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John Muir Highway Geotourism

Muir Ramble Route by Peter and Donna Thomas

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

Driving Directions

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.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

5th Annual All Things Muir Festival set for May 30 and 31, 2014.

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).

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.

 Eco-Friendly Notes

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" ( recently published 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.

For More Information, Contact:

Ken Pulvino

John Muir Geotourism Center

ken257@tomarket.net
https://www.facebook.com/JohnMuirGeoHwy
Box 401, Greeley Hill, CA 95311
209 505 8456

Anne Synkowicz wrote on November 03, 2009: What a terrific road to travel when one wants to meander through the hills and slow ones pace to enjoy the area like John Muir once did.

Dale Silverman wrote on October 31, 2009: This was also the first road completed into Yosemite Valley on June 17, 1874.

Ann Schafer, Owner, Big Creek Meadow Ranch (once Savage's Meadow) wrote on October 31, 2009: I only hope that Tuolumne County will support the extension of the John Muir Highway to include J132 all the way to Smith's Station, the old stagecoach stop and change station for travelers on the way to Yosemite in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Documentation in the book, Big Oak Flat Road by Schlictmann and Paden verifies that Pres. Teddy Roosevelt actually stayed at Smith's Station when traveling to Yosemite to meet up with John Muir...perhaps John Muir himself passed through. It only makes sense to designate the entire Highway all the way to 120...why leave a section out? Good work Mariposa County and Ken Pulvino.

Tina Craig wrote on October 28, 2009: I think Highway 132 is the most beautiful road we have in this area and I recommend it to anyone who is coming to Coulterville or Yosemite. Compared to other roads, it is free of scary cliffs, tight turns and impatient drivers, and it offers a wide variety of postcard scenery, which the tourists love! I look forward to driving on Hwy 132 any time I go to Modesto or the Bay Area because it's beautiful in any season. This project has been in the works for a long time now and I'm thrilled to see that we have taken a step forward. Hopefully the John Muir Hwy will bring more visitors through Coulterville, and help our local businesses thrive all year round.

Marilyn Saunders wrote on October 23, 2009: There are many by-ways that offer a new view of familiar scenes. Highway 132 is a great route to take into the forests and to Yosemite National Park. Although the tall native grasses viewed by John Muir have been overtaken by western agriculture, this route may well remind us of the view enjoyed by that explorer so sensitive to the importance of our natural environment.

Joy Laree Kitchel wrote on October 23, 2009: We in the Coulterville area are excited that the Mariposa Board of Supervisors approved J132 as "The John Muir Highway"! Please include State Highway 132 on your map, (we find it left off of many). This State Highway connects with California Highway 99, Interstate Highway 5 and Interstate Highway 580, a very direct and easy route into the Bay Area, from Historic Coulterville. State Highway 132 is scenic and of interest to many that want to see agriculture. You will see row crops, fields of green grass, tall golden corn stocks, dairy cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and more. You will see orchards of oranges, almonds, walnuts, plums, prunes and fields of fresh strawberries, peaches, pears and best of all, roadside stands where you can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. There is much history along Highway 132, the little town of La Grange, was the first County Seat of Stanislaus County, (a nice museum there).

Les Marsden wrote on October 23, 2009: Even for those who are lifelong lovers of Yosemite, there are discoveries yet to be made. Retracing the approximate path followed by Muir himself some 140 years ago will allow the traveler to ’rediscover' Yosemite through Muir's own experience; a slight bit of imagination will bring the contemporary visitor that much closer to Muir's vision as he described it in "My First Summer in the Sierra."

Roger Biery wrote on October 23, 2009: This highway is a great way to enter Yosemite--a scenic and relaxing drive through meandering hills and valleys. For this reason, I suspect it will appeal even to folks who are not particularly interested in tracing John Muir’s historic footsteps.

We encourage healthy dialogue and interaction. Please include your first and last name. Comments must be accurate, family-friendly, based on personal experience and relevant to all travelers. Comments with profanity, threats, personal insults, or commercialized content will be deleted. Thank you.

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Boundaries and names shown do not necessarily reflect the map policy of the National Geographic Society.

Longitude: -120.120553000
Latitude: 37.813501000
Elevation: 0 FT (0 M)
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