My Mom gifted me this short book for my 29 birthday earlier this year. Although John Muir never personally published his journal entries from his first walk to Yosemite and across the fertile valleys of California, Peter and Donna Thomas took the time to comb through the Holt-Atherton Special Collections at the University of the Pacific in order to compile the story. This is my review of the story that John Muir never wrote, Anywhere That Is Wild.
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How The Story Was Compiled
Because there was never a formal narrative from this earliest of Muir’s journeys, the Thomas’ did some painstaking work to track down and piece down the journal entries that made it possible for this book to come into form. For that, we should all be eternally grateful. While I mentioned their source at the University of the Pacific, they did not find an exact account of the trip there.
In fact, they used 13 different sources in which Muir made mention of his first trip across California. These sources include The Life and Letters of John Muir, “Rambles of a Botanist Among the Plants and Climates of California”, and Muir’s book, The Yosemite. The Thomas’ were kind enough to include a full list of their sources at the back of the book so that one might add to his or her reading list after finishing this short story, which is actually presented in the form of a letter to anyone who might be considering a visit to California.
The Opening Quote
To set the tone for the letter, the Thomas’ chose a quote from Muir’s A Thousand Mile Walk to The Gulf:
“When at last, stricken and faint like a crushed insect, you hope to escape from all the terrible grandeur of these mountain powers, other fountains, other oceans break forth before you; for there, in clear view, over heaps and rows of foothills, is laid a grand, smooth, outspread plain, watered by a river, and another range of peaky, snow-capped mountains a hundred miles in the distance. That plain is the valley of the San Joaquin, and those mountains are the great Sierra Nevada.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Muir’s writing style, this quote gives you an idea of the eloquence of his prose. Maybe it doesn’t effect you quite so much as it does me. But he strikes me as the ultimate wordsmith, at least in terms of his ability to take an image of the natural world and paint it (in words) on a piece of paper for others to see.
Getting to California
Muir’s first walk to Yosemite started in San Francisco, but his journey just to get to California took a circuitous route indeed. Keep in mind that the Transcontinental Railroad through the Sierra Nevada had only just been completed one year prior to Muir’s first walk to Yosemite, but he didn’t elect to come to California via that route. Indeed, he actually began his journey in New York and started by making his way south to Florida, where he contracted malaria and was laid up for several weeks.
His initial intention was to continue into South America, build himself a raft, and set off the explore the length of the Amazon River. But his illness caused him to change his plans (fortunately for all of us conservationists out there!) and he decided to make his way to California instead. But he did so by boat, first hopping down to Cuba and then down and through the Panama Canal before making his way back up to San Francisco.
The First Walk to Yosemite
From San Francisco, Muir made his way across the bay to present-day Oakland before turning south. His route progressed south for a considerable distance as he wandered Santa Clara valleys and past the cities of foothills of Hayward, Fremont, Santa Clara, Milpitas, San Jose, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy.
At Gilroy, he got directions to Yosemite and made the turn east and started towards Pacheco Pass. Crossing over the pass, he dropped into the San Joaquin Valley, which he described as a “grand level ocean of flowers.” After crossing the valley, they progressed through Snelling and Coulterville and, finally, up into the Yosemite Valley. The trip continued in circuitous fashion through the valley and down into Wawona before turning back westward and coming through Mariposa before rejoining their original route back in Snelling.
It wasn’t the most friendly time of year to make the trip up into Yosemite and Muir’s journals tell tales of wading through six feet of snow at some points. Nevertheless, this journal compilation is a telling account of Muir’s first experience in Yosemite, the place he is so largely responsible for protecting. While Muir might lament some of the developments that have occurred in the valley since his time, some of his favorite sights (i.e. Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan) still endure for the delight of all Yosemite visitors.
Go ‘Anywhere That Is Wild’!
This journal account concludes with Muir’s plea to anyone interested in visiting California and/or Yosemite:
“Just come and see what you can make of these great lessons of mountain and plain. Yosemite alone is worth the expense and danger of any journey in the world. It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. It must be the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra, and I trust that you will all be led to it.”
I hope you enjoyed this brief review of John Muir’s Anywhere That Is WIld!
I loved reading this book and imagining how the central valleys of California must have looked to John Muir compared to how I’ve witnessed them in my lifetime. It’s hard to read anything from Muir without feeling inspired to put the book down and go for a walk outside, but this short book is great to digest while traveling, as I blew through it on a short flight from Reno to San Jose, CA recently.
