There is no doubt that the United States is full of spectacular landscapes and beautiful national parks. However, many people don’t realize the amount of work that went into creating and protecting these areas. One of the most notable figures in preservation was John Muir. But what exactly did John Muir do?
John Muir was a naturalist who is most known for dedicating his life to protecting and preserving natural spaces in the United States. Muir was actively involved in the creation of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Mount Rainier National Parks.
Visitors to the Bay Area have the opportunity to visit his former home and learn all about John Muir’s life and legacy. Continue reading for more information about Muir’s contribution to the preservation of natural spaces, where to find his former home, and other Muir-related activities in the San Francisco area.
John Muir – Saving America’s Wild Places
John Muir was a Scottish American who was one of the earliest advocates of a system to protect the wilderness areas of the United States. Because of his advocacy, many attribute the creation of the national park system to him. Thus, Muir is often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.” There is even a national monument named in his honor.
Over his life, Muir wrote numerous books, essays, and letters that detailed many of his adventures in natural spaces across the country, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains that run through California. These words inspired people across the country to call for the preservation of natural spaces.
One of the most notable successes of Muir’s attempts to drive conservation efforts was Yosemite National Park. Muir published two pieces in The Century Magazine titled “The Treasures of the Yosemite” and “Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park.” These articles are widely credited with driving public support to push the U.S. Congress to pass a bill in 1890 officially establishing the park.
Dozens of national parks were created because of John Muir’s direct and indirect involvement. However, there are five national parks that Muir actively participated in their creation.
- Yosemite National Park (1890) – Yosemite covers an area of over 1,100 square miles in Central California. It’s known for its massive granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, forests, and glaciers.
- Kings Canyon National Park (1890) – The park, also located in California, which was originally named General Grant National Park, contains over 700 square miles of rugged peaks and high-altitude meadows. The main attraction is the 1-mile deep Kings Canyon that was carved by ancient glaciers. The park connects to the nearby Sequoia National Park and has several large groves of sequoia trees.
- Grand Canyon National Park (1919) – The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited of the national parks, with nearly 3 million visitors each year.
- Petrified Forest National Park (1906) – Also located in the State of Arizona is the barren landscape of Petrified Forest National Park. The park is known for its large deposit of petrified wood, comprised of nearly solid quartz. Archaeologists have also found dinosaur fossils and over 600 archeological sites left by early native inhabitants of the area, including some petroglyphs.
- Mount Rainier National Park (1899) – Mount Rainier National Park, located in the state of Washington, was the fifth U.S. national park created. The park features Mount Rainier, a 14,000-foot tall stratovolcano. The mountain is covered by more than 25 glaciers and is surrounded by old-growth forests, valleys, waterfalls, and meadows.
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: John Muir was passionate about science and was an inventor. While none of his inventions came to fruition, sketches exist of many designs that some historians don’t even know what they were.
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Where is the Former Home of Naturalist John Muir?
John Muir originally grew up in Wisconsin but settled in California, just across the bay from San Francisco. His house still stands today and is protected as a National Historic Site.
The house was built by Muir’s father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel, in 1882. It’s was a rather large home for the time. The Victorian-style mansion has 17 rooms and covers 10,000 square feet. The house is located at the top of a hill that has sweeping views of the Alhambra Valley. When Muir’s father-in-law died in 1890, his wife invited the Muirs to live there. John made this his home for the next 24 years until his death in 1914.
It’s part of a 2,600-acre ranch containing vast orchards that grew various types of fruits and nuts. Most of the orchard is gone except for 9-acres, which is maintained by the park staff. Visitors are permitted to take fruit from the trees when the fruit is ripe.
Visitors can explore both the grounds and interior of the home. The house serves as the visitor center for the John Muir National Historic Site. There are no guided tours of the property, so visitors will need to find their way. However, there is a short 20-minute introductory video that visitors can watch to get them started.
The park service recommends that visitors come during the week to avoid large crowds of people and long lines. On the weekends, wait times to enter the house can be up to 2 hours. The best way to get to John Muir Historic Site is to drive across the Bay Bridge. The site is located about a 45-minute drive from downtown San Francisco.
Other Activities Near John Muir National Historic Site
There are other nearby activities connected to the history and legend of John Muir. Some of the most popular include the Martinez Adobe, Mount Wanda, and the Strentzel-Muir Family Gravesite.
- Martinez Adobe – This house was one of the original structures built in the area. The adobe, built in 1849, was the home of Vicente Martinez. Martinez’s father was the fourth mayor of San Francisco under Spanish rule and granted the land to his son.
- Mount Wanda – Mount Wanda is a 326-acre hiking area adjacent to the John Muir National Historic Site. Named after his oldest daughter, Muir decided not to develop the land and keep the oak woods and grasslands as a place to enjoy walks with his family. Visitors can take pets on the trails as long as they are kept on a leash. The trailhead is a short ¼ mile walk from the visitor center.
- Strentzel-Muir Family Gravesite – Visitors can tour the cemetery where John Muir is buried. Located a mile away from the Muir homestead, the gravesite is open during the day. In addition, there are sometimes ranger-led tours on the weekends.
Why Did John Muir Create the Sierra Club?
John Muir wanted to inspire others to take up the fight to protect the many beautiful natural spaces across the United States. So in 1892, when a professor from the University of California Berkley contacted him with the idea to form a local club for mountain enthusiasts, Muir jumped at the suggestion. A week after the club was formed, Muir was named the first club president. Muir remained the president of the Sierra Club for 22 years until his death.
The goal of the Sierra Club is to bring together like-minded people who have a passion for protecting the environment and outdoor spaces. The Club has been at the forefront of many political and environmental campaigns. Most notably, the Sierra Club was successful in helping to get Yosemite transferred from state to federal control. They have also been harsh critics of the coal industry and the construction of dams and other obstructions to waterways.
Today, the Sierra Club has chapters in all 50 States, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and has over 750,000 members.
About the John Muir Trail
One of the most well-known hiking trails in the United States is the John Muir Trail. The trail is over 200 miles and winds through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The trail starts in Yosemite Valley and ends at the peak of Mount Whitney (the tallest peak in California and the contiguous United States).
While the entire hike is only for the bravest and most adventurous, it is possible to hike shorter portions of the trail. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience the wonders that once inspired Muir himself. The John Muir Trail typically takes three weeks to hike. However, the fastest record was an impressive three days, 14 hours, and 13 minutes.
Exploring the Legacy of John Muir
Without the efforts of this great man, we wouldn’t have many of the national parks that we have today. For outdoor enthusiasts, visiting the John Muir National Historic Site is the opportunity to learn about his life and accomplishments.