by John Muir, photographs by Galen Rowell
reviewed by Harold W. Wood, Jr.
The original John Muir text illustrated with photographs by Galen Rowell
Sierra Club Books, San Francisco
224 pages, 101 color photographs
Reviewed by Harold W. Wood, Jr.
This luminous coffee-table photographic extravaganza
celebrating the most famous national park in California was
published in 1989 - just in time for the
Centennial of Yosemite National Park (1990).
The Sierra Club has had an
intimate relationship with
Yosemite National Park
John Muir and
Robert Underwood Johnson
worked to establish
it over 100 years ago. Although the Sierra Club itself was
not yet born when the Park was established in 1890, the
Club's formation in 1892 was largely to protect the infant
National Park from the loggers, sheep herders, and mining
interests who challenged the new restrictions imposed by
the Park's existence. Later, the Sierra Club was involved
in the successful campaign to return Yosemite Valley from
state ownership to federal ownership in the National Park,
and the unsuccessful campaign to prevent the drowning of
Hetch Hetchy Valley.
This book is a celebration, not a polemic. The
photographer, as he notes in the introduction, considered
whether to include images of the modern problems of
overcrowding and pollution in the park, but decided instead
to concentrate on the single theme of "the flavor of
wildness that still exists in Yosemite one hundred yards
from every park road... I want to show that only a small
part of the park in negatively affected. Thanks to the
foresight of Muir and others, most of John Muir.s Yosemite
is gloriously intact." The photographer's goal was "to
celebrate Muir's legacy, which includes all the wild places
he wrote about as well as past and present methods of
wilderness travel to reach them."
John Muir's text of
was originally intended as
a sort of travel guide, a description of the park for
visitors, and a call for its defense. The text, published
originally in 1912, still manages to achieve this goal. It
contains chapters on "Winter Storms and Spring Floods,"
"Snow Storms," "The Trees of the Valley," "The Big Trees,"
"The Flowers," "The Birds," etc. The book even contains a
chapter on "How Best to Spend one's Yosemite Time," which
involves descriptions of one day excursions where the
tourist is urged to arise at 3:00 a.m. in midsummer!
With our current awareness of the 1989 California
earthquakes you will not want to miss Muir's assuredly
non-pedestrian experience of an earthquake in Yosemite
At half-past two o'clock of a moonlit morning in
March, I was awakened by a tremendous earthquake, and
though I had never before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the
strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken, and I ran
out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, 'A
noble earthquake! A noble earthquake!' feeling sure I was
going to learn something.
This book is distinctive in offering much more than Muir's
Yosemite text. Each of the 101 photographs in this book is
accompanied by two captions. One is from Muir, drawn from
the full range of his books and articles, including many of
his most poetic passages. The second is an annotation by
Galen Rowell, describing what drew him to the subject
matter and providing a modern perspective which may aid the
rest of us in seeking either fine photographer fine
experiences. The combination is not a coincidental one,
for Rowell writes in the introduction, "I have come to
appreciate that my modern experiences in Yosemite are not a
given, but rather a direct consequence of John Muir's life."
The photographs -- and it is trite to say this when
speaking of Galen Rowell's work -- are simply superb.
Rowell, of course, achieves some of his unique vision by
reaching places that most of us never can -- dangling from
ropes on vertical cliff faces, or swimming the roaring
watercourse of Muir Gorge on the Tuolumne River, for
example. But much of his achievement rests upon a
sensitivity to light and storm and time which can inspire
the rest of us to really see next time we go looking. You
can also see many of the 101 photographs from this book in
the Yosemite Post Card Collection published by the Sierra
Club, but you will need to get this book to really enjoy
the stories behind the pictures.
This book was not only a most fitting tribute to the
Centennial of Yosemite National Park, but will make a fine
gift for decades into the future!