payne Bolt Works. Payne planted a row of magnolia trees for his wife, who was originally from the South, and the home, which the family used as a secondary residence, was called “The Magnolias”.

One of the great things about our walk was that we went back through modern driveways and discovered remnants of the past I’d never seen before, even though I walk and bike down this street all the time. Behind one such newer apartment building was the Carriage House for The Magnolias, which is now a private home. Its wrought iron gates were originally used on the elevators at the St. Francis Hotel.

Carriage House2

Poplar Brae, built by Scotsman William Terry in 1893, is a wonderful example of the sweeping Victorian verandas that surround some of Mill Valley’s original homes. It also has Asian elements, which some western avant-gardists were discovering at the turn of the last century.


Lippy had us pause and imagine the days when the train ran constantly down Miller Avenue, past these homes. Locomotives were powered by wood, and then oil. They were noisy, smoky and smelly. Vehicles were horse-drawn — cars were still few in 1910 — and the roads were dusty in summer and muddy in winter.

In 1893, only three homes had telephone service. Untreated sewage ran through a pipe down Miller. Streetlamps arrived in 1902, and lighting until then was by kerosene or coal oil. (No wonder so many wooden structures burned down.) Cooking was by coal or wood. Street paving began in 1917.

By all accounts, people walked a great deal, to and from the train, and also to the mountain for a hike. Now, of course, most of us drive to the mountain. (It is a long walk.) We’ve traded train noise for car noise, but our air is undoubtedly cleaner and our lives generally easier, with more conveniences at our disposal.

Back near downtown, this house was built by fireman Charles Thoney, who moved his family permanently to the home after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. (This pattern was repeated all over Mill Valley, whose early residents often used it for summers and vacations.) A Thoney descendant still lives in Mill Valley, though not in this house.


I played my cards right and got to be the tour’s photo holder.


Mill Valley 3rd graders learn about their town’s history and, of course, many of us keep learning about it, thanks in large part to the work of the Mill Valley Historical Society, who create the Walk into History each year and help maintain the History Room in the Library, which houses archives and treasures from our town’s early days.

Thanks, especially to Chuck Oldenburg, and to the Mill Valley Historical Society members who provided so much research and rich detail to the Walk.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Bettina Mow

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