The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009) s01e01 Episode Script

The Scripture of Nature

MAN: One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made, that this is still the morning of creation, that mountains long conceived and now being born brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
The whole wilderness in unity and interrelation is alive and familiar.
The very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly.
Everybody needs beauty, as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
This natural beauty hunger is made manifest in our magnificent national parks nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.
John Muir.
PETER COYOTE: They are a treasure house of nature's superlatives, 84 million acres of the most stunning landscapes anyone has ever seen including: a mountain so massive it creates its own weather, whose peak rises more than 20,000 feet above sea level, the highest point on the continent a valley where a river disappears into burning sands 282 feet below sea level, the lowest and hottest location in the hemisphere a labyrinth of caves longer than any other ever measured and the deepest lake in the nation with the clearest water in the world.
They contain trees dead for 225 million years that are now solid rock and trees still growing that were already saplings before the time of Christ, before Rome conquered the known world, before the Greeks worshipped in the Parthenon, before the Egyptians built the pyramids, trees that are the oldest living things on Earth and the tallest and the largest.
They encompass a mile-deep gash in the ground, where the Hopis say the first people emerged from the underworld and where scientists say a river has patiently carved its way to expose rocks that are 1.
7 billion years old, nearly half the age of the planet itself and an island where a goddess named Pele destroys everything in her path while she simultaneously gives birth to new land.
They preserve cathedrals of stone gaily ornamented by cascading ribbons of water Arctic dreamscapes where the rivers are made of ice and a geological wonderland with rivers that steam, mud that boils amidst the greatest collection of geysers in the world.
They became the last refuge for magnificent species of animals that otherwise would have vanished forever and they remain a refuge for human beings seeking to replenish their spirit, geographies of memory and hope where countless American families have forged an intimate connection to their land and then passed it along to their children.
MAN: I think that deep in our DNA is this embedded memory of when we were not separated from the rest of the natural world, that we were part of it.
The Bible talks about the Garden of Eden as that experience that we had at the beginnings of our dimmest memories as a species, and so when we enter a park, we're entering a place that has been--at least the attempt has been made to keep it like it once was, and we cross that boundary, and suddenly, we're no longer masters of the natural world.
We're part of it, and in that sense, it's like we're going home.
It doesn't matter where we're from.
We've come back to a place that is where we came from.
MAN: It is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests, and the wilderness game for the people as a whole instead of leaving the enjoyment thereof to be confined to the very rich.
It is noteworthy in its essential democracy, one of the best bits of national achievement which our people have to their credit, and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever with their majestic beauty all unmarred.
Theodore Roosevelt.
COYOTE: But they are more than a collection of rocks and trees and inspirational scenes from nature.
They embody something less tangible yet equally enduring, an idea born in the United States nearly a century after its creation, as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical.
MAN: What could be more democratic than owning together the most magnificent places on your continent? Think about Europe.
In Europe, the most magnificent places, the palaces, the parks, are owned by aristocrats, by monarchs, by the wealthy.
In America, magnificence is a common treasure.
That's the essence of our democracy.
COYOTE: "National parks," the writer and historian Wallace Stegner once said, "are the best idea we've ever had.
" MAN: It's not the best idea.
The best idea came from Thomas Jefferson, that all human beings, irrespective of the accident of their birth, are entitled to enjoy the aspirations of being fully complete and free human beings.
That's America's gift to the world, but right up there are the national parks.
Jefferson, I think, would say if you go out into the heart of America and see this continent in its glory, it will embolden you to dream about the possibilities of life, that American nature is the guarantor of American Constitutional freedom, that if you don't have a genuine link to nature in a serious, even profound way, you can't be an American.
COYOTE: Like the idea of America itself, full of competing demands and impulses, the national park idea has been constantly debated, constantly tested, and is constantly evolving, ultimately embracing plas that also preserve the nation's first principles, its highest aspirations, its greatest sacrifices, even reminders of its most shameful mistakes.
Most of all, the story of the national parks is the story of people, people from every conceivable background, rich and poor, famous and unknown, soldiers and scientists, natives and newcomers, idealists, artists, and entrepreneurs, people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.
From the very beginning as they struggled over who should control their national parks, what should be allowed within their boundaries, even why they should exist at all, Americans have looked upon these wonders of nature and seen in them the reflection of their own dreams.
MAN: One of the things I think we witness when we go to the parks is the immensity and the intimacy of time.
On the one hand, we experience the immensity of time, which is the creation itself, it is the universe unfolding before us, and yet it is also time shared with the people that we visit these places with, and so it's the experience that we remember when our parents took us for the first time to these and then we as parents passing them on to our children, a kind intimate transmission from generation to generation to generation of the love of place, the love of nation that the national parks are meant to stand for.
[Birds chirping] [Water running] COYOTE: Early in 1851 during the frenzy of the California gold rush, an armed group of white men was scouring the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, searching for Indians, intent on driving them from their homeland.
They called themselves the Mariposa Battalion, and late on the afternoon of March 27, they came to a narrow valley lined by towering granite cliffs where a series of waterfalls dropped thousands of feet to reach the Merced River on the valley's floor.
One of the men, a young doctor named Lafayette Bunnell stood there transfixed.
MAN AS LAFAYETTE AS BUNNELL: As I looked, a peculiar, exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion.
I said with some enthusiasm, "I have here seen the power "and glory of the Supreme Being.
"The majesty of His handiwork is in that testimony "of the rocks.
" COYOTE: Bunnell's enchantment with the scenery was not shared by the rest of the Mariposa Battalion, who busied themselves setting fire to any Indian homes they found.
Before the Battalion moved on, Bunnell convinced the others that as the first white men ever to enter the valley they should give it a name.
He suggested Yosemite because he thought that was the name of the tribe they had come to dispossess.
Later, scholars would learn that the people living in the valley called it Ahwahnee, meaning the place of a gaping mouth, and they called themselves the Ahwahneechee.
Yosemite, it was learned, meant something entirely different.
In the native language, Yosemite refers to people who should be feared.
It means they are killers.
4 years later in 1855, a second group of white people entered Yosemite Valley, this time as tourists, not Indian fighters.
They were led by James Mason Hutchings, an energetic Englishman who had failed miserably as a prospector during the gold rush.
Now he hoped to make a fortune by promoting California's scenic wonders through an illustrated magazine.
When a report about the Indian campaign in the Sierras mentioned a waterfall more than 1,000 feet high, Hutchings rushed to see it for himself.
Word and images of Yosemite quickly spread.
Other tourists began showing up to witness its beauty firsthand.
The trip required a two-day journey from San Francisco to the nearest town and then, with no wagon road into the valley, a grueling 3-day trek by foot or horseback up and down steep mountainsides on narrow, rocky paths.
But for most, the scenic reward was worth the hardship.
"Looking at the majestic cathedral rocks "and cathedral spires," wrote a Massachusetts newspaperman, "made it easy to "imagine that you are under the ruins of an old gothic "cathedral to which those of Cologne and Milan are "but baby houses.
