Range of Light

"Arriving by the Panama steamer, I stopped one day in San Francisco and then inquired for the nearest way out of town. 'But where do you want to go?' asked the man to whom I had applied for this important information. "To any place that is wild," I said. This reply startled him. He seemed to fear I might be crazy and therefore the sooner I was out of town the better, so he directed me to the Oakland ferry."
"On the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite...I wandered enchanted in long wavering curves, knowing by my pocket map that Yosemite Valley lay to the east and that I should surely find it."
San Francisco, 1860s. Source
"Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositœ."
"And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light."
"After ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light."
Source: The Yosemite, Chapter 1.

John Muir's First Journey into the Sierra Nevada

A Scottish immigrant working on a farm in Wisconsin, at age 22 John Muir left the radically conservative environment of his family home in pursuit of knowledge and new experiences. He produced mechanical inventions; attended university; spent time in Canada to avoid the Civil War draft; worked in a factory; and eventually chose to dedicate his life to the study of nature. He journeyed, on foot, from Indiana to Florida (his famous "Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf"), took a steamship to Cuba, then made his way to California.

Arriving in San Francisco in the spring of 1868, Muir immediately left for Yosemite through the Central Valley of California. He took a job working for a sheep rancher guiding flocks through the foothills and up into the high elevations of the Sierra. While leaving for periods to explore other environs (particularly Alaska), from this point on California became Muir's adopted home.

Explore Further

  • My First Summer in the Sierra (1911). In this book assembled from his journals, Muir recounts his experiences in 1869 of the area that became Yosemite National Park. The full text is available online.
  • In their book Walking With Muir Across Yosemite, Thomas and Geraldine Vale re-trace Muir's steps during his first trip into Yosemite and his subsequent summer in the Sierra Nevada. They consider and compare the state of these places today with how they were in Muir's time.
Go east to the entrance to Yosemite Valley
Go north to Hetch Hetchy
View the map of Yosemite National Park
Return to the Introduction

John Muir (1872). Photograph by H. W. Bradley and William Rulofson. Source