John Muir Highway Geotourism
Photo © NoNE - BOOK EXCERPT
John Muir Highway is the first officially designated segment of the proposed State Highway naming project underway along the State Highway 132 corridor. This segment ( J132 ) from Coulterville to Smith Station at Highway 120 was designated by both the Mariposa & Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors. It represents a unique tourism venue for admirers of John Muir who wish to revisit and relive the inspirational transformation he experienced during his first journey to Yosemite Valley and also his observations chronicled in "My First Summer in the Sierra." First visit the Northern Mariposa History Center before you begin your drive.
John Muir wrote the following about Greeley Mill and Coulterville in his 1869 Journal – My First Summer in the Sierras, in The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books, ( p.196 )
“Found a lovely lily (Calochortus albus) in a shady adenostoma thicket near Coulterville, in company with Adiantum Chilense. It is white with a faint purplish tinge inside at the base of the petals, a most impressive plant, pure as a snow crystal, one of the plant saints that all must love and be made so much the purer by it every time it is seen. It puts the roughest mountaineer on his good behavior. With this plant the whole world would seem rich though none other existed. It is not easy to keep on with the camp cloud while such plant people are standing preaching by the wayside. During the afternoon we passed a fine meadow bounded by stately pines, mostly the arrowy yellow pine, with here and there a noble sugar pine, its feathery arms outspread above the spires of its companion species in marked contrast; a glorious tree, its cones fifteen to twenty inches long, swinging like tassels at the ends of the branches with superb ornamental effect. Saw some logs of, this species at the Greeley Mill. They are round and regular as if turned in a lathe, excepting the butt cuts, which have a few buttressing projections. The fragrance of the sugary sap is delicious and scents the mill and lumber yard. How beautiful the ground beneath this pine thickly strewn with slender needles and grand cones and the piles of cone scales, seed-wings and shells around the instep of each tree where the squirrels have been feasting!”
Length of Byway or Route: 14 miles
14 mile drive: From Coulterville, CA, head north through Greeley Hill to Smith Station Road and up to Highway 120. This is John Muir Highway ( road signs indicate the first segment as Greeley Hill Road and the last segment as Smith Station Road). From Yosemite National Park on Highway 120, turn left at the Smith Station --- Big Creek Meadow Ranch-- and the John Muir Historic Route sign.
6th Annual John Muir Festival set for May 16, 2015
As illustrated in the submitted nomination media materials, visitors can savor the landscape that so excited John Muir in much the same state of preservation he enjoyed. This area is part of the Stanislaus National Forest. The historic sites along its route include hotels, bars, antique shops and artifacts from the heyday of Coulterville's mining heritage and predates John Muir's arrival in 1868 & 1869.
From a Sierra Club Newsletter link to the research done by John Fiske (a Muir aficionado from the Fiske family who settled the area), visitors can find notes on the current locations that relate to Muir's actual route...
"Turning right on Dexter Road we enter a settled area where retired people come to avoid valley heat. This was the road to Savage's Diggings or later Big Oak Flat in Muir's time. Continuing on for several miles, Dexter Road runs into Fiske Road and that into Greeley Hill Road where we turned right on the latter and went several hundred yards to Holtzel Road. At that point we identified the location of Greeley's Sawmill close by, mentioned by Muir. He spoke of the very pleasant smell of sawdust and lumber of the Sugar Pine that the mill was cutting. Muir also noted that Sugar Pines were getting scarce. I have from other sources confirmed that these meadows from Fiske to McCarthy contained one of the finest stands of Sugar Pine in California. That it was a premium wood is shown by an ad about 1856 indicating that the mill would deliver to Fresno first grade lumber. To move the lumber this distance over then existing narrow dirt roads suggests both need and demand (the round trip distance is 200 miles)."
One of Muir's sketches on page 14 of the first edition of My First Summer portrays 'Second bench.' The pyramid shape bordering the skyline at the left edge of the picture is Pilot Peak, a third uplift. The sketch shows that Muir was standing a little southwest of the intersection of Holtzel and Greeley Hill Roads, about 200 yards southwest of the Greeley Hill Market.
The other sketch on that page is a view of Horseshoe Bend. We found the spot where Muir made the sketch on top of a rise on Peno Blanco lookout. (Reprinted from the John Muir Newsletter Vol. 5, no.1, Winter 1994-95).
Visit the Northern Mariposa History Center for details about the colorful past history.
The reenactment of his 1868 journey, provided by Peter and Donna Thomas in 2006 ( with a book due to be released in April of 2010 ) and then Muir's 1869 journals by Alex McInturf in 2009 are also referenced with web links in the support media items.
This is a great geotourism tour gateway to Yosemite Valley. You can follow along John Muir's original walk from San Francisco to Yosemite and create itineraries for segment trips from Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra directly from "Muir Ramble Route" ( book authored by Peter and Donna Thomas).
There is an interesting description of how this route directly appeals to Muir admirers and anyone interested in learning by direct experience in following his footsteps located at the dedicated web site www.JohnMuir.us and a community of participants at FaceBook's John Muir Highway Fan Club.