" Upon seeing Yosemite Falls, the highest free-leaping waterfall on the continent, another visitor began quoting The Bible.
"Now let me die," he told his companions, "for I am happy.
" 15 miles south of Yosemite Valley, the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias contains the largest living things on earth, trees nearly 3,000 years old.
When Horace Greeley, editor of the "New York Tribune," saw them, he boasted to his readers that they were "of substantial size when David danced before the Ark.
" Soon, the celebrated painter Albert Bierstadt arrived and produced a series of masterpieces.
One of them would command a price of $25,000, equal to the highest amount ever paid for an American work of art.
While Bierstadt painted, his friend Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote dispatches that appeared in "The Atlantic Monthly," the nation's most prestigious magazine.
MAN AS FITZ HUGH LUDLOW: We did not so much seem to be seeing from that crag of vision a new scene on the old familiar globe as a new heaven and a new earth into which the creative spirit had just been breathed.
I hesitate now, as I did then, at the attempt to give my vision utterance.
Never were words as beggared for an abridged translation of any scripture of nature.
JENKINSON: Jefferson looked across America from the portico at Monticello, and he saw wilderness all the way out, so he couldn't conceive of a national park because, for Jefferson, America was a national park.
This country is Eden, and we Americans had this glorious opportunity to see the world in its infancy so that America in a sense had been kept as a symbol of what the world once was.
COYOTE: As Thomas Jefferson's nation had grown, the country's sense of itself and its possibilities had grown, as well, not only in the political sphere but in the arts, literature, and in its citizens' relationship to God.
MAN: At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.
The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he takes.
Here is sanctity which shames our religions and reality which discredits our heroes.
Here, we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance and judges like a god all men that come to her.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
COYOTE: The transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson had been telling Americans for years that God was more easily found in nature than in the works of man.
His disciple, Henry David Thoreau, had called for "little oases of wildness in the desert "of our civilization.
" CRONON: What emerges in the middle of the 19th Century is this idea that going back to wild nature is restorative, it's a way of escaping the corruptions of urban civilized life, finding a more innocent self, returning to who you really are, returning to a kind of authenticity, and if you want to know God at firsthand, the way to do that is not to enter a cathedral, not to open a book, but to go to the mountaintop, and on the mountaintop, there you will see God as God truly is in the world.
COYOTE: But it was all in danger as the nation, in the name of manifest destiny, marched inexorably across the continent, systematically dispossessing Indian peoples from their homelands and transforming the land to new uses.
The artist George Catlin worried th the vast herds of buffalo and the Indians who depended on them would someday be gone forever, and he called for the creation of a nation's park to save them both.
No one listened.
By the 1860s, the country's most famous natural landmark, Niagara Falls, had already been nearly ruined.
Every overlook was owned by a private landowner charging a fee.
Tourists could expect to be badgered and oftentimes swindled by the hucksters and self-appointed guides who swarmed the railroad depot and carriage stands.
European visitors publicly belittled Americans for allowing such a majestic work of nature to become blighted by commercial development and offered it as further evidence that the United States was still a backward, uncivilized nation.
CRONON: Americans feel that the United States is somehow inferior to Europe, where the United States doesn't have the ruins of Rome or of Greece, it doesn't have the Acropolis, it doesn't have the Parthenon, and so it seems like we're an inferior nation, and yet the one thing we do have is a nature that looks closer to the new morning of God's own creation, closer to paradise than anything that Europe has to offer, and so the thought is that if we're to preserve anything that stands for the glory of America, then these overwhelmingly beautiful, sacred spots are the ones we ought to preserve.
COYOTE: On May 17, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, with Union casualties averaging 2,000 a day, the junior senator from California, John Conness, rose to explain a bill he had just introduced.
It had nothing to do with the war that threatened to destroy his nation.
MAN AS JOHN CONNESS: I will state to the Senate that this bill proposes to make a grant of certain premises located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the state of California that are for all public purposes worthless but which constitute perhaps some of the greatest wonders of the world.
It is a matter involving no appropriation whatever.
The property is of no value to the government.
COYOTE: Conness' bill proposed something totally unprecedented in human history, setting aside not a landscaped garden or a city park but a large tract of natural scenery for the future enjoyment of everyone.
More than 60 square miles of federal land, encompassing the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of big trees, were to be transferred to the care of the state of California on the condition that the land never be opened for private ownership and instead be preserved for public use, resort, and recreation.
After only a few questions and no objections, the Senate passed Conness' bill and moved on to other business.
A month later, the House did the same, and on June 30, 1864, a day in which he also signed bills increasing import duties and broadening the income tax in order to continue a war to preserve the Union, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law to preserve forever a beautiful valley and a grove of trees that he had never seen thousands of miles away in California.
JENKINSON: And so Lincoln, who realizes that it's the West that is the dynamo of American life, it's the fuel of American idealism--Lincoln wants to save some significant portions of it from what he sees as the North's runaway industrial idea of the future of the continent.
In a sense, the whole history of America is a lament that this Garden of Eden which we have discovered is going to slip away from us somehow.
MAN: When I think of a grove of giant sequoia, I think of a cathedral or a church, a place where you're not necessarily worshipping the name of something but the presence of something else.
There's no need for someone to remind you that there is something in this world that is larger than you are because you can see it, and you look up in a storm, and you can't even see the rim of the valley.
All you can see our clouds gathered there at the rim of the valley, and Yosemite Falls seems to flow out of the clouds itself as if out of nowhere.
It's a gathering place of water, all the waters of the sky flowing into that one spot, which makes it a gathering of life and a gathering of spirit, as well, and all of those things, are flowing through Yosemite, and so I think what better place is there that has such a confluence of so many things flowing together and the result is music? MAN: Men who are rich enough provide places of needed recreation for themselves.
They have done so from the earliest periods known in the history of the world.
The enjoyment of the choicest natural scenes in the country is thus a monopoly of a very few, very rich people.
The great mass of society, including those to whom it would be of the greatest benefit, is excluded from it.
Thus, unless steps are taken by government to withhold them from the grasp of individuals, all places favorable in scenery to the recreation of the mind and body will be closed against the great body of the people.
Frederick Law Olmsted.
COYOTE: 4 months after the Civil War ended, a small group gathered in Yosemite Valley to hear Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated designer of New York City's Central Park, read a report he had written about the future of the land that had just been entrusted to the state of California.
He called for strict regulations to protect the landscape from anything that would, in his words, "obscure, "distort, or detract from the dignity of the scenery.
" "In a place as special as Yosemite," Olmsted said, "the rights of posterity were more important than "the desires of the present.
" MAN AS FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED: Before many years if proper facilities are offered, these hundreds will become thousands, and in a century, the whole number of visitors will be counted by millions.
An injury to the scenery so slight that it may be unheeded by any visitor now will be one multiplied by those millions.
COYOTE: But once Olmsted returned to New York, a small group of Yosemite commissioners secretly convened, decided his recommendations were too controversial to bring to the state legislature, and quietly shelved his report.
