John Muir 18381914

William Dassonville (18791957)
Platinum print, c. 1910

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

In describing Yosemite Valley’s importance to modern society in 1912, naturalist John Muir explained, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” Few individuals at the turn of the twentieth century were more eloquent in describing nature’s beauty or in popularizing the idea of wilderness as a restorative.

Settling in northern California in 1868, Muir enjoyed walking great distances. Although he hiked throughout the West, he found the Sierras most appealing. There he devoted much attention to studying and writing about the natural environment. He helped to set aside Yosemite as a national park in 1890 and two years later founded the Sierra Club to foster a wider appreciation for land preservation. In his role as Sierra Club president, he worked with several U.S. presidents to establish federally protected forest reserves.