Western Trips

Western Trips

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Muir And The Greening Of America

When you vacation particularly in California, you cannot help to see the visions of John Muir who many consider the first Green advocate in America. His legacy lives on in many of the beautiful scenic areas you enjoy while on your California road trip. These include Muir Woods in Marin County just north of the Golden Gate, the John Muir Home in Martinez California and of course Yosemite National Park.

Muir Vs. Commercial Interests

john muir
Pictured at left is John Muir in 1872. Muir was a preservationist. This is quite different from a conservationist. A preservationist works to keep things just as they are. On the other hand, a conservationist wants to use resources wisely but will accept the encroachment of industry. In contrast, the preservationist wants industry and civilization in general to leave things alone. No lumbering, no excavations, no damming of streams, etc.

As you can imagine this philosophy ran counter to the commercial interests during Muir's lifetime. His life spanned the era of rapid western growth. One excellent example was the timber industry. Logging in the late 1800's and at the turn of the century was on a tear. Trees were felled by the millions to supply housing for the rapidly expanding population that was heading west.

As I've noted in a few other posts on this site, there were no real logging methods employed during the early years. At least none that made sense. Forests were cut through with no regard to planting for the future. Fire hazards were great since there was no effort to clear debris after the cutting was completed. Many towns went up in smoke and people killed after hot, dry weather set limbs, stumps and sawdust ablaze.

The Beauty and Value of Nature

john muir photo
John Muir essentially spent his life trying to educate people about the beauty and value of nature. He wanted to keep it untouched and pristine.

Most of his wilderness adventures took place in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was back in 1868 that he walked across California's San Joaquin Valley all the way to the high Sierra's that ignited his life long journey as America;s foremost preservationist. Muir communicated his beliefs  to the masses by giving speeches, writing books and essays and battling the lumber and mining interests.

He also battled water interests and tried to prevent them from damming rivers. Muirs writing career bagan in 1874 when he authored a series of articles entitled Studies In The Sierra. The picture to the right is of Muir in 1907.

John Muir wasn't the only voice battling commercial expansion into the wilderness, but he might have been the most extreme one. President Theodore Roosevelt was credited with taking over wide swaths of western land for the purpose of preserving it for future generations. It was in his administration that forest rangers were trained and hired to watch over these public lands. Roosevelt's close friend Gifford Pinchot was a leading advocate for keeping public lands public.

Roosevelt and Muir

muir and roosevelt
Roosevelt and Muir were friends. Muir's 1901 publication of Our National Parks is what first brought him to the attention of Teddy Roosevelt.  Both men would get together when Roosevelt's western travels would take him to California as the picture to the left shows. This picture was taken of Muir and Roosevelt in 1903 at Yosemite. It was at this meeting that the seeds were planted for Roosevelt's forthcoming conservation programs. Roosevelt's conservationist friend, Pinchot, was also a friend of Muir. Muir is credited with convincing Roosevelt to save the areas of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Sequoia and Mt. Rainier from commercial exploitation. He was successful.

It should be noted that the actions Roosevelt ultimately took at the urging of Muir were not exactly easy. Anyone who has studied Roosevelt knows that he was not on very close terms with the business community. On the other hand, the majority of Congress was. He was met with many roadblocks along the way and it took a degree of compromising to get Roosevelt's environmental bills passed. Even after measures were passed there was still some resistance.

The friendship Muir had with both Roosevelt and Pinchot however was later strained when Muir felt that not enough was being done. Perhaps he felt that Pinchot was giving in too much to the businessmen. It was strained to the degree that Muir simply stopped speaking to them. As I already noted, there is a difference between true preservationists like Muir and general conservationists like Roosevelt and Pinchot. The conservationist will work with commercial interests and set up certain regulations. The preservationist wants commercial interests to just stay off the land.

The Sierra Club

A major achievement during Muir's life was his founding of the Sierra Club which is still going strong. The Sierra Club is probably what most people today connect with John Muir.

Founded in San Francisco in 1892, the Sierra Club is recognized as the most influential environmental organization in the United States. Their mission can be summed as...to explore, protect and enjoy the wild places on earth. There are chapters located across the U.S. with hundreds of thousands of members. John Muir served as the Sierra Club's president until his death in 1914. When you look back at everything John Muir did and everything he fought for, you can realize how the founding of the Sierra Club was his most significant achievement. We're now in the 21st century and the Sierra Club has been around since the 19th century. He certainly left his mark.

sierra nevada range
If you find yourself on a California vacation road trip or if you reside there and take a weekend trip, the reminders of John Muir are almost everywhere. You can visit Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks and be reminded that it was John Muir's efforts that saved these beautiful areas for public enjoyment. If you find yourself on a San Francisco vacation, there is Muir Woods just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.

Make sure to also add the Muir House to your California trip planner. Below is a link to our Western Trips visit to the Muir National Historic Site...John Muir National Historic Site

Located in Martinez, CA which is across the Bay to the northeast of San Francisco. It is now the John Muir National Historic Site and includes the house where he lived and did almost all of his writing. The home was built by his wife's parents and he and his wife also resided there. In fact, he spent the last 24 years of his life there. Following are good websites to help plan your John Muir exploration while you're in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Also see our Western Trips visit to Muir Woods on the link below...

Muir Woods Hiking Trails



Sierra Club website   www.sierraclub.org

More historic travel ideas at www.tripsintohistory.com

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain) 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting write-ups! I'll have to bookmark your blog and revisit to read more!


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