Visit one or more of these sites to witness the inspiration that led to this man’s fight for nature.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Writer and naturalist John Muir is one of our favorite outdoors enthusiasts. He’s been called a “Wilderness Prophet,” as well as the “Father of our National Parks.” Although he is most closely associated with Yosemite National Park, we’ve found traces of his travels from Florida to Alaska. Here are a number of his favorite locations, as described by him in his many articles, letters, and books.
1. Fountain Lake Farm, Marquette County, Wisconsin. John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1838, and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 11. Growing up on this farm in Wisconsin helped to sensitize him to both the beauty of nature and the importance of keeping it unspoiled. Fountain Lake is now a National Historic Landmark that is open to the public, as is the adjacent county park.
2. Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin. As a youngster, John Muir seemed as interested in creating his own inventions as in his studies. Clocks were of particular significance. He invented one clock that not only told the time, but it also knocked the leg out from under his bed to wake him up in the morning. Another “desk clock” pushed out a textbook to study. After 30 minutes the book was automatically removed and replaced by another. It is on display at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.
3. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. On September 1, 1867, John Muir began a trek from Indiana south to the Gulf of Mexico. He later chronicled the journey in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. One of his most impressive memories was of Mammoth Cave. He was awed, convinced the house-size rooms and long halls he walked through were the greatest treasures in Kentucky. His walk ended at Cedar Keys, Florida, where he was “surrounded by scores of other keys, many of them looking like a clump of palms, arranged like a tasteful bouquet, and placed in the sea to be kept fresh.”
4. Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California. In 1868 John Muir moved to California and was immediately enchanted by Yosemite Valley. Here’s how he described it to the rest of the country: “The walls are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons, and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously arranged on a level floor, that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an immense hall or temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.” John Muir’s efforts played a role in the act of Congress that created Yosemite National Park in 1890.
5. Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California. Thousands of feet above Yosemite Valley is Glacier Point, where visitors can view the valley floor and numerous waterfalls cascading from snowcapped peaks. A 1903 photograph shows John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt standing together at the point. During this visit, the pair laid the groundwork for Roosevelt’s innovative conservation programs.
6. John Muir Trail, California. Two of the waterfalls below Glacier Point are Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, both on the 211-mile John Muir Trail. The trail starts at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and for the next 37 miles remains within the park. Long-distance hikers call this the best trail in the western United States. Nevada Falls is the largest cascade on the trail, and it’s only three miles from the trailhead. The trail gets steep at the end, but if you are in good shape, it’s worth the effort.
7. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. While living in California, John Muir made numerous trips to other areas in the West. In Arizona, after viewing one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of “forests turned to rainbows of stone,” Muir wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt and asked him to protect the area. It was designated Petrified Forest National Monument in 1906 and given national park status in 1962.
8. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. John Muir made several visits to the Grand Canyon and, like everyone else, was overwhelmed. In his book Steep Trails, he says that “the walls are so deeply and elaborately carved into all sorts of recesses “” alcoves, cirques, amphitheaters, and side canyons “” that, were you to trace the rim closely around on both sides, your journey would be nearly a thousand miles long.”
9. Sequoia National Park, California. In 1911 John Muir wrote, “Walk in the Sequoia woods at any time of the year and you will say they are the most beautiful and majestic forests on earth.” Sequoia National Park is at the opposite end of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite. There is no east-west road through the park, so if you want to visit the south end of the trail, you must enter from the east. The trail ends at the peak of Mount Whitney, 14,496 feet above sea level.
10. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. John Muir was both a hiker and a climber, and one of his conquests was the top of Mount Rainier. On the way up he went through some of our favorite flower gardens. We’ll let him describe these mountain meadows, which he referred to as parks. “Every one of these parks, great and small, is a garden filled knee-deep with fresh, lovely flowers of every hue, the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”
11. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. John Muir also wrote about a mountaintop lake that is in Oregon, not quite as high as Mount Rainier. His contemporary, William Gladstone Steel, gets credit for achieving protected status for the lake, working much the way Muir did for Yosemite. As Muir wrote, “Crater Lake, usually regarded as the one grand wonder of the region. It lies in a deep, sheer-walled basin about 7,000 feet above the level of the sea, supposed to be the crater of an extinct volcano.”
12. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Muir made several trips to Alaska. After camping at Glacier Bay, he wrote this description of one way a glacier breaks off into icebergs. “But the largest and most beautiful of the bergs, instead of thus falling from the upper weathered portion of the wall, rise from the submerged portion with a still grander commotion, springing with tremendous voice and gestures nearly to the top of the wall, tons of water streaming like hair down their sides, plunging and rising again and again before they finally settle in perfect poise, free at last, after having formed part of the slow-crawling glacier for centuries.” To see this park, a cruise ship is recommended, as no roads lead to it.
13. John Muir National Historic Site, Martinez, California. In 1875 John Muir established his home in Martinez, California, near San Francisco. In between his walking adventures, he wrote 16 books and many magazine articles. He was instrumental in the founding of the Sierra Club, which still is dedicated to keeping all that is beautiful from being cut down, destroyed, paved over, or ignored. The John Muir National Historic Site preserves the Victorian home where Muir lived from 1890 until his death in 1914.