Among those who studiously ignored Olmsted's suggestions on the future of Yosemite was James Mason Hutchings.
No one had done more than Hutchings to bring the valley to the nation's attention, but now that the nation had moved to protect it in perpetuity by declaring it public, no one fought that decision with greater vehemence.
MAN: James Mason Hutchings loved Yosemite, no doubt about that, and every national park will have somebody who loves it deeply and then wants to exploit the hell out of it.
The thing about James Mason Hutchings is that once he gets control of Yosemite Valley he does exactly what most concessionaires do with a beautiful place like that.
He begins to make it into another Niagara Falls.
You have to pay him for the privilege of seeing Yosemite Valley.
COYOTE: He had already given up his publishing business and bought one of the valley's two hotels, which he quickly renamed The Hutchings House.
He enjoyed lecturing his guests and leading them on sightseeing tours, yet sometimes failed to provide them with knives and forks at dinner or forgetfully filled their coffee cups with cold water.
"Guests would be better served," one of his early customers wrote, "if the proprietor paid less attention "to describing the beauties and more to providing comfortable "beds and properly prepared meals.
" WOMAN: Upstairs, the rooms were only divided by pieces of cotton cloth, and it required some little strategy to place the candle so that one's figure should not appear on the cloth partition hugely magnified for the amusement of one's neighbors.
COYOTE: Hutchings was technically a squatter in Yosemite, but in brazen defiance of the law, he went about expanding his operations.
To provide the lumber he needed would require a sawmill Hutchings decided and someone to run it.
Just at that moment in the fall of 1869, a 31-year-old Scottish-born wanderer would show up to apply for the job.
He called himself "an unknown nobody," but he would do far more than Hutchings to extol the beauty of Yosemite, more than Frederick Law Olmsted to protect it, and with his lyrical voice infuse the national park idea with the passion of religious fervor.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: I know that I could under ordinary circumstances accumulate wealth and obtain a fair position in society, but I am sure that the mind of no truant schoolboy is more free and disengaged from all the grave plans and purposes and pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine.
John Muir.
I don't know how you ever account for an extraordinary individual like John Muir.
It's one of the enduring human mysteries.
Out species is capable of such pathetic, appalling narrowness and occasionally of such magnificent generosity.
I don't know how to account for that.
COYOTE: John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, and raised in Wisconsin, where he had suffered a harsh childhood at the hands of a tyrannical father, an itinerant Presbyterian minister who insisted that Muir memorize The Bible and repeatedly beat him until by age 11 he was able to recite 3/4 of The Old Testament and the entire New Testament by heart.
He was a natural-born scientist, studied geology and botany at the University of Wisconsin, and coming of age at a time when new industries were transforming post-war America, Muir also showed great promise as an inventor, increasing the productivity of every one of the businesses that hired him.
DUNCAN: He went to work in a carriage factory in Indianapolis and did a sort of time-motion study that said the factory is like a machine itself and the human beings are parts of that.
He could have been Andrew Carnegie, he could have been--with his inventive genius, he could have been Thomas Edison, but something inside of him drew him to a different destiny.
COYOTE: A factory accident temporarily blinded him for several months.
When he regained his sight, Muir fled his workday world and set out on a thousand-mile walk to Florida, pursuing his passion for the natural sciences, studying plants and flowers, and beginning a journal he would keep for the rest of his life.
MAN: When Muir began that walk, he was intending to walk to South America and to eventually find the headwaters of the Amazon, build himself a raft, and float down the entire length of the Amazon.
Happily, he was discouraged from doing so by a fever, probably malaria that so weakened him he decided that going to the west coast and what he had heard vaguely of Yosemite might be a better idea.
COYOTE: After getting off a boat in San Francisco, he was asked, "Where do you wish to go?" Muir answered, "Anywhere that's wild.
" POPE: And he walks.
The essence of John Muir is the John Muir who walks.
He immediately sets off across Pacheco Pass, across the Central Valley to Yosemite, and it is this act of walking which actually creates a faith for him, a new version of Christianity, a Christianity rooted in place and wildness and nature.
It's a Christianity that is not about the built worship of God but about the worship of God's creation.
COYOTE: Soon, he was rambling across the Sierra Nevada, the vast mountains he called "the range of light, surely "the brightest and best of all the Lord has built.
" MAN AS JOHN MUIR: We are now in the mountains, and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.
Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.
COYOTE: Then he descended into Yosemite Valley.
"It was," Muir wrote, "by far the "grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever "permitted to enter, the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra.
" When Hutchings offered him the job, he realized he could make Yosemite his home.
Muir built Hutchings' sawmill and began producing lumber for the many projects his new employer directed him to undertake: replacing the muslin sheets with wooden partitions in the hotel's sleeping quarters; improving a space called The Big Tree Room built around the trunk of a giant cedar; and erecting two additional cottages to accommodate the increasing number of tourists, now exceeding 1,000 a summer.
For himself and a fellow worker, Muir built a one-room cabin near the base of Yosemite falls complete with a single window facing the falls, a floor paved with stones spaced far enough apart to allow ferns to continue growing, and a small ditch that brought part of the creek into a corner of the cabin "with just enough "current," Muir wrote, "to allow it to sing "and warble in low, sweet tones, delightful at night "while I lay in my bed suspended from the rafters.
" Every free moment Muir devoted to exploring the valley and the mountain ramparts surrounding it, traveling for days with only a few pounds of crackers, oatmeal, and tea for nourishment, the soles of his shoes studded with nails for clamoring up rocky slopes, pondering the geology of the Sierras, closely inspecting everything he encountered, thinking nothing of covering 50 miles in a two-day excursion.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: I drifted from rock to rock, from stream to stream, from grove to grove.
When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day to make its acquaintance and hear what it had to tell.
I asked the boulders I met whence they came and whither they were going.
CRONON: One way to think about John Muir is as a kind of ecstatic holy man, a man who is sort of in a berserk rapture out there in nature doing bizarre things that I think most of us can't imagine ever doing.
DUNCAN: He decided he wanted to go see the brink of Yosemite falls a few thousand feet or so above the canyon floor, and something, he said, impelled him not just to go look but to crawl out over the edge and bring himself along the side of the canyon face so he could be--experience what the water felt when it goes, leaps over the edge.
He went behind Yosemite Falls, I mean, crawling up just these very, very dangerous, slippery rocks.
I mean, he didn't have pitons and ice axes.
He didn't have gear.
He climbed up so he could stand right behind the falls.
He said, "I wanted to hear the song of the waterfall.
" STETSON: Some of the more astonishing things he did there was to ride a snow avalanche to the bottom of the valley, having spent all day climbing to the top of the Yosemite Valley walls and then being swished to the foot of that canyon in just less than a minute.
DUNCAN: He was interested in the animals, and he saw a bear in a meadow and decided "If I run at it, I can view it as "what it looks like when it's running.
" Well, so he scampered and made a bunch of noise.
The bear raised up an didn't run at all.
He later called it "my interview with the bear.
