Culture vs. Nature

At the bleeding edge of the least necessary and most important struggle of our time.

In Celebration of John Muir: Travels in the Bay Area

Today, April 21st 2010, is John Muir’s 172 birthday. In honor of the patron saint of American environmentalism, and since I’m lucky enough to live in the area that John Muir called home for the last half of his life, I present a wonderful way to celebrate Muir! Read on below this photo of Muir reveling in the great outdoors:

John Muir in 1907

The San Francisco Bay Area is replete with Muir-related sites, and if I was going to go visit them all in a day, I’d do it in this order, with these fantastic activities and restaurants mixed in:

Start at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez. If you’re a public-transit-bound person, this is the most accessible of the Muir sites, just a short bus ride from the Walnut Creek BART station. Muir’s family home and orchard sits at the foot of Mt. Wanda, named for Muir’s oldest daughter. The site is especially fun to visit in late summer, despite the heat, because the fruit from the very productive fruit trees in Muir’s historic orchard is available to anyone who pays the small fee to enter the park. Bring a bag and you can feast for days on one of the National Park Service’s tastiest landscape features. The apricots and figs, from trees Muir himself planted, are especially delicious, based on a visit last July.

After a morning visit to Martinez and Muir’s historic home, where you’ve hopefully packed away some natural snacks for a picnic/hike and taken in Muir’s inspiring biography, head west across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge towards the flanks of Mt. Tamalpais. Here you’ll find Muir Woods, one of the last remaining stands of old growth coastal Redwood trees in the Bay Area.

The park has an interesting history: the park was a gift from Marin county congressman and landowner William Kent, for whom the town of Kentfield is named. Kent donated nearly 300 acres of virgin redwood forest along Redwood Creek to the federal government as a national monument. Theodore Roosevelt accepted the gift and suggested naming it after Kent, but Kent insisted it be named Muir Woods, after his friend (see this incredible exchange of letters between Muir, Kent and Roosevelt after Kent’s gift here). Muir and Kent had met numerous times and worked together on the establishment of a national park service and other conservation projects before and after Kent became a congressman in 1911.

But the defining struggle of the early conservation movement in America would rend their friendship irreparably. Kent supported the Hetch Hetchy reservoir project that would provide San Francisco with a reliable and seemingly endless supply of drinking water from within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park in the high sierra. Muir vehemently opposed the project, saying “Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well as dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man! With Earth Day and Muir’s birthday upon us, now is a perfect time to reflect on this struggle.

Finally, after some exercise on a short hike through Muir Woods, head over the hill further west to Muir Beach for sunset. Muir Beach may only be connected to Muir by name, but it completes this journey nicely. Redwood creek, which you strolled along in Muir Woods, empties into the mighty Pacific here. Take in the sunset and then head to the incomparable Pelican Inn, on the way back Highway 1 to San Francisco, for an delicious dinner and/or a tall pint of local brew (or Guinness). While I’m at this traditional English Tudor style pub and inn, I like to reflect on Muir’s Scottish heritage. Or something.

If you would like to see a simple itinerary of this trip, download the John Muir Birthday Tour pdf I made on Or you can click here to see it online.


Author: Louis Wertz

Preservationist, conservationist, writer, editor, novice designer, creative reuser. Tweeter @louwertz. Head of Communications @EcoAgPartners.

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