Honoring John Muir, the Father of the National Parks

This is the final weekend of the spectacular exhibit “A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey” at the Oakland Museum. The exhibit is large and comprehensive, overflowing with information and interactive displays encompassing every aspect of John Muir’s life. A visitor may take a virtual tour of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney, explore replicas of his living quarters, which included a view of Yosemite Falls, and learn about the terrain discovered and loved, and the wildlife and flora that he helped to document and preserve.

There is a reason that today John Muir is called the Father of the National Parks – in 1890, he petitioned the United States Congress to pass the National Parks bill, which gave California both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. In fact, Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt on a tour of Yosemite. Much of the magnificent natural landscape remaining in the Golden State today owes its preservation to John Muir, which is why so much has been named for him: Muir Woods, Muir Beach, and the John Muir Trail to name just a few.

Among of the most enjoyable aspects of the exhibit are the quotes from John Muir’s journals displayed along the walls, including:

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

“I wish I knew where I was going. Doomed to be ‘carried of the spirit into the wilderness,’ I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my desires, but I cannot, and so there is no rest.”

These lines not only resonate today, but help the visitor to imagine what John Muir was like as a humble man, hiking alone and writing down his thoughts, beyond the legacy that he has become.

This effect is only multiplied when the visitor stumbles upon Muir’s journals, featured in display cases, along with his presidential correspondence. The exhibit also showcases a few breathtaking paintings by William Keith, the fellow Scotsman and artist who accompanied Muir on many of his expeditions – Muir knew all the best vistas. Also not to be overlooked are various profiles on environmentalists and activists today, who carry on John Muir’s mission in their diverse fields. All in all, the “A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey” is a wonderful way for a modern-day Californian to learn more about, and grow in appreciation for, a man who long ago so valued the beauty of the natural landscape that he dedicated his life to preserving it, so that we may do the same today.

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