ERSKINE: Mount Tamalpais

Ron Erskine

Getting Out: I grew up on the lower reaches of Mount Tamalpais
in Marin County. I spent and misspent much of my youth roaming the
mountain looking for adventure – and sometimes youthful
misadventure. Back then, it was just a playground. Only later did
the bit of wisdom that has come with age awaken me to what a
special place it is.
A while ago, I wrote about finding your special landscape – the one where your worries seem to melt away and your spirit takes flight. For people who spent their entire youth in one place, there may be no looking to do. The tables may be turned, and your special landscape may have found you.

No one can know a place like a kid who grew up there. The new folks may know the best restaurants and coffee shops but they can never know the best place to build a fort, the short cut to Mike’s house, or the best place to park with your high school date.

I grew up on the lower reaches of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. I spent and misspent much of my youth roaming the mountain looking for adventure – and sometimes youthful misadventure. Back then, it was just a playground. Only later did the bit of wisdom that has come with age awaken me to what a special place it is.

Last week, Renee and I took the day for a trip to Mill Valley and a hike on Mount Tam. The trails and landscape on Mount Tam are vast and varied. The mountain snags southbound winter storm clouds and drains them into several lonely reservoirs on the mountain’s heavily forested north side. On the west side, the landscape opens up – grassy slopes with oaks, bays and Douglas firs in the creases – revealing spacious views of the entire Bay Area and Marin coastline.

We followed Panoramic Highway and Pantoll Road to Rock Springs, which is at the west end of Tam’s ridge crest. If you have never visited Mount Tam before, this is a perfect hub to see much of the mountain’s charm. From here, you can turn right and follow the road to the summit, where you can take a short level walk around East Peak for amazing views of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. Just after that right turn at Rock Springs, stop at the Mountain Theater and take the short walk to the stone outdoor amphitheater built by the CCC during the Great Depression.

A left turn at Rock Springs takes you along Bolinas Ridge – and my favorite place on Tam. You have seen many car commercials shot on this road, and, once there, you will understand why. On a clear day, there are views from Mount Diablo to Point Reyes. The slope drops steeply down for a spacious vertigo-inducing overlook of Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon. Several years ago, my mother, sister and I came to spread my father’s ashes here. I can’t imagine a better place to spend eternity.

We walked a 4-mile loop from Rock Springs to Potrero Meadows to Laurel Dell and back. It is a lovely walk that showcases much of the mountain’s variety. We walked through Douglas fir forests with Bracken ferns carpeting the forest floor. We emerged into chamise and Manzanita chaparral and climbed up to an open forest of Sargent cypress trees. The view of Point Reyes and Tomales Bay that I know is there was obscured by fog this day. We dropped into bays, oaks and more Douglas firs. At Laurel Dell, we turned for home along Cataract Creek, which can rock during a wet winter.

A fine walk, but one of many possibilities on Mount Tam. Perhaps the best part of a hike here is where to stop for a bite afterward. Consider funky Joe’s Taco Lounge near the 2am Club on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, or, for bayside ambiance, have dinner and a toddy on the deck at Paradise Bay in Sausalito (say hi to Charlie for me).

If you know a better way to spend a day, please call.

Ron Erskine is an outdoors columnist. His column appears every Sunday online at www.freelancenews.com. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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