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What do you know of John Muir, Father of Our National Park System?
posted by John : November 18, 2017


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Let me guess. You know a whole bunch of inspirational John Muir quotes, right? "The mountains are calling and I must go." "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings." "I'd rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains." Great quotes, but what do you know about John Muir?

Did you know John Muir was born in Scotland? He developed a passion for natural history walking through the East Lothian countryside. (East what now? You know, the area east of Edinburgh with rolling, grassy hills and dramatic cliffs along the water. It's easy to see why it would inspire a love of nature.)

Did you know that at age 11 he immigrated to Wisconsin with his family? When he was 22 he started studying at University of Wisconsin-Madison and in 1863 he moved to Canada to avoid the Civil War draft. While there he collected plants and spent yet more time in nature.

An industrial accident in 1867 almost cost him an eye and thereafter he pursued his passions in the natural world. He walked from Kentucky to Florida, sailed to Cuba and then New York, and eventually traveled to California. This is where most people think of Muir.

He worked and lived in the Yosemite Valley for several years and became known to visitors as a local expert. He turned down a professorship at Harvard offered by Ralph Waldo Emerson because, come on, there aren't any mountains in the east.

He traveled to Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. He climbed Mount Rainier and wrote, "Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest." (Suck it, Mt. Hood!)

He spent 10 years managing a "fruit ranch" with his family, but the mountains never released him. His wife would encourage him to return to the wild and, like all good fathers, he took his two daughters with him.

He was a co-founder of the Sierra Club and was integral to the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier National Parks. Is it any wonder he's known as the Father of our National Park System.

Don't worry if you didn't know these things. I didn't know them either, at least not until we visited John Muir National Historic Site on a National Park adventure in the Bay Area. The site is small, just a portion of the fruit ranch he managed. The houses are as he knew them and the giant sequoia he planted still stands, but most of the furniture inside the house is period-appropriate rather than his.

We spent about an hour and a half using the cellphone tour to learn about the grounds. Unfortunately, the power was out when we were there so we missed a few exhibits in the Martinez Adobe at the back of the property, but even without the power it was well worth the time and the drive from downtown San Francisco.

When you go, make sure you budget time for a hike up Mount Wanda. We didn't have the opportunity to do it and I'm bummed. However, that just means next time I'm in San Francisco we'll have to visit again!

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