by Adventures With Adam
New York, New York
July 27, 2002
One can easily reach the site off Route 4: exit at Alhambra Avenue, turn north, and be prepared to make a quick left into the parking lot. Your visit begins with a stop in the visitor center, a squat cinder block building that offers several exhibits and a half-hour film describing Muir’s life and times. Next, step out the back door onto the grounds of the estate. You’ll immediately feel removed from the area’s suburban sprawl.
I suggest touring the house before the grounds. You can take the daily ranger-led 2:00 p.m. tour, but if you miss that, spend a dollar in the visitors’ center for the self-guided tour pamphlet. Either will help you better appreciate the features of the house. Paintings and prints of Muir’s favorite places adorn the walls. On the second floor, you’ll find Muir’s bedroom and study. The study annex features a Sierra Club exhibit, which examines Muir’s work in the preservation of Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and other national parks. After poking around the third-floor attic, go up to the bell tower and give the rope a pull. (It’s allowed.) Try to imagine the view as it might have looked in the very early 1900s.
After exiting the house, take a moment at the oval garden in front of the house to sniff the fragrant leaves of the California bay tree. Follow the trail through the orchard and you’ll see a representative sample of the fruits that Muir once grew: apple, peach, cherry, almond, plum, pear, apricot, orange, and lemon trees. (The National Park Service and local volunteers maintain the orchard and donate the fruit to local food banks.) It’s said that the nature-conscious Muir wouldn’t allow workers to harm the squirrels and birds that often went after his cherry trees.
Also on the property is the historic Martinez Adobe, built of adobe bricks around 1849. Muir’s eldest daughter Wanda lived in this building, which now houses more exhibits and Park Service offices. If you bring a lunch, you can enjoy it at the picnic tables behind the adobe. Look out for one other tree here: the giant Sequoia. Muir likely transplanted it here from the Sierras in the 1890’s. While not yet the size of Sequoias that have been growing for centuries, it’s still the largest tree on the property and is hard to miss. Allow about an hour and a half for your visit and remember that the park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
From journal Adventures in San Francisco