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January 23
1882 - Author Helen Hunt Jackson arrives at Rancho Camulos; inspiration for "Ramona" novel [story]
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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Apr 12, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelJohn Muir, so famous for his conservation work in California, was born in Scotland in 1838. Muir was adventurous, even at an early age, and loved the outdoors.

At age 10, his family moved to Wisconsin, and Muir continued to explore the outdoors. Muir attended the University of Wisconsin where he studied philosophy, literature and science. He fell in love with botany, which would lead him to more outdoor adventures in Canada, where he spent time collecting specimens and recording them in a journal.

Following an industrial accident later in life which almost cost him his sight, Muir decided to devote the rest of his life to the “beauty of God’s creation.” He first traveled to Cuba and had planned to go to the Amazon rainforest, but due to illness he went to California instead.

John_Muir_CaneHe began this adventure in San Francisco and then traveled to Yosemite Valley. From Yosemite, he climbed into the Sierra Mountains into what was then a state park. He visited the Giant Sequoias and was awed by their size.

To make money at this time, he took a job breaking horses and then landed a job as a shepherd. He camped with his flock in Yosemite and was overcome with joy, being in this lovely place and in such peace. There is a tale that he took chances doing various, dangerous things such as clinging to the edge of a waterfall just to feel the spray on his face.

He journaled all of his experiences, including not only what he saw and experienced, but also his enthusiasm, enlightenment and amazement.

Yosemite

Yosemite

He finally landed a job at a saw mill in Yosemite. The saw mill cut up dead trees in the area. His boss owned the Yosemite Hotel, and because of this Muir was able to interact with tourists there.

This is where he met his idol, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was hired as a guide by Emerson and was able to show him the Sequoias, teach him botany, and lead him on hikes into the mountainous regions.

Muir had also developed a theory that glaciers formed the valley. This theory was discounted, and the widely accepted theory that earthquakes created the valley stood firm. Muir and Emerson became fast friends, and they continued to correspond until Emerson’s death.

John MuirMuir began writing articles about his theory that Yosemite was created by glaciers and backed his theory up with scientific fact and reasoning. His theory began to gain popularity, and his name was a household word.

He met the love of his life and married at age 41. He and his wife had two daughters, Annie and Helen. He purchased land and became a fruit farmer, but this enterprise, although successful, did not last long. They sold the property so he could continue to adventure into the arctic, do research and write.

Muir in Muir Woods

Muir in Muir Woods

He began his quest to establish the Yosemite area as a national park. At the time, Yellowstone was the only national park. Muir turned his passion to this cause and wrote article after article to persuade the public to write to Congress and demand that they establish the national park.

Despite fierce opposition from loggers and miners, both Sequoia and Yosemite national parks were created in 1890. In 1892, Muir established the Sierra Club.

He continued to use his expertise and influence to move public opinion and government toward conservation of our wild places. In 1907, he began to try to save Hetch Hetchy. Instead, a dam was built that completely destroyed the area.

Muir was crushed by this defeat, and he died of pneumonia in 1914.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

Hetch_Hetchy_Valley

Hetch Hetchy before (above) and after (below).

 

 

O'Shaughnessy_Dam at Hetch Hetchy

Comment On This Story
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4 Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    Learning about John Muir and his work still inspires me today. The same battles he fought for back in the 1800s are still relevant today.

  2. Melissa says:

    Wonderful article about a great man. Can you imagine what the Sierras would look like today had it not been for his (and others) diligent efforts to preserve both mountains and forests?

    Thanks for including the old picture of Hetch Hetchy before it was flooded to insure a continuing supply of water for San Francisco.

  3. Susan says:

    John Muir has inspired me through life and I am grateful when others take the time to keep him current to our lives. Mr. Muir certainly knew that Nature is an important part of each and everyone of us. Thanks.

  4. Another great article!

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