American Images: Yosemite at Sundown by Mary Kathryn Johnson

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Yosemite at Sundown

Photographer: Mary Kathryn Johnson


In 1889, John Muir, America’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, and Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, had growing concerns about the devastating effects of sheep grazing in the high country. They launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to set aside this area as a national park in 1890. On October 1, 1890, the U.S. Congress set aside more than 1,500 square miles of reserved forest lands, soon to be known as Yosemite National Park.

At the end of one day in Yosemite, John Muir wrote: Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.

During another day, he wrote: A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

Mary Kathryn Johnson
Mary Kathryn Johnson

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