" STETSON: An earthquake hit Yosemite Valley, and Muir was bounced from his bed and ran outside, shouting, "Noble earthquake!" And as soon as a great section of the wall had collapsed, he was racing to see it.
[Thunder] He celebrated trees by going up, crawling up into the very tops of them and letting storms batter him so that he understood what a storm felt like to a tree.
WOMAN: John Muir saw the spirituality inherent in granite.
His view as a scientist and his view as a deeply religious man were the same view.
He had this wonderful sense of ecstasy, having been born every single day new when he was in a wild, raw landscape.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: I am a captive, I am bound.
Love of pure, unblemished nature seems to overmaster and blur out of sight all other objects and considerations.
COYOTE: "It was all part," Muir said, of his "unconditional surrender to nature.
"The winds and cascading creeks seemed to sing an exalting "chorus audible to anyone willing to listen.
" He contemplated the life of a raindrop, marveled at the tenacity of plants somehow clinging to life on bare granite, soaked sequoia cones in water and drank the purple liquid.
"To improve my color," he explained, "and render "myself more tree-wise and sequoical.
" Other times, he liked to put his head down between his knees and look at the world upside down to see what he called "its upness.
" Everywhere Muir turned, he believed he was witnessing the work and presence of God, not the stern and wrathful God of his father, who placed man above nature, but a God who revealed himself through nature and for whom mankind was merely one part of a great, joyously interconnected web of being.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot.
As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing.
I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche.
I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens and get as near to the heart of the world as I can.
EHRLICH: John Muir once said, "By going out into the natural world, I'm really going in.
" He defined in that sentence what it is to be a human being because I think we're born lost, and we remain lost until we remove the shell of who we think we are, all the preconceptions of who we think we are and to expose ourselves to the great power of the natural world and to let that power reshape us the way it's reshaped the rocks of Yosemite Valley.
COYOTE: Muir now felt he had discovered something else, his own destiny.
The gaunt mountaineer with blazing blue eyes and long whiskers would devote himself to understanding the wilderness and then teach others the lessons he had learned.
If Yosemite was a temple, he would be come its high priest.
"Heaven knows," he wrote, "that John the Baptist was not "more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan "than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty "of God's mountains.
" The man who seemed to talk to flowers and rocks was considered by many people as an eccentric, one more of Yosemite's curiosities.
On one excursion into the mountains, he met a total stranger and told him he was rambling across the Sierra Nevada looking at trees.
"Oh, then," the stranger replied, "you must be John Muir.
" Josiah Whitney, California's state geologist, grew indignant when he heard that Muir was disputing his theory that Yosemite had been created by a cataclysmic collapse of the valley floor.
Muir instead believed that over thousands of years glaciers had gouged out the valley and polished smooth the granite domes.
Whitney derided Muir as "a mere sheep herder" and "an ignoramus" and scornfully dismissed his conclusions, but Muir persevered and in 1871 discovered a living glacier in the recesses of the Sierra, the first of 65 he would eventually encounter and study, and when he led other geologists to his evidence, they came to see that he was right and Whitney was wrong.
Meanwhile, James Mason Hutchings has persuaded his friends in the California Legislature to pass a special bill exempting him from the law that had set the valley aside as public property, and twice, the U.
S.
House of Representatives was willing to go along.
Both times, however, the Senate held firm against him.
Hutchings sued, arguing all the way to the U.
S.
Supreme Court that the federal government had no right to dispose of public lands for any purpose other than private settlement.
Ruling against him, the High Court established a precedent that the act creating Yosemite was in fact Constitutional.
In 1875, Hutchings was evicted from his hotel and banished from the valley he had so tirelessly promoted.
DUNCAN: James Mason Hutchings did 3 very important things for the national park idea.
First of all, he brought Yosemite and its wonders to the attention of the world.
Secondly, inadvertently, by challenging the law that set it aside and tried to kick him out--by challenging that all the way to the Supreme Court, luckily, the Supreme Court ruled that, in fact, it was Constitutional to do.
So that was a very important precedent that if it had gone the other way who knows what would have happened with national parks.
The third and probably most important thing is he hired John Muir and helped introduce him to the Yosemite Valley.
COYOTE: With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, even more tourists were arriving in the par: writers, artists, scientists, and wealthy Easterners who enjoyed listening to Muir as he led them from one spectacular viewpoint to another.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: How little note is taken at the deeds of nature.
What paper publishes her reports? Who publishes the sheet music of the winds or the music of water written in river lines? Who reports the works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? COYOTE: But soon, John Muir would leave Yosemite, too.
He packed his meager belongings and moved to Oakland, where he hoped to spread his gospel of nature by writing a series of reports for the "Overland Monthly" and other popular magazines.
"Writing," he said, "was like the life of a glacier, "one eternal grind," but over the next several years, that writing would help articulate for millions of Americans a deep and abiding love for their land.
[Birds cawing] MAN: Sacred means different things to different people, and to the American Indians, sacredness means you can go in there walk as your ancestors did, you can go in there and you can see what the creator has made for us, and you can feel it, you can feel the spirits, but we can take it one step farther.
Because the environment is still there as in the time of creation, we believe that it is still alive.
[Rumbling] DUNCAN: In the early 1800s, reports started filtering out about this magical place.
John Colter, who had been a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition had left them instead of returning to civilization, became the first legendary mountain man, and he came back with a tale of a place where mud was boiling, where steam was coming out of the ground, water spouted, and people sort of made fun of it.
They called it Colter's Hell.
Joe Meek, the mountain man, stumbled upon it and said it reminded him of the place that the preachers had warned him about back when he went to church.
COYOTE: Jim Bridger, another mountain man, had also told tales of the place, the long-time home of the Sheepeater Band of Shoshone Indians and a meeting place for half a dozen other tribes.
It included a lake, he claimed, where a man could catch a fish in one spot and then swing his line over a few feet to instantly cook his catch in a hot spring.
"There was a canyon so deep," he added, "that a man could "shout down into it at night and be awakened by his echo "the next morning.
" As late at 1869, a group of prospectors had ventured into the area they called the Valley of Death, but when they finally wrote a detailed account of their journey, magazines in the East refused to publish it.
"Thank you," one editor responded, "but we do not "print fiction.
" [Horse neighs] Then in the late summer of 1870, a much more prestigious group intended to put an end to the mystery and either confirm or deny the rumors once and for all.
Accompanied by a small military escort, they included a prominent banker, a son of a United States Senator, a part-time newspaper correspondent, and Truman C.
Everts, at age 54 the oldest member of the expedition, a Vermonter who had come along on a lark.
The moving force behind the expedition was Nathaniel P.
Langford, a well-connected Montana politician who believed the future prosperity of the territory rested with completion of a proposed second transcontinental railway, The Northern Pacific.
Earlier in the year, Langford had met privately with Jay Cooke, the financier underwriting $100 million worth of Northern Pacific bonds.
The two had agreed that any publicity about the region's attractions would be good for the territory, good for The Northern Pacific's bond sales, and good for Nathaniel Langford.
MAN: And we know that Langford was actually in the employ of Northern Pacific.
He seemed to always--no matter where else he was, he seemed to always be near the till.
COYOTE: Two weeks into his expedition's journey, Langford came across the kind of scenery the mountain men had described.
MAN AS NATHANIEL LANGFORD: We came suddenly upon a basin of boiling sulfur springs, boiling like a cauldron, throwing water and fearful volumes of vapor higher than our heads.
The spring lying to the east of this, more diabolical in appearance and filled with a hot, brownish substance of the consistency of mucilage, is in constant, noisy ebullition, emitting fumes of a villainous odor.
COYOTE: They kept moving past more mud pots that made noises, they said, "like the safety valve of a laboring "steamboat engine," over ground that sounded hollow under their horses' hooves, near vents that were too hot too touch even with gloved hands, places to which they would attach names like Hell Broth Springs, Hell Roaring River, Devil's Den, Brimstone Basin.
Farther on, they came to two waterfalls slicing through a steep and narrow canyon they estimated at half a mile in depth, the one Jim Bridger had once bragged about, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Langford was now convinced that the Yellowstone could be an even greater attraction than he and the backers of The Northern Pacific had dreamed.
During their exploration, the nearsighted Truman Everts somehow got separated from the main group and went missing.
Over the next several days, search parties were dispatched to find him.
They encountered grizzly bears, heard the howls of wolves, but found no trace of Everts or his horse.
On September 13, a surprise storm dropped two feet of snow on them.
Running low on supplies, the expedition had no choice but to turn for home, leaving notes behind for Everts at each campsite along with what little food they could spare from their own dwindling rations.
Heading for the Madison River and the mining town of Virginia City, they struggled for days through snow and dense timber until they came upon a large clearing.
MAN AS NATHANIEL LANGFORD: We had already seen what we believed to be the greatest wonders on the continent.
Judge then of our astonishment on entering this basin to see at no great distance before us an immense body of sparkling water projected suddenly and with terrific force into the air to the height of over 100 feet.
General Washburn has named it Old Faithful because of the regularity of its eruptions, the intervals between which being from 60 to 65 minutes.
COYOTE: They gave names to the other geysers, too-- The Castle, The Bee Hive, and The Giant--but because of their shortage of food could not stay long amidst the wonders surrounding them.
Yet as they followed the steaming Firehole River, they came across still more basins and still more curiosities, the greatest concentration of geothermal features on Earth, a vast array of geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, and hot springs of unimaginable strangeness and beauty.
When the expedition finally reached Virginia City and then Helena, the big news was Langford's confirmation of what had been considered wild rumors about a place once called Colter's Hell, but the even bigger news was that Truman Everts was still lost there.
MAN AS TRUMAN EVERTS: On the day that I found myself separated from my company, our course had been impeded by the dense growth of the pine forest.
As separations like this had frequently occurred, it gave me no alarm, and I rode on in the direction which I supposed had been taken until darkness overtook me.
I selected a spot for comfortable repose, picketed my horse, built a fire, and went to sleep.
COYOTE: At first, Everts thought his separation from the expedition would be a momentary inconvenience, but on the second day, his horse ran away, taking with it his guns, blankets, fishing tackle, and matches, everything but the clothes on his back, a small opera glass, and two knives, which the hapless Everts promptly managed to lose in the underbrush.
MAN AS TRUMAN EVERTS: I realized I was lost.
Then came a crushing sense of destitution--no food, no fire, no means to procure either, alone in an unexplored wilderness 150 miles from the nearest human abode, surrounded by wild beasts, and famishing with hunger.
WHITTLESEY: He didn't have any matches.
All he had was an opera glass, and it took him quite a while to figure out he could make a fire with the opera glass.
DUNCAN: Then he finally figured out that "if it's no sunny, I can't start a fire.
" So he learned that he had to keep a stick burning, so you can imagine him stumbling around midday with a burning stick, emaciated.
I mean, this was not John Muir in ecstasy becoming one with nature.
This was a horrific ordeal for a poor guy who just got lost at the wrong time.
COYOTE: He wandered for days, vainly searching for his friends or any sign of their trail.
He spent a night in a tree cowering from a mountain lion prowling underneath, suffered frostbite on his feet from the snowstorm that blanketed the region and saturated his clothes, found refuge for a week huddling day and night against the warm ground of one of the thermal features.
MAN AS TRUMAN EVERTS: I was enveloped in a perpetual steam bath.
At first, this was barely preferable to the storm, but I soon became accustomed to it, and before I left, though thoroughly parboiled, actually enjoyed it.
COYOTE: At another hot spring, Everts broke through the thin crust of earth, and his hip was severely scalded by steam.
One evening in his sleep, he lurched forward into his fire and burned his hands.
Wasting away from exhaustion and hunger, Everts began seeing apparitions and hearing voices.
"I will not perish in this wilderness," he told himself and forced himself onward, retracing the route that had originally brought the expedition into the Yellowstone Plateau.
On October 16, 37 days after being separated from the expedition, Everts was found crawling along a hillside.
His starvation diet of thistle roots had reduced him to a mere 50 pounds.
The scalded flesh on his thighs was blackened.
His bare and frostbitten feet had been worn to the bone.
His burnt fingers were said to resemble birds' claws.
He was incoherent for days, though he slowly recovered and in time produced a widely read account of his ordeal that "Scribner's Monthly" published for popular consumption.
MAN AS TRUMAN EVERTS: My narrative is finished.
The time is not far distant when the wonders of the Yellowstone will be made accessible to all lovers of sublimity and novelty in natural scenery, and when that day arrives, I hope in happier mood and under more auspicious circumstances to revisit scenes fraught for me with such mingled glories and terrors.
Truman Everts.
[Wolf howls] BAKER: Every time I hear about the white people coming into our national parks and discovering something, I can almost see them standing there on top of this mountain, 3 or 4 of them saying, "From now on, we'll call those "mountains so and so because we're the first ones here.
" In the meantime, I can see my relatives hiding behind the rocks, looking at them, saying, "Wow.
What are these "guys doing up here?" For us, it was almost kind of humorous because we've been there for thousands upon thousands of years, and it didn't need to be discovered.
It was never lost.
All they had to do was ask us.
All they had to do was get together with the tribes, "OK.
What's there?" And we could have told them.
COYOTE: In the summer of 1871, the United States government decided it was time for professionals to take a look at the place where Truman Everts had gotten so helplessly lost.
Ferdinand Hayden, who had been exploring other parts of the West, now led an expedition of topographers, botanists, zoologists, and mineralogists to Yellowstone to determine once and for all its real value, but perhaps even more important than the scientists was the presence of two other men, a young artist named Thomas Moran, who had never ridden a horse before and required a pillow on his saddle, and William Henry Jackson, a photographer from Omaha who most recently had chronicled the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
For the first time, Americans could see what mere words had previously described.
As Ferdinand Hayden prepared the report that Congress was expecting, he received an intriguing letter from a man named A.
B.
Nettleton, a shrewd lobbyist working for The Northern Pacific, suggesting that Hayden do more than merely catalog his discoveries.
