We Californians owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Muir.
He realized what an amazing and irreplaceable gift of nature
Yosemite is to all of us. It might today be a gigantic housing
development filled with shopping malls and water slides. It
might be called "Bob's Valley" after the developer who had
roads built up to Half Dome, where he has his mansion.
Perhaps he would have installed a glass elevator up the face of
the icon so he could wave to climbers as he went home from
golf down in the valley. Oh the horrors. Thank you, dear John
Muir. Instead, we have a wonderful place to view and
participate with nature. Muir, an adventurer, naturalist, and
writer was the first to promote the idea of National Parks. He
realized how important it was for us to preserve nature before
it was compromised and lost. In 1903 when President Teddy
Roosevelt came to California, he chose to spend time with
Muir in Yosemite, instead of with politicians in San Francisco.
They toured the valley, camped, and talked over campfires.
This meeting was instrumental in the President designating
over a million acres of irreplaceable natural wonders for
National Parks and Forests. Muir also was the founder of the
Born in Scotland in 1838, Muir moved with his family to the United States when he was eleven. It wasn't an easy childhood and he wrote about it in "The Story of My Boyhood and Youth." His father was a strict disciplinarian who wouldn't allow reading. A neighbor in Wisconsin loaned young John books, which he read stealthily in the cellar. At 22 he left home and attended college. But two years proved enough for his wandering spirit and it wasn't long before he embarked on "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf" While in Cuba, he heard of a ship bound to a place he had often heard of and wanted to see for himself. That fortuitous ship brought him to San Francisco, where he immediately took off hiking to see Yosemite. What was meant to be a short visit, turned out to be a lifelong love affair with California and its wilderness. With a scientific mind and keen observation, it was Muir who challenged the belief that Yosemite was formed by a vast movement of the earth and postulated instead, that it was formed by the movement of glaciers. Against all the "experts" - he set out to prove his theory. Muir spent weeks - months - years - wandering the heights of the Sierras and documenting what he observed. He persisted through long, cold, dark winters - that sent more timid souls clamoring for the valleys and shelter. Realizing how wonderful the natural world is - he took up writing to remind the rest of us.
If you haven't had the opportunity to read any of his writings, you are missing a treat. This mountain man wrote lyrical prose. I read with awe how observant and how patient he was watching the creatures of the forest. I smile as I read his musings on the Douglas Squirrel. He brings this small animal to life on the page, when he tells of the squirrel watching him for a half hour while he whistled various songs and bolting when he switched to a church song. He can bring a tear to your eye describing how the light glints off the spray of a waterfall, or make you hold your breath in fear as you experience with him the perilous journey of traversing a glacier in the midst of a snow storm. He purposefully climbed a tall tree in the middle of a windstorm to experience the wind as a tree would experience wind. He gloried in all of nature and did not fear it. As you read, you realize that this is a man who truly appreciated every facet and creature of nature. His writing speaks best for itself. Here is an excerpt about the Douglas Squirrel, from "The Mountains of California."
"He treads the tasselled branches of the pines, stirring their needles like a rustling breeze; now shooting across opening in arrowy lines; now launching in curves, glinting deftly from side to side in sudden zigzags, and swirling in giddy loops and spirals around the knotty trunks; getting into what seem to be the most impossible situations without sense of danger; now on his haunches, now on his head; yet ever graceful, and punctuating his most irrepressible outburst of energy with little dots and dashes of perfect repose. He is, without exception, the wildest animal I ever saw - a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life, luxuriating in quick oxygen and the woods' best juices…………Though I cannot of course expect all my readers to sympathize fully in my admiration of this little animal……I cannot begin to tell here how much he has cheered my lonely wanderings during all the years I have been pursuing my studies in these glorious wilds; or how much unmistakable humanity I have found in him."
Any of us that enjoy the antics of squirrels in our own yards know exactly what he means. Does this sound like any squirrel you know - perhaps when your cat or dog goes after them?
"…while a torrent of angry notes comes rushing from his whiskered lips that sounds remarkably like swearing."
If you'd like to see the tallest waterfall in North America - it's
right here in our backyard. Yosemite Falls just recently opened its
new entrance. The 52 acre site sports a much needed $13.5 million
restoration. Most of the money for the restoration was from
private donations to the Yosemite Fund. It looks wonderful. Where
there used to be a parking lot, there is an enclosed natural plant
area, picnic tables, and updated and modern bathrooms. The
walkway to the bottom of the lower falls is inspiring and the view
and sound is breathtaking. For the more courageous, try the 7.5 mile roundtrip UP to the top. The view is worth it. But it is a
To get to know more about John Muir, you need only take a short trip to Martinez. There you can see the house where he lived with his wife (a very understanding woman that let him hike and be away from home a lot) and their two daughters. It's a lovely old Victorian, sitting on top of a hill. You can't miss it from Hwy. 4. It's straight ahead of you as you exit on Alhambra Blvd.
If you've stayed away from Yosemite because you think it is too crowded you've missed out. Many visitors today are bused in - look around - and are bused out. Many of the camping sites and cabins that were washed away in the flood of 1997 were not replaced. There are fewer over night rooms - so there are fewer over-night visitors. We live so close (3 ½ hour drive) it's possible to plan trips around the "less crowded" times. I love it in the fall and spring when the big crowds are not there. The busiest times are from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on weekends. Plan around it. If you must go in the summer - go mid-week. Remember - most visitors don't wander far from the hotels and stores in the valley. If you walk any distance at all - you'll leave 95% of the crowds behind. Go to the upper country, Yosemite consists of over 761,000 acres. If, like Greta Garbo, you "want to be alone," you can be. Don't miss out on one of the World's most beautiful and wondrous places. Or, better yet - learn to think of tourists as just another of nature's wild and wacky creatures. Besides, they have to put up with us when we travel to their native habitat.