John Muir, 1907
Image courtesy of Francis M. Fritz
via Wikimedia Commons
It took just the right kind of gumbo to make the National Parks the wonderfully protected national resource it is today.  The service was not an actual entity until 1916.  But, well before that, public opinion began to sway toward protecting--rather than dominating--the amazing resource that is Nature.


I first heard about John Muir when visiting the redwood forests and beaches north of San Francisco, which are named after him.  From the late 1880's, Muir tirelessly explored and wrote about Yellowstone, Northern California, and the other natural places that he loved.  His writings were seminal to the creation of several early parks.
He is considered the father of the National Parks and the service has made a short film about him (in two parts, below).  He was a co-founder of the Sierra Club.

John Muir believed his mission was "...saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism." (Worster, Donald (2008). Passion for Nature)


Mt. Rushmore, Roosevelt
Image courtesy of Scott Catron
via Wikimedia Commons
In the same time period as Muir was writing, others were also traversing the majestic wilderness and documenting it in paintings.  One artist local to Salt Lake City was H.L.A. Culmer*, who had emigrated with his brothers from England.  He painted red rock arches of southern Utah and the interior of Alaska that few had seen.
"Henry" even painted murals throughout the interior of his brother's home depicting these exquisite landscapes.
*follow the link for images of some of his paintings


Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to speak in favor of conservation, and he greatly expanded the system of national parks and national forests even before the creation of the service.  John Muir hosted Roosevelt when he explored Yellowstone; though they were both in favor of protecting the area, their ideas of what that meant differed.
Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons
Roosevelt was a frontiersman, a hunter, and a soldier, while Muir was an inventor and a naturalist. Not terribly surprising.


Some who focused mainly on finances realized the monetary value of these pristine places as destinations.  Stephen Mather was the owner and president of the Borax company when he dedicated his time to getting the park service established, and was its first director in 1917.

The Northern Pacific Railroad knew that to encourage passengers to travel across country, there would have to be intermediate enticements.


Woody Guthrie wrote his most enduring song, This Land is Your Land in 1940, though it wasn't recorded until 1944.
Although it is a story of a free land that belongs to the people, it is also a complaint about some areas of private ownership that were not "made for you and me."
Woody Guthrie in 1943
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Whose Land

Conservation has often raised questions about land ownership that cannot satisfactorily be resolved.
  • Public vs. private, 
  • federal vs. state, 
  • natives vs. conquerors, 
  • liberals vs. conservatives, 
  • laissez faire vs. government intervention,
  • academics vs. working class folk.  
Some would even say that land cannot be owned.  

I, for one, am incredibly happy that there are places that have been protected so that I can go and experience them, and bring my children and one day, my grandchildren!

See the Sites this Spring

Get a pass to the National Parks and see America!  $80 for an annual pass, free for military, disabled and volunteers.  $10 lifetime pass for seniors.

Here's a nice tribute performance of This Land: