Enter John Muir
Now, Yellowstone is technically the first “national park” because it was called one first. However, for all intents and purposes, Yosemite was arguably the real first one. Conservation of land for the sake of beauty and wonder – the essential reason for conserving land as a national park in the first place – first occurred in California. Yellowstone became the “world’s first national park” in 1872.
Regardless, the proper label upon Yosemite would come soon enough.
In 1868, after a nomadic life whose most consistent passion had been exploration and the study of plants, 30 year-old John Muir arrived in the Sierras. He’d yet to make a name or legacy for himself. But California was to change this.
In 1869 he spent his first summer in the Sierras tending to sheep which afforded him time to explore the mountains. To say his restless, romantic heart fell in love is an understatement – especially with the Yosemite. The mountains of California became the center of his life, and the still-new concept of conservationism would evolve quite significantly as a result of his efforts. His sheep-grazing boss was right when he told Muir he’d be famous one day.
By the late 1880’s, Muir was becoming concerned that those swarms of free-grazing sheep, which he once led, would destroy the meadows and forests of the high country above the Yosemite Valley. Thus, Muir and a colleague began a campaign of letters and speeches to bring all the land surrounding the Valley under national park status. All the land where waterfalls of the Merced AND Tuolumne Rivers are born should be preserved. This came to pass on October 1, 1890, and Yosemite officially became America’s third national park, which would thereafter be under more rigorous federal protection.
Now, speeding up history a little bit, with the diffusion of paintings and photographs, and the improvement of roads and railroads, and an exploding population, especially in California, Yosemite would skyrocket in popularity in the 20th century. Images of its landscapes are known throughout the world. It’s one of America’s top-5 most visited national parks.
Yosemite first hosted 100,000 visitors in 1922; 500,000 in 1940; one million in ’54; two million in ’67; three million in ’87; four million in ’96; and five million, once, in 2016. Obviously attendance took a hit in 2020 as everyone lived in media-induced panic, falling to just under 2.3 million.
However, on Tuesday the 11th of June in the year of our Lord 2019, I was to be one of 4,442,861 visitors – the second highest yearly total in history – to the land of the band of killers.
Truly, romance, in addition to Spock, had swelled my heart to bring me here, as men long ago had intended.
FEATURED IMAGE FROM: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1902_John_Muir_LOC.jpg