John Muir was a Lover and a Fighter

This last week I read John Muir: The story of my boyhood and youth.

John Muir Many photos of Muir show him with a long beard reclining on a rock looking contemplative. I’ve pictured his life as akin to the ideals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Turns out that Muir spent several years living in a tiny cabin in Yosemite, communing with nature, doing science and reading Emerson. Perhaps my one-dimensional view of the Muir has a basis in fact.

You may be wondering exactly what the great John Muir is known for. Here’s the ultra-short version before I share some stories from his boyhood and youth. He was a writer, naturalist and preservationist of our American wilderness. Muir was an ardent promotor for the idea of National Parks and is credited with the creation of Yosemite and Sequoia NP.  He co-founded the Sierra Club and lead it until his death.


Moss Plants Marin California

John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838. He went to school, lived in a large house with servants and enjoyed the attention of his loving grandparents. He describes flowers, a robin’s nest and many other early nature experiences.

What ran against my image of Muir as a peaceful philosopher was that Muir fought everyday of his boyhood. “After attaining the manly, belligerent age of five or six years, very few of my school days passed without a fist fight, and half a dozen was no uncommon number. When any classmate of our own age questioned our rank and standing as fighters, we always made haste to settle the matter at a quiet place on the Davel Brae. To be a “gude fechter” was our highest ambition, our dearest aim in life in or out of school. (p. 24-25, boyhood and youth) Perhaps such a fighting spirit might have helped Muir to accomplish all he did. He certainly had exceptional grit. Fearlessness in the face of dangers and challenges would have helped him to live alone in the woods or with writing articles about the wilderness.


When John was 11, he and his father and two younger brothers set out of America. His mother and sisters stayed in Scotland and joined them later. His father decided to migrate for religious reasons because he didn’t find the Church of Scotland strict enough.  John and his brothers were excited about migrating. Once in Wisconsin, the 4 of them — one man, an 11 year old and two younger brothers set about clearing the wilderness homestead in Wisconsin, planting the first crops and building a house for the family of 10. It was grueling work for the three young boys no doubt.


Author Amy Marquis notes that he began his “love affair” with nature while young, and implies that it may have been in reaction to his strict religious upbringing. I saw it exactly thus in reading his autobiography.

There are chapters of Muir’s writing describing in rich detail the flora and fauna of Wisconsin as well as his labour on the farm. In between the poetic observations of nature, he slips in a paragraph here and there about the strictness of his father or how he worked 16-17 hours a day from the age 11 until he left home at age 19.

Once his father’s demands almost killed John when he had John dig a water well with some mason’s chisels. The well takes weeks and months to dig as the bottom is sandstone and he has to dig it out painstakingly with tiny tools. It seems like nature is John’s solace, his escape and entertainment for his bright and curious mind while his muscles and body are compelled to complete endless labor.

Moss Plants Marin California

The third and last surprising fact from Muir’s youth was that as much as he loved nature, his first or other area of interest was engineering. As an older teen, Muir starts rising at 1 AM in the morning to work on engineering projects of his own design such as a clock, a barometer, a thermometer, etc. His father isn’t happy that he is giving up sleep to build things, but doesn’t stop him either. He seems to secretly have been pleased with John’s creations. When John does leave home at 19, it’s these inventions carved from hickory wood that open doors for him. On a neighbor’s suggestions he takes his wooden inventions to the Wisconsin State Fair and connections made there enable him to find his first jobs and gain entry into the University of Madison, Wisconsin.


For someone who found writing difficult, Muir wrote a surprising number of books. (I think many find writing difficult, even those who enjoy it.) He wrote 12 books and 300 articles. The book jacket says that “this portion of his autobiography is one of the classic accounts of pioneering, and of the heartbreaking toil demanded of those who would make cultivated fields out of wild land.” I found the book John Muir: The story of my boyhood and youth fascinating on multiple levels from its accounts of pioneer life to the events and places that shaped John Muir.


Photos in this article are all from the Steep Ravine Trail, Marin, CA with one exception. The  photo immediately above with the close-up of the mossy rock with the running water is from the nearby Matt Davis Trail. Taking photos of moss and forests is my greatest joy and interest and has been for several years. While you are here check out the shop with jewelry for nature-lovers associated with this blog. If you find something there you love, I’d be delighted and thank you for supporting this moss photography project.

Ladder Steep Ravine Trail Marin

Mossy Rockstar – Steep Ravine Trail, Marin CA

After hiking on Steep Ravine Trail, Marin CA this year, I declare it the “rockstar” of mossy trails. The trail follows the middle of a steep ravine and I think the vertical sides trap water below. I reveled in the abundance of mossy trees, mossy rocks, mossy plants, lichens, ferns and lush green plants. The science fiction fans in my household dubbed it “Middle Earth” for any Tolkien book or Lord of Rings movie fans out there. Me, I’m more Walt Whitman, singing alone to the blades of grass.

These first 3 moss plant photos were taken on Mother’s Day in early May. It was a super foggy day which really brought out the green color.






This trail is more strenuous then others I’ve reviewed in Marin such as Cascade Falls and Cataract Falls, but probably not as strenuous as the name Steep Ravine Trail might make you think.



In addition to the plentiful moss plants and ferns, the other highlight of the trail is the wooden ladder about a mile or mile and half downhill! I’m so geeky, gushing about a ladder on a trail, but it makes me feel like a kid. It adds so much adventure and magic to the trail. Yeah, some other trail builder might have placed the trail so it went around this and bypassed the waterfall and mossy boulders. Thank you to the trail builders who took the trail via ladder, right up along the waterfall.


Maps: Head to Pantoll Station in Marin CA to get a map. It’ll make your trail days so much happier. Pantoll Station is found on GPS and maps.

Moderate Hike: If you haven’t hiked in while, I suggest going a mile down the trail to the ladder. Climb down the ladder, look around and then hike the mile back. There is even a bench if I recall correctly and there are places one can sit (on or just off trail) if you wish to take breaks on the way back. Sure, a lot of people jog or move fast on trails, but this is one that bears slowing down and pondering.

Challenging Hike: If you hike regularly and a 7 mile hike with some upward climbing suits you, I recommend three options.

1) Down Steep Ravine from Pantoll Station to where the trail meets the Dipsea trail. Return back up Steep Ravine. (Approximately 5 miles, strenuous as the trip is 50% uphill.)

2) Down Steep Ravine, follow the Dipsea to Stinson Beach. At Stinson Beach, locate the Matt Davis trail behind the fire station (at the end of the short block to the immediate north of the fire station) and follow Matt Davis that back uphill to Pantoll Station. Matt Davis will take you back to where you started. (Approximately 7 miles, strenuous.)

3) Reverse the hike above. Start at Stinson Beach. Go up the Matt Davis Trail located at the end of the side street past the Fire Station. Come down Steep Ravine. (Approximately 7 miles, strenuous but the downhill part comes second.)

Dogs: Not allowed in the Mount Tamalpais State Park. Dogs are allowed in the Mount Tamalpais Water District. Hikes at Cataract Falls and Cascade Falls both allow dog access.

Crowds and Parking: Weekends, especially summer weekends, in Marin, CA are busy. Go as early in the day as you possibly can. Before 9am is really great. Go before 11 am or you may have a very hard time parking. There is “extra” parking along the side of the roads, which is OK if you don’t mind walking with cars passing by.

When I hiked in the area in January – May 2016 early in the day, there were no crowds and a light number of other hikers. Of course, there are weekdays — if you can go on a weekday, all the better!

I’m Karen Nierlich. I take forest pictures with a focus on moss plants and ferns. Please follow me on Instagram at @iheartmoss or Facebook at if you enjoy the photos on this blog. also has a nature-inspired jewelry shop especially for nature lovers. When you are wearing a twig necklace, people will ask you about it. You’ll soon know more people who love the outdoors and hiking.  It’s truly a great conversation started.

Cataract Falls Trail, Marin, CA



(Cataract and Cascade Falls are located near each other in Marin County. This article is about Cataract Falls.)

Cataract Falls Trail in the Mount Tamalpais State Park is an idyllic walk through the woods culminating in a dramatic waterfall! The trail starts near the intersection of Ridgecrest Road and Pantoll Road. Tell you more below about finding the trail. There are trees, ferns and lots of moss plants all along the trail as it follows a creek.

This first image is the “top” of the Cataract Falls. If you follow the creek down and down, you’ll find multiple smaller but exquisite falls below. The hike to the falls is only 2.5 miles and a level easy trail for 2.25 of those miles! It’s only when you get to the vicinity of the falls that you climb down. As you know, there can’t be a waterfall without an elevation change!

This image below is of one of the lower falls that’s easily accessible. There is a short spur trail and some beautiful spots to sit. These photos were taken in March and April of 2016. By early May 2016 the water is slowing and the moss is considerably drier.

Truly wish to see this mossy green sight? Time your visit to the Spring rainy season for optimal moss plant and fern viewing!

Cataract Falls, Marin, CA

Trail and Parking Recommendations: Go to Pantoll Station which is easily found on maps and GPS. Get a map there, speak to a ranger if you wish and use the flush toilets! Note there are two 15 m parking spaces on the eastside of the parking lot. I made a note of this as the parking lot is often full. If you just wish to grab a map or use the bathroom, grab one of the 15 minute spaces.

On weekends go early in the day. By afternoon parking is harder to find and you may need to walk along the road from your parking spot.

When you leave Pantoll Station, drive 1.3 miles up Pantoll Road to Ridgecrest Road. There is a pretty large parking lot there and pit toilets. I was able to find a spot to park but I tried to arrive by 11 AM on the weekend.

Difficulty: This trail is appropriate for most hikers. It’s just 5 miles round trip. As I said it’s almost entirely level so it’s a good hike for older kids or if you haven’t hiked in a while. Great hike for friends or a date, as it’s not strenuous, there are lovely places to stop, and the scenery is outstanding!

Dogs Allowed: Dogs allowed throughout the Marin Municipal Water District. Not in the Mount Tamalpais State Park.

I’m an artsy, California photographer. If you love moss plant photos, forest and waterfalls, please follow me on Instagram at @iheartmoss or Facebook at You’ll also find a nature-inspired jewelry shop on this site that caters to nature lovers. Forest-themed necklaces allow you to show the world your love of nature. An acorn necklace, for example, is a great conversation starter and helps you meet others who share your love of the outdoors.

Small and Beautiful Cascade Falls



Cascade Falls is a short walk. It’s a moderate 2 miles roundtrip with only a little change in elevation. Dogs are allowed on leash. (Unlike the Dipsea trail which is part of the Mount Tamalpais State Park and Muir Woods National Monument and doesn’t allow dogs.) There’s no parking lot at the trail head but there are a few pull out parking spots. I went on a Spring weekend and each time there were 3-10 cars parked on the street. If you go in Summer there won’t be water in the waterfall or barely any.

To get there, drive west from Hwy. 101 on Sir Francis Drake about 5 miles to Fairfax. Turn left at a traffic light on a street called Pastori, turn left and go one block to Broadway and turn right. Drive up Broadway and as you are leaving the center of town turn left on to Bolinas Road. From Bolinas road make a soft right on Cascade Dr. Follow Cascade Dr. until you get to the end. Trail starts at the gate at the end.

Few more notes about Cascade Trail at this link and below.




Distance: This is a great hike for young kids because it’s only 2 miles and it’s quite level. As far as I can see the trail doesn’t continue after you get to the falls but there are other trails to the sides so you can continue on one of those to make this a longer hike.

Parking: No parking lot. A few pullout spots. Be careful not to block a driveway. I went 3 times in Spring and had no difficulty parking.

Dogs: Allowed

Bathrooms: None

Coffee, icecream, beer, lunch, dinner: Fairfax is a scenic small town. You have to turn and go through it to get to the hike. We stopped for a meal, coffee or ice-cream each time and that made it such a relaxed and wonderful day.


I’m an artsy, California photographer. I have a page on Instagram at @iheartmoss and Facebook at where I post moss plant, waterfall and forest pictures all the time. You’ll also find a nature-inspired jewelry shop just for nature lovers. An twig charm necklace, for example, shows your love of nature and is a great conversation starter.

Finding Moss in all the Right Places

We were looking for a something called pine tar soap the other day to treat my son’s poison oak when we stumbled into Rivendale Bikes, Books and Hatches in Walnut Creek. The shop keeper Vince commented on my camera. When I mentioned that I mainly take moss plant photos he directed me outside to this patch of moss plants. I went outside expecting to be disappointed! On the contrary, there was a gigantic and robust patch of moss. If you go visit it for yourself, be sure to check out the steel framed bikes, meaningful books and the hand forged hatches inside! This shop rules quirkiness!

Bikes, Books and Hatches Walnut Creek CA




Bikes, Books and Hatches Walnut Creek, CA


If you love moss plant, forest and waterfalls photos, please look at my accounts on Instagram at @iheartmoss or Facebook at We offer a nature-inspired jewelry shop on this site especially for nature lovers. An antler necklace, for example, helps you meet others who share your love of the outdoors. People wear sports jerseys, college, university, team, city gear as identifiers. Show your love for mother nature. It can help you meet others who share your interest and promotes hiking and time outdoors to others. My name is Karen Nierlich and I’m an artsy photographer in Northern California. Love sharing my moss plant photos with you.

Cataract Falls, Fairfax, CA – October 2015


Cascade Falls, Marin, CA


El Niño is on it’s way in. We know that. Whether we’ll get more water —more rain—we don’t know. I’m thinking, be careful what you wish for. I think I speak for all Californians when I say we want the rain. But the possibility of mudslides and flooding is real too. Can we have the rain without destruction, please?

In the meantime, I’ve been checking out new trails. I’ve hiked the Dipsea Trail dozens of times now. From the article, 7 Best Waterfall Hikes Near San Francisco, I found Cataract Falls near Fairfax, CA.

Pluses are that it’s easy to drive to and there will be tons of moss here in Spring. Minuses are the trail is steep with lots of switch backs and there is scarcely any parking. Just 10 parking spaces at the trail head. So stay away on weekends.


Cataract Falls, Marin, CA


On our hike in October 2015 we hiked up to the top and found thick fog and mossy trees!! Delightful as I was suffering from rain and moss withdrawal. It’s been dry here since Dec. 2014..about 10 months. On the way there was a little water in the creek bed which must come from a natural spring. Below is the dry version of Cataract Falls. I promise you a picture this Winter / Spring.

Cataract Falls, Marin, CA


This is the reservoir you see as you drive in on Cascade Dr. It’s part of the Marin Water District. Low water line!





Cataract Falls, Fairfax, CA


Photos by Karen Nierlich. Love Moss and Lichen, please see Karen’s book available on or buy one directly from her.




Now for something a lot less pretty and more conceptual. “Uglies,” if you will.

moss posts, Elk Creek Redwoods Campground.


Scott Westerfeld has written a series of books (young adult sic-fi). In the series, one is called Pretties and one is called Uglies. These are definitely the “uglies” and without a doubt an acquired taste. What can I say, I grew up on punk rock and conceptual art in Los Angeles.

Moss Post, Elk Prairie Campground, CA

Moss Post, Elk Prairie Campground, CA

Moss Post, Elk Prairie Creek Campground, CA

Elk Prairie Campground, CA

Elk Creek Campground, CA


Beautiful Moss Photos – Fern Canyon – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park


Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks

If you love Yosemite, you’ll love this picturesque but less visited redwood park. I consider it a well kept secret that I’m sharing with you, but don’t tell your friends. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is at the far north border of California; just north of Eureka & Arcata and south of the Cali-Oregon border.

Fern Canyon is the main attraction here. The mouth of the canyon is right at the beach and stretches back far inland. It stays wet year around with moisture that rolls in from the ocean, but the best time to visit Fern Canyon is Spring when the walls are typically super lush with moss and ferns. These photos were taken a little before Spring; in February of a drought year. The rangers confirmed it was drier than usual in February 2015.








This area definitely has primordial forest written all over it. I found some sources that said the Jurassic park movies were filmed here in and around Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Fern Canyon. However, websites that cover movie locations say all the forest scenes in Jurassic Park were filmed in Hawaii for all the movies.

Let’s just leave it with Jurassic Park COULD have been filmed here.