It is John Muir’s birthday today! On April 20, 1893 “John of the Mountains” was born in Scotland. 2016 would mark Muir’s 178th birthday and what better way to celebrate than during National Park Week.
John Muir was one of the greatest conservationists the world has ever seen and his words continue to inspire people around the world. Together with President Theodore Roosevelt he laid the foundation for the present day conservation movement. It is hard to imagine what our wild places would look like today if it wasn’t for him. Muir was an outspoken advocate for our great spaces before anyone else.
In honor of Muir we’re posting 13 things you should know about his life, his conservation work, and the legacy he left behind for all of us to enjoy. Muir was a prolific writer and we’re also sharing some favorite quotes from his body of conservation writing.
13 Things You Should Know About John Muir
- April 21st has been celebrated as “John Muir Day” by many public schools and government agencies. In California, a special curriculum is taught each year of elementary school to teach students about the life and work of Muir.
2. John Muir started the Sierra Club in 1892 at the age of 54. He served as the organization’s president for the rest of his life, building the world’s first large-scale environmental preservation organization.
3. Ask any historian about Muir’s greatest conservation fight and they will undoubtedly point to Hetch Hetchy. Hetch Hetchty Valley, located in present day Yosemite National Park, was considered by Muir to be a close counterpart to Yosemite Valley. Muir fought tirelessly to prevent the Hetch Hetchy Dam construction and the destruction of the valley floor. He was devastated by the loss when the dam was completed in 1923 to provide water for the residents of San Francisco. Every national park visitor should know the story of Hetch Hetchy and how it shaped our values about protecting public lands.
4. John Muir was born in Scotland but moved at the age of 11 to a farm in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin for 2 1/2 years before beginning his famous walk to California. You can view a Google Earth map of all the places important to Muir during his lifetime.
5. Muir was 21 years old when he entered the Sierra Mountains and the Yosemite Valley area for the first time. Many people have misconceptions about Muir and his relationship with Yosemite. He did not discover Yosemite. He did not start the National Park Service. And he didn’t live in the Sierra mountains his entire life. Muir lived in Yosemite from 1868 to 1874 and only returned for shorter trips after that.
6. Had Muir lived in the era of sponsorships and professional climbers he would have been world-famous for his climbing. Muir was the real deal when it came to Yosemite’s highest peaks and he is credited with many first ascents in the park. At the age of 35 Muir solo-climbed Mount Whitney (14,500 ft.), completing the first recorded ascent by an eastern route.
7. Muir hosted the most significant camping trip in the history in 1903. He was 65 years old when he spent 3 days discussing the importance of our natural resources with President Roosevelt under the stars and giant sequoia of Yosemite. While no one knows exactly what the two discussed alone in the woods, the product of this meeting paved the way for the establishment of the National Park System.
8. The John Muir National Historic Site, located in the Bay-area city of Martinez, California preserves and protects the home where John Muir and his wife Louisa Strentzel lived. It was in this home that Muir founded the Sierra Club and wrote many of his greatest conservation works. Visitors can walk around the historic orchards Muir planted and take a ranger-led tour of the Stentzel-Muir House.
9. All rangers and volunteers working at the John Muir National Historic Site are required to read “Son of Wilderness: The Life of John Muir” by Linnie Marsh Wolfe. If you want to know what the experts know about Muir, this is the book to read!
11. In 2005 the United States Mint featured John Muir on the California state quarter. He’s pictured gazing up at Yosemite Valley’s famous granite monolith, Half Dome. In 2016 the US Mint issued a $5 Dollar coin with Muir and Roosevelt in commemoration of the National Park Service centennial celebration.
12. The John Muir Trail is a 210 mile long-distance hiking trail through the High Sierras in California. It was completed in 1938 on the 100th birthday of John Muir. Each year an average of 1500 thru-hikers attempt the John Muir Trail to walk the same journey that Muir dedicated his life to protecting.
13. Lee Stetson, an actor and Muir historian has taken on the unique job of portraying Muir in many modern-day films and tributes to the life and legacy of John Muir. Stetson, who carries an unmistakable white beard like Muir can be seen on stage each year in the Yosemite Theater in the heart of Yosemite Valley. You can also see Stetson in Ken Burn’s documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”