MAN AS A.
B.
NETTLETON: Dear, Dr.
Hayden, let Congress pass a bill reserving the great geyser basin as a public park forever just as it has reserved the Yosemite Valley and Big Trees.
If you approve this, would such a recommendation be appropriate in your official report? COYOTE: Hayden was happy to oblige.
His report took pains to assure Congress that at an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level or higher the Yellowstone region was totally unsuitable for farming and ranching and that because of its volcanic origins no valuable mines were likely to be found there, but, he warned, if congress did not protect Yellowstone from private development, it would become another Niagara Falls, another national embarrassment.
RUNTE: Well, if there had been gold next to the geysers in Yellowstone, there would not be geysers in Yellowstone, and if there had been a big gold strike in the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Valley would have been a mining pit, and the reason for that is that it was still very, very difficult for the American people to relent from their commercial pursuits.
COYOTE: With The Northern Pacific quietly maneuvering behind the scenes and with Moran's sketches and Jackson's photographs prominently displayed in the halls of the Capitol, a bill began moving through congress, and by late January of 1872, it was ready for action in the Senate.
MAN: Be it enacted that the tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River COYOTE: The senate overwhelmingly approved the bill.
The house passed it 115-65, and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S.
Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone Park.
Unlike Yosemite, which was being administered by the state of California, this would be a national park, the first national park in the history of the world.
You wish that they had, you know, gone out and rang bells to say, "This is something new on Earth," because it was.
A federal government was saying, "We're setting this aside as a national park.
" No government had ever done that before, and you'd like them to make note of it in that way just the way with the Declaration of Independence they read it and bells were rung.
That didn't happen with this.
It looks like they took it maybe a little more seriously than the decision of whether or not to repaint the cloak room.
It wasn't that big a deal to most of them.
It was just business as usual that day.
It's only hindsight that allows us to see what they started.
You know, they were kicking the rock off the cliff, and most of them turned and walked away.
There's no evidence that any of them thought this was the first of a type or that "we're going to turn this into "a hugely important world institution.
" COYOTE: The "New York Herald" saw the new creation as one more reason for national bragging rights.
"Why should we go to Switzerland to see mountains "or to Iceland for geysers?" it asked, adding that "with Yosemite and Yellowstone, now we have attractions which "diminish Niagara into an ordinary exhibition.
" But the "Helena Rocky Mountain Gazette" complained that a great blow had been struck against the prosperity of the region.
"The new park," it said, "will keep the country "a wilderness and prevent economic development.
" Its cross-town rival the "Helena Herald" disagreed.
"It will be a park," the paper said, "worthy of the great republic.
" DUNCAN: I think that if Wyoming had been a state in 1872, they probably would have followed the Yosemite model.
They would have just given it to the state of Wyoming for safekeeping, but because it was a territory, there was no state to give it to, and so therefore, almost by accident, it became a national park, and that doesn't seem like a big thing at first, but when you think about it, it really was an incredible turning point.
What would we think of Yellowstone if it was Yellowstone State Park in Wyoming? It would still be--the geysers would be going off, the waterfall would still be there, the mud would still be boiling, we'd be attracted to go see it, but we wouldn't feel the sense of responsibility to it as a citizen of our nation, only if we were a citizen of the state of Wyoming.
By making it a national park, implicitly it becomes ours, everybody's.
We're all somehow responsible for it, and we all can take pride in it, and so by this accident more or less, this precedent was set that it's gonna be a national park that we as a nation have to take care of.
COYOTE: By any standard, the new national park at Yellowstone was huge, more than 2 million acres of remote mountainous terrain covering the northwestern corner of Wyoming Territory and spilling into Montana and Idaho, bigger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, more than 50 times larger than the Yosemite Grant in California, but having created the world's first national park, Congress had seen no reason to appropriate any money to manage it or protect it from the people who were sure to come.
WOMAN: Our first site of geysers made us simply wild with the eagerness of seeing all things at once.
We ran and shouted and called to each other to see this or that.
We had at last reached Wonderland.
Emma Cowan.
COYOTE: In August of 1877, a group of 9 tourists from Montana had entered the park bent on taking in the sights.
Among them were Emma Cowan, 24 years old, and her husband George, planning to celebrate their second wedding anniversary in Yellowstone.
WOMAN AS EMMA COWAN: We seemed to be in a world of our own.
Not a soul had we seen save our own party.
One can scarcely realize the intense solitude which then pervaded this land fresh from the Maker's hand.
COYOTE: On the morning of their anniversary, the Cowans stepped outside their tent and found themselves not only in the middle of the world's first national park but in the middle of an Indian war.
WOMAN AS EMMA COWAN: A pistol shot rang out.
My husband's head fell back.
A red stream trickled down his face from beneath his hat.
COYOTE: Chief Joseph and hundreds of his Nez Perce Tribe were streaming through the park, pursued by the U.
S.
Army because they had refused to move onto a reservation in Idaho.
Only two weeks earlier, nearly 90 of them had been killed, more than half women and children, when their sleeping village had been attacked in The Battle of the Big Hole.
Some of the young warriors were still incensed about the casualties they had suffered and ignored Joseph's instructions not to harm any white civilians.
[Hoofbeats] As the Nez Perce continued their flight through Yellowstone, there were other incidents with unlucky tourists.
Several were wounded, and two were killed.
Moving through a few days behind the Indians, the army picked up the survivors.
Among them was George Cowan, somehow still alive.
Army surgeons probed his head by candlelight and removed the bullet, flattened by his skull.
By the time he was reunited with his wife, the Nez Perce War was ending hundreds of miles away with Chief Joseph's surrender in northern Montana.
Yellowstone's superintendent soon arranged for the native Sheepeaters, who had not taken part in the troubles, to be evicted from their homeland so he could assure the public that Yellowstone National Park was now free of all Indians.
Years later when the Cowans returned to visit the park, Emma would say she was surprised any of her group had been spared given the horrible treatment the Indians had suffered.
George meanwhile happily recounted their tale of their second anniversary and then capped his story by showing off his proudest Yellowstone souvenir, the bullet that had been removed from his skull, which he had made into a watch fob.
[Train chugging] [Whistle blowing] [Bell clangs] MAN: I had a vision of the future of this great country.
The iron horse had jumped the Missouri and was rushing up the bountiful valley of the Yellowstone, carrying with it all its civilization and change.
Instead of the teepees of the wild red men, there were thousands of beautiful homes.
In the bottomlands waved the rich grain, giving bread to millions.
The hillsides were covered with stock, supplying the world its meat, and still thundered on the iron horse up over the Rocky Mountains, and I thanked God that right in the heart of all this noise and restless life of millions a wise government had forever set apart that marvelous region as a national park.
Colgate Hoyt.
SCHULLERY: As early as 1871, they began to call Yellowstone Wonderland because "Alice in Wonderland," the book, had just appeared a few years earlier, and The Northern Pacific Railroad took that right up and began to produce pamphlets, brochures, and guidebooks all with the title "Wonderland.
