Today, google celebrates the 123rd anniversary of the establishment of Yosemite National Park.
John Muir, the father of the national parks, tirelessly campaigned for national protection, including befriending and advocating to President Theodore Roosevelt. Muir was instrumental to the creation of Yosemite National Park – he “helped draw up its proposed boundaries in 1889, wrote the magazine articles that led to its creation in 1890 and co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to protect it.”
Muir’s reflections on Yosemite are captured in the book “The Yosemite” which combines prose and poetry to describe the weather, trees, flowers, birds, geological history and suggestions for “How to Best Spend One’s Yosemite Time.” The final chapter is entitled “Hetch Hetchy Valley.”
It appears, therefore, that Hetch Hetchy Valley, far from being a plain, common, rock-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seem to suppose, is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life, whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, their brows in the sky, their feet set in the groves and gay flowery meadows, while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music–things frail and fleeting and types of permanence meeting here and blending, just as they do in Yosemite, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.
Sadly, Hetch Hetchy Valley – a “most precious and sublime feature of the Yosemite National Park, one of the greatest of all our natural resources for the uplifting joy and peace and health of the people” – was lost. Politicians and developers used the 1906 earthquake and fires that leveled San Francisco to convinced the public and eventually President Woodrow Wilson of the necessity of the Reservoir.
Muir spent the last years of his life fighting for the preservation of Hetch Hetchy Valley, a battle that continues today. Muir saw this struggle “as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much [Yosemite] boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.” He continues:
Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, [our magnificent National parks] have always been subject to attack by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, shampiously crying, “Conservation, conservation, panutilization,” that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great.
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That any one would try to destroy such a place [Hetch Hetchy Valley] seems incredible; but sad experience shows that there are people good enough and bad enough for anything […] These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.