John Muir's Trail in History

John Muir was a man of great importance in the history of the United
States and in the preservation of it's beauty. His tireless efforts to protect
natural wonders such as Yosemite Valley demonstrated his undying love for the
outdoors. Muir took a stand against the destructive side of civilization in a
dauntless battle to save America's forest lands. The trail of preservation that
Muir left behind has given countless numbers of people the opportunity to
experience nature's magnificence.
John Muir was born on April 21, 1838 in the small rural town of Dunbar,
Scotland. As a boy, Muir was “fond of everything that was wild”(My Boyhood and
Youth 30) and took great pleasure in the outdoors. In 1849, Muir and his family
emigrated to Wisconsin to homestead. The great forests of Northern United
States captivated him and fueled his desire to learn more. Muir later enrolled
in courses in chemistry, geology, and botany at the University of Wisconsin.
After his education, Muir began working in a factory inventing small machines
and contraptions. However, a serious working accident in the factory left Muir
temporarily blind. When he finally regained his vision, he vowed to live life
to the fullest and devote everything he had to nature.
At the age of 29, Muir made a thousand-mile walk from Indianapolis to
Florida for the sheer pleasure of being outdoors. This experience enlightened
Muir and compelled him to extend his travels. With his family's blessings (his
wife and two daughters), he began to wander America's forests, mountains,
valleys, and meadows extensively. Alone and on foot, he filled his notebooks
with sketches and descriptions of the plants, animals, and trees that he loved.
He later took trips around the world, including destinations such as Europe and
South America. There he explored the Amazon basin and noted many new plant
species. In Alaska, he became the first white man to see Glacier Bay. He
definitely made an impact in Alaska's history: Mount Muir, Muir Glacier, Muir
Point, and Muir Inlet all carry his name.
However, it was California's Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley that
truly claimed him. In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley through
waist-high wildflowers and into the high country for the first time. Later he
would write: "Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada,
or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light...the most divinely beautiful of all the
mountain chains I have ever seen"(Wolfe, 230).
By 1871, Muir had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived
his controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. Muir's
reputation for exploration, glaciation, and environmental studies began to be
well known throughout the country. Famous men of the time — Joseph LeConte, Asa
Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson — made their way to the door of his pine cabin.
In later years he turned seriously to writing; publishing 300 articles
and 10 major books composed of his travel journals. They recounted his travels,
expounded his naturalist philosophy, and beckoned everyone to "climb the
mountains and get their good tidings"(Muir, Life and Letters, 34). Muir's love
of the high country gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether
they be presidents, congressmen, or plain folks, were inspired and often moved
to action by the enthusiasm of Muir's own unbounded love of nature.
Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew
attention to the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle.
With the help of Century's associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir
worked to remedy this destruction. In 1890, due in large part to the efforts of
Muir and Johnson, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was
also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified
Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks. Muir deservedly is often called the
"Father of Our National Park System."
Johnson and others suggested to Muir that an association be formed to
protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen
and others who would diminish its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and a number of his
supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir's words, "do something for
wildness and make the mountains glad"(Muir, Summer, 47). It was established
specifically to rally citizens who believed in the preservation of the High
Sierra and who understood the need for eternal vigilance in its protection.
Muir served as the Club's first president.
In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks. The book brought him
national attention, influencing President Theodore Roosevelt. In May of 1903,
Roosevelt and Muir traveled to Yosemite.