" COYOTE: In 1883, The Northern Pacific Railroad was finally completed across the continent.
Now tourists from the East, well-to-do refugees from the increasingly industrialized and crowded cities of the Gilded Age, could reach the entrance to Yellowstone National Park in relative comfort and speed.
That first year, attendance increased 5-fold.
Everything, the hotel, the food, the tents, the stages, the guides, was now under the exclusive control of the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company, a politically well-connected firm with close ties to The Northern Pacific.
They had quietly arranged for the secretary of the interior to grant the company a remarkable monopoly within the park.
For a fee of only $2.
00 an acre, the lease allowed the company to cut as much timber as it needed, kill elk, deer, and bison in the park to feed their work crews and guests, plant crops and graze horses and cattle wherever they wished, even mine coal for their furnaces and rechannel some of the hot springs to heat the buildings.
As if that weren't enough, the contract granted the company the right to choose parcels of 640 acres, one square mile, at 7 different locations within the park.
The prime attractions of Yellowstone were about to be completely surrounded and exploited.
MAN: The project of the worthy speculators, who are after the people's pleasure ground, appears to be flourishing.
Here and there are feeble voices raised in protest against the steal, but with a powerful lobby to back them and no opposition from the interior department, the grabbers have little to fear.
The park is at present all our own.
How would the readers like to see it become a second Niagara, a place where one goes only to be fleeced, where patent medicine advertisements stare one in the face, and the beauties of nature have all been defiled by the greed of man? George Bird Grinnell.
COYOTE: George Bird Grinnell of New York City had been educated at Yale in ornithology and paleontology and had made several trips to the West to collect specimens as a young man, including an 1875 excursion to Yellowstone, which had instilled in him a deep love of the new park and a fierce desire to protect it and its wildlife.
Having sold his father's investment business, Grinnell had taken control of "Forest and Stream," a sportsman's magazine he now used to champion his causes.
Yellowstone was one of them, and he began a crusade to stop what he called "the park grab.
" Grinnell's fight against the railroad interests was soon joined by an unlikely ally, General Philip Sheridan, a cavalry hero of the Civil War and celebrated Indian fighter, who was now commander of the U.
S.
Army for much of the West.
MAN AS PHILIP SHERIDAN: I regretted exceedingly to learn that the national park had been rented out to private parties.
The improvements in the park should be national, and the control of it in the hands of an officer of the government.
I can keep sufficient troops in the park to accomplish this object and give a place of refuge and safety for our noble game.
[Galloping] COYOTE: Sheridan even suggested that Yellowstone should be expanded by more than 3,000 square miles, doubled in size to provide greater protection for the elk and buffalo by conforming the park's boundaries to their seasonal migrations.
It was a radical idea immediately opposed by Western politicians, who believed that Yellowstone was already too big.
In Washington, Grinnell took on the railroad lobby directly, calling for an investigation into the park contracts, proposing an expansion of Yellowstone, and trying to write park regulations concerning hunting into law.
The debate that followed would be echoed in every debate on national parks for the next century.
[Gavel bangs] MAN: I do not understand myself what the necessity is for the government entering into the show business in the Yellowstone National Park.
I should be very glad myself to see it surveyed and sold, leaving it to private enterprise.
Senator John Ingalls, Kansas.
MAN: The great curse of this age and of the American people is its materialistic tendencies.
"Money, money" is the cry everywhere until our people are held up already to the world as noted for nothing except the acquisition of money.
I am not ashamed to say that I shall vote to perpetuate this park for the American people.
There should be to a nation that will have 100 million or 150 million people a park like this as a great breathing place for the national lungs.
Senator George Vest, Missouri.
COYOTE: The bill to expand Yellowstone failed, though Congress did appropriate $40,000 for its maintenance.
In the next few years, proposals were made to shrink the park, to place it under Montana's legal jurisdiction, or to follow the Yosemite example and simply turn the park over to Wyoming once the territory became a state.
George Bird Grinnell would have none of it.
"Leave the people's park alone," he declared.
He tried valiantly to stop each attack on Yellowstone until August 4, 1886, when Congress stripped away any money to protect the park.
For the moment it seemed, Yellowstone would have to fend for itself.
Coming to the rescue, Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan gladly dispatched Troop "M" of the 1st United States Cavalry to take control of the world's first national park.
They arrived believing, as everyone else did, that military supervision of Yellowstone would be a temporary stopgap.
30 years later, the cavalry would still be there.
[Clock ticking] MAN AS JOHN MUIR: I am losing precious days.
I am degenerating into a machine for making money.
I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men.
I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.
COYOTE: For 5 years, John Muir had tried his best to confine himself to his writing desk in Oakland, California, turning out article after article for the "Overland Monthly," "Scribner's," and "Harper's" magazine about the majesty of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, about the necessity to preserve forests from destruction, and about the joy to be found in quietly observing the world, all part of his desire, he said, to "preach nature "like an apostle.
" In the process, he had become famous, but he had soon grown restless to travel again, and when the opportunity came to visit Alaska, a vast wilderness that had been part of the United States for barely a decade, he had jumped at the chance.
At Fort Wrangell, hearing talk of a remote and unexplored area lined with glaciers, he had hired 4 Tlingit Indians and their big canoe to make the long 800-mile journey there.
It was Glacier Bay.
Here, the glaciers marched right down to the sea and were of an entirely different scale from the remnants Muir had tracked down high in the Sierra Nevada.
"Alaska," he wrote, "is nature's own reservation, "and every lover of wildness will rejoice with me that by "kindly frost it is so well- preserved.
" MAN AS JOHN MUIR: Glaciers, back in their white solitudes, work apart from men, exerting their tremendous energies in silence and darkness.
Outspread spirit-like, brooding above predestined landscapes, they work on unwearied through immeasurable ages until in the fullness of time the mountains and valleys are brought forth, channels furrowed for rivers, basins for lakes and meadows, and soil spread for forests and fields.
Then they shrink and vanish like summer clouds.
He camps out on the glacier, and he's been diagnosed as having a deep cough.
He goes out and sleeps on the glacier and loses his cough, says that "no lowland microbe can survive on a glacier.
" He said, "Any man that does not believe in God "and glaciers is the worst kind of unbeliever.
" COYOTE: The conversations he shared around the campfire with his Tlingit companions exposed him for the first time to Indian beliefs.
"Don't you believe wolves have souls?" one of them asked, and the discussion that followed impressed upon Muir that they held views of the natural world not that much different from his own.
BAKER: John Muir would have made a great medicine man in his day because he would feel the same things an American Indian would because he was listening, he was truly listening.
He wasn't exploring.
He was living, he was learning, he was living with the elements out there, and John Muir would have been part of it just like the elders that I knew were part of the environment.
COYOTE: After his return from Alaska, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel, the reclusive daughter of a prosperous fruit grower and settled down on her parents' estate near the town of Martinez in California's Alhambra Valley.
Two children quickly followed, and Muir single-mindedly threw himself into providing for his family, taking over management of his in-laws' 3,000 acres, bringing to bear the same intensity and mechanical inventiveness he had demonstrated as a young man.
