On the trail of John Muir; the road runs through Stockton and UOP!


A small portion of the Muir peach orchards, with a period-correct horse-drawn sprayer.




John Muir, arguably the world’s first conservationist, father of the National Park Service and cofounder of the Sierra Club, spent his adult years in nearby Martinez, California and more than occasionally traveled through Stockton. The largest collection of his papers, research and writings are archived in University of Pacific’s climate controlled archive, open to Stocktonians.  His treasure trove of papers, and travels through Stockton, make him almost a native son!

Join us on the trail of John Muir – with nearby exciting opportunities to learn and explore!

Muir was born in 1838 in Scotland and immigrated in 1849 with his family to a farm in Wisconsin. After reaching adulthood, starting university and then a factory job in a carriage works, an eye injury almost cost Muir use of his eye and led to his decision to begin a life of wanderlust.

In 1868, he traveled to California and quickly  visited the sights in Yosemite. He then spent three years living in Yosemite, much of it as a shepherd, built a small cabin and recorded his adventures in notebooks and journals. Muir always professed a difficulty in writing up his travels, but would become his era’s best known conservationist and champion of preserving our wild lands.

In Yosemite, he met and toured with Ralph Waldo Emerson; inspired by that author, Thoreau and others he began writing for Overland Monthly magazine in 1872, the same year Yellowstone National Park was established.

For The next 10 years, he traveled throughout the west, including many visits to Yosemite and the Sierra and several trips to Alaska before settling in Martinez.  There he would tend the fruit ranch owned by his father-in-law. His ongoing work to preserve and expand Yosemite, incorporate Sequoia as a park and interaction with President Theodore Roosevelt would lead to the establishment of the National Park Service.

During the late 1880s/early 1890s, he would campaign for Yosemite National Park, explore Muir Glacier in Alaska, and help found the Sierra Club and was elected its first president.

From 1882 to 1890, he lived in a nice home in Martinez; upon the death of his father in law, he and his spouse moved into their grand Italianate Victorian home on 2600 acres on the edge of Martinez.

In 1893, his first book was published, The Mountains of California.  In his lifetime, he would publish six volumes; four additional books were published after his death in 1914.

Muir also apparently traveled frequently through Stockton, one of the main jumping-off points to the middle and southern Sierra. He befriended at least one Stockton family, that of Edward Hughes, a Stockton teacher.

Hughes and Muir camped in similar Yosemite campsites, and Hughes worked to befriend Muir by taking the train to Muir’s Martinez home.  Muir, in turn, would visit Hughes home in Stockton (since demolished) and letters between the two attest to their friendship and his visits to Stockton.

Muir’s grand home is open year-round in Martinez, only an hour from Stockton, and is a wonder of his life and work. His study is preserved just as he left it, with this writing desk and many of his papers, and 300 of the estate’s acres (once with over 50 varieties of peach trees) remain surrounding the home.

The home is testimony to his writings and life work; his writing study literally resonates with his indomitable outlook on wild America: “God never made an ugly landscape.  All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild…”, he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, January, 1869. 

Later he would continue his strong advocacy for protecting America’s great places, noting in 1895: “Government protection should be thrown around every wild grove and forest on the mountains, as it is around every private orchard and the trees in public parks. To say nothing of their value as fountains of timber, they are worth infinitely more than all the gardens and parks of town”.

It’s in the University of Pacific’s archives – open to the public – where Muir’s work really comes alive. I arranged a tour with UOP head of Special Collections Michael Wurtz, who arranged to show me many of his original writings and sketches.

I delighted in seeing several of his letters, written in Sequoia-ink, and his research books showing his sketches of Yosemite Valley, just as it looks today in photographs. The University contains the vast majority of Muir’s writing and research notes, his original writing desk, and two bookcases full of his books.

Read several of Muir’s works; a favorite, available in paperback or at the library, is ‘The Wild Muir’, which profiles many of his hair-raising adventures.  Typical of his matter-of-fact writing is this example; in 1875 he and a climbing partner were caught near the top of Mt. Shasta at 14,000 feet, he scribed:

“…down the ridge and past the hissing fumaroles, the storm became inconceivably violent.  The thermometer fell 22 degrees in a few minutes and soon dropped below zero.  The hail gave place to snow, and darkness came on like night.  The wind, rising to the the highest ;pitch of violence, boomed and surged amid the desolate crags…”. 

Muir and partner hunkered down amidst the fumaroles, alternately freezing and getting scorched, but survived the ordeal with only moderate frostbite!

Take the 60 mile journey to the beautiful Muir home in Martinez, and spend several hours touring his home and wandering through some of the peach orchards that remain. Just a mile away is historic downtown Martinez, itself a worthy side trip with stately Victorian homes and classic downtown.

Then arrange a tour of UOP’s archives – or go online, – where you can see most of his recorded works so arduously scribed by the old conservationist more than 100 years ago and deposited with the university by his descendants, some of them UOP alumni.

The collection includes over 7,000 items of correspondence from 1858 to 1914, including from such luminaries as Emerson, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and others.  Also included are 300 sketches by Muir and about 3,000 photos taken of landscapes or portraits of the author.

For more info: For UOP’s archives, contact Michael Wurtz, 209-945-3105, mwurtz@Pacific.edu.  Many of Muir’s writings and sketches are also available, online: go.Pacific.edu/special collections – and the University is seeking volunteers to help transcribe many writings not yet transcribed. For more info on the John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez, CA 94553 go to www.nps.gov/jomu; or call 925–228–8860.  Muir’s home is open daily, no charge, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays. To get there, take Highway 4 west out of Stockton, travel about 60 miles and take the Martinez exit. The Muir historic site is just off Hwy. 4.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the West!

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