As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. But I also recognize the importance of writing like there’s no one watching (or like no one is ever going to read it). This process helps us get our sincerest thoughts out there and to remain passionate about writing as a hobby.
Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!
14 thoughts on “Anywhere That Is Wild: John Muir’s First Walk to Yosemite”
Well, that was a very good read for me. The little insight that I just got to the book has really drawn my attention to the book itself and I will really love to buy one and read the full content. I am a fan of wildlife and it was the title of the book that made me even interested in the post. I think that I will need some tips from you on writing. Nice one!
Hey John! Feel free to reach out to me via email if you’re looking for writing tips! I have a full guide on how to become a freelance writer if you’re looking to get paid for your writing work. I’m glad you found my review interesting and I’d love to hear from you once you’ve read the book for yourself!
This is a great review , it illuminates the endurance for such a beautiful place we all enjoy today in Yosemite that seem to have been unchanged since Muir set foot there. With the struggles in California due to weather patterns and uncontrolled fires, its such a reminder that we need to preserve this remaining “wild”. I live in California and haven’t been to Yosemite since i took my son as a teenager almost 20 years ago. reading this review, I’m most certainly respond to his call : “I trust that you will all be led to it”. It’s such a privilege to be able to visit the Yosemite. Will certainly read the book.
I really hope to hear some of your thoughts on the book once you read it! It’s a really quick read and definitely will inspire you to make a trip back to see how Yosemite HAS changed since you were there 20 years ago!
Hey thank you for the awesome post! I find this so intriguing honestly! There seems to be a wealth of knowledge in this book, and it seems like something I would want to read on my spare time for fun! There seems to be a beautiful history intertwined within this book as it captures John Muir’s journey through California to make it to Yoseite.
It is, indeed, a really great intermingling of history and a personal journey of Muir’s! It’s a really quick and easy read (I finished it from cover to cover on a quick flight from Reno to San Diego) and you can use the link in my review to get a copy of your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you read it!
I have never heard of John Muir before but his book sounds very great. I like the fact that the book is a nature book and also a documentation of his travel in Yosemite. I know that there is a very nice park right there that one can have fun. I have never visited though. I love nature and wildlife too so this book will be fun for to enjoy. I should grab one.
You should definitely look more into John Muir! He, along with Theodore Roosevelt, played a major role in establishing America’s national park system. The idea of land preservation and conservation has also taken hold in many countries outside the U.S. since the late 1800s. You can grab your own copy of this book using the links in the post above and I’d love to hear a follow up from you after you’ve read it for yourself!
I’ve actually heard of this book. My ex-work colleague is planning on doing the 3 big USA hikes and is always talking about different places. We actually visited Yosemite in the summer and I’ve never seen such an amazing place. After checking out this review I will certainly be getting the book to see John Muir’s take. Thanks for sharing
Nice! Yosemite has such an amazing reputation, and as your ex-colleague probably knows, it’s also a great launching point for exploring more of the backcountry that the Sierras has to offer. Please come on back and share your thoughts on the book once you read it!
Hey there Tucker,
I have to say that I finally found someone I can share a passion with.
I am so in love with the nature books (although I have never heard of John Muir till today). You have just opened the door to more reading as I must get all of his works.
I had a friend in university who kept talking about the book and how interesting it was for a travel enthusiast but he never mentioned the author.
I searched for a review of it and got to your post. And I have to say I feel like reading all of your posts here.
I think I will bookmark your site, get the book first and read it and then come back to get more insights from your site.
You have been extremely helpful and I am grateful for the effort you put into it.
Have a lovely day.
Hi Dave! Thank you for your thoughtful review and I, too, am glad to have found another kindred spirit who is passionate about nature books! Now that I’ve read this one, I’m finally diving into Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which I’ve been told for years is basically required reading for all nature enthusiasts! I’d love to hear from you when you read this book about your opinion. Happy Reading!
i’m going to have to read John Muirs book ‘Anywhere that is Wild” myself. It sounds like a wonderful, descriptive story of his travels in Yosemite. I live in the UK and have only visited the USA once so far, but I love to watch any nature shows on TV about Yosemite. I love nature and wildlife so this book would be a real inspiration to me, thank you for bringing it to my attention.
This book really gives you an idea of what California’s central valleys looked like more than 160 years ago! It’s hard to imagine them as Muir describes them, but, thanks to his efforts, Yosemite remains largely unchanged from the time when he first set foot there!!