He improved the farm's productivity, converting extra land from pasture into cash crops of cherries, Tokay grapes, and Bartlett pears and steadily amassed considerable wealth.
Muir was tender and devoted to his wife and daughters, but his health deteriorated from the ceaseless dawn to dusk farm work and his isolation from the mountains and forests and glaciers that had always seemed to replenish him.
He lost weight.
He'd become "nerve-shaken and lean as a crow," he wrote his brother, "loaded with care, work, and worry.
" The result was that he was slowly weaning himself away from all that had compelled him in his life up to that point, and his--his wife essentially said, "You've got to go out and engage the wilderness.
" COYOTE: In 1888, Louie Muir persuaded her husband to take another outing to Mount Rainier in the state of Washington, where he camped at what he called "the most "extravagantly beautiful of all the Alpine gardens I ever "beheld with a volcanic cone looming overhead reflected "in a crystalline blue lake.
" Captivated by the view, he felt some of his old energy returning, and when the young men camping with him set off on a grueling 7 1/2-hour climb up the 14,000-foot peak, the 50-year-old Muir impulsively joined them.
"Did not mean to climb it," Muir wrote his wife later, "but got excited and soon was on top.
" The climb, he said, had left him "with heart and limb "exultant and free.
" STETSON: By the time he came down from that mountain, he understood that his real passion and his energy should be devoted to preserving such places, and that's where he went from there.
COYOTE: Louie Muir, meanwhile, had written her husband a letter that released him just as surely as the thrilling vista from Rainier's mountaintop.
WOMAN AS LOUIE MUIR: My dear John, a ranch that needs and takes the sacrifice of a noble life ought to be flung away beyond all reach and power for harm.
The Alaska book and the Yosemite book, dear John, must be written, and you need to be your own self, well and strong, to make them worthy of you.
COYOTE: In 1889, Robert Underwood Johnson, an editor of "The Century Magazine," arrived from the East and asked Muir for a tour of Yosemite.
In the last 8 years, Muir had managed only one brief visit to the place that had changed his life, and he eagerly accepted.
But as they approached Yosemite Valley, he began seeing disturbing signs.
Tunnels had been carved through the heart of some of the big trees as gaudy tourist attractions to entice visitors to use one road over another.
In the valley itself, he found piles of tin cans and other garbage in plain view, and the meadows had been converted into hay fields and pastures, even a hog pen "whose stink," Muir wrote, "has got into the pores of the rocks.
" He was dismayed to learn of plans to throw colored lights upon the majestic waterfalls as if that would make them more beautiful.
"Perhaps," he said, "we may yet hear of an appropriation "to whitewash the face of El Capitan or correct "the curves of the domes.
" Glacier Point, 3,254 feet above the valley, had been one of Muir's favorite spots from which to contemplate the place he considered nature's cathedral.
Now it was a place where tourists mugged for the camera.
An entrepreneur named James McCauley had built the Mountain House Hotel there.
On summer nights, his sons would collect donations from tourists for a firefall in which McCauley would build a huge bonfire and then light sticks of dynamite to send the fire cascading over the sheer cliff.
The crowds loved it.
[Cheering] DUNCAN: Muir came back into the Yosemite Valley, his cathedral, and his cathedral had been turned into a carnival.
It wasn't what he envisioned it should be.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: Like anything else worthwhile, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gain-seekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial.
Thus long ago, a few enterprising merchants utilized the Jerusalem temple as a place of business instead of a place of prayer, and earlier still, the first forest reservation, including only one tree, was likewise despoiled.
COYOTE: Distressed at everything he saw within Yosemite Valley, Muir fled with his guest Robert Underwood Johnson into the high country, but here, too, much had changed.
Beyond the boundaries of the Yosemite Grant and therefore unprotected by even the lackluster vigilance of the state, the headwaters of the streams feeding into the valley had been left to the mercy of the lumbermen and sheep herders.
That evening at their camp in Tuolumne Meadows, Muir spoke passionately about what they had seen.
"The harm they do goes to the heart," he said of the sheep, and he predicted that if the destruction continued unchecked without the trees and grasses of the high Sierra to trap and hold the winter snows, the springtime melts would become swifter and more destructive, the clear streams would become muddy with silt, and by summertime, the valley and the waterfalls that nourished it would be dry.
Johnson suggested that the high country be set aside as a national park and urged Muir to become the public voice for the campaign by writing articles again describing not only the region's beauty but its vulnerability.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: The mountains are fountains of men, as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil.
The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains, mountain dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature's workshops.
CRONON: Muir in a way comes from a literary rhetorical tradition that for most modern Americans has been lost, that comes from--as with Abraham Lincoln with whom, I think, he has a lot in common--that knowing The Bible chapter and verse, the entire text, knowing Shakespeare, these sort of classic literary roots that are as fundamental to the way so many literate Americans are educated in the 19th Century, and Muir has that language, this rapturous, religious, rhetorical set of images that he has at his fingertips, and he maps them onto his concrete experiences out in these natural settings in a way that makes them transcendent.
COYOTE: Muir threw himself into what became a pitched battle to preserve the high country.
Vested interests and opposing politicians lied about his past, questioned his motives, and publicly impugned his integrity.
Muir was hurt but endured it all, going directly to the people, who soon flooded Congress with letters and petitions.
Finally on October 1, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed into law a bill creating Yosemite National Park, setting aside more than 900,000 acres, nearly 1,500 square miles.
Muir was disappointed that the original Yosemite Grant encompassing the valley floor and the Mariposa Grove was still left under state control, but this new park was 30 times bigger and, to Muir's delight, included one of his favorite places on Earth, the nearby Hetch Hetchy Valley, which he considered "a grand landscape garden, "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples.
" At the same time as the Yosemite Bill, two more groves of big trees on the western flank of the Sierras had also been preserved as Sequoia and General Grant National Parks.
"The majestic sequoia is the king of the conifers," Muir had written, "the noblest of all the noble race.
" There were now 4 national parks.
Flushed with the success of his first venture into the world of politics, Muir immediately began making new plans.
He wanted more parks, bigger parks, and more park supporters to defend them against the enemies he knew would oppose them.
He was right.
In the years to come, the battle over parks would intensify, threatening even his own precious mountain temple.
John Muir was 52 years old now.
It had been nearly a quarter century since, as a self-described "unknown nobody," he had first entered Yosemite and then been transformed by his "unconditional surrender to nature.
" He would need to convince many other Americans to surrender, as well, to see the necessity, as he said, "in all that is wild.
" CRONON: What he means is that wildness is an essential part of ourselves that our ordinary lives tempt us to forget, and by losing touch with that essential part of ourselves, we risk losing our souls, and so for him, going out into nature to these parks is how we recover ourselves, remember who we truly are, and reconnect with the core roots of our own identity, of our own spirituality, that which is sacred in our experience.
MAN AS JOHN MUIR: The tendency nowadays to wander in wilderness is delightful to see.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, overcivilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful, not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.
John Muir.