Friday, December 9, 2011

California’s San Francisco

A view from the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean you see is, of course, the Pacific.
If you drive north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, you can take the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic byways in our country. The road winds along the western border of California hugging the coast providing lovely scenic vistas. At one point I stopped to see the elephant seals basking in the warm winter sun. I was surprised by how many of these behemoths were beached by the Pacific Ocean. Huge animals, males can weigh 5,000 pounds. Torpedo shaped to better glide through the water, they are covered with thick blubber that insulates them from icy waters. Their faces have sensitive whiskers, which help them locate prey. The elephant seals' birthing and breeding season stretches from December to March. This explains why they were beached rather than swimming in the ocean.
The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Elephant seals basking in the sun on a Pacific beach.
This gal may way as much as 1,500 pounds.
The opening of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean is called the Golden Gate. At one time the only way across the bay was by ferry, but in 1935 construction began on a bridge that would span the bay making the trip from San Francisco to the other side much easier. When the Golden Gate Bridge opened two years later it quickly became one of the most famous and easily recognized bridges in the world. Some think it is the prettiest. Do you?
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County.
A view of San Francisco from the Marin County side.
John Muir said this about the John Muir National Monument: "The best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." 
Set among hills and often blanketed by fog, San Francisco is a feast for the eyes. Just north of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Woods, named for conservationist John Muir, who worked tirelessly to save the redwood trees. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Muir Woods National Monument one day before axes were coming to cut down the majestic redwoods. These tallest living things can live for 1000 years and reach enormous heights. Some coastal redwoods are almost as tall as a football field is long and have a circumference of 45 feet. Only their cousins, the giant redwoods, grow taller. Surprisingly, the roots of the trees are only 10-12 feet deep. So, why don’t the trees fall over? Because the roots extend up to 100 feet in all directions and form an intertwined web. My car can hold 16 gallons of gas, but one coastal redwood tree can hold up to 15,000 gallons of water taking in 300-600 gallons each day. It takes 24 hours for water to travel from the roots to the top of the tree. Each coastal redwood grows about 2-3 feet per year in height. The tree bark is quite thick ensuring that the giant trees can survive forest fires. They are impervious to insects because of the tannic acid stored in the trunks making the trees too bitter for most insects to like. It is estimated that some of the trees in the Muir Woods are about 1000 years old. In the event that a coastal redwood falls over, it will take 800 years for it to rot. Because of this, the wood is prized for building material. But the trees in Muir Woods are protected. No one can come and cut them down. Instead they remain for all of us to marvel at and treasure. 
A majestic coastal redwood. The tree is too tall to photograph in entirety.
Coastal redwoods grow in groups. This stand of trees is hundreds and hundreds of years old.
Another stand of redwood trees
Coastal redwood trees have thick bark that protect them from fire.
This cross section is from a tree that was 900 years old. You can click on it to make it larger and read the various events noted in the tree rings.

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