Roosevelt, Muir, and the Grace of Place

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite and was guided by naturalist John Muir. The two men spent three memorable nights camping, first under the outstretched arms of the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, then in a snowstorm atop five feet of snow near Sentinel Dome, and finally in a meadow near the base of Bridalveil Fall. Their conversations and shared joy with the beauty and magnificence of Yosemite led Roosevelt to expand federal protection of Yosemite, and it inspired him to sign into existence five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests.

Click and drag the circle at the center of the photos left and right to compare the then and now images.

 
Stagecoach with men and horses in front of a building. Stagecoach with men and horses in front of a building.

Left image
President Roosevelt is welcomed at the Wawona Hotel.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_13191

Right image
The Wawona Hotel is today one of three major hotels within the park.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2021

Teddy Roosevelt Arrives at the Wawona Hotel, 1903

President Teddy Theodore Roosevelt arrived to Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel on May 15, 1903. His visit was part of a grand tour of twenty-five states in eight weeks, including sixteen days in Yellowstone National Park where he was accompanied by wildlife writer John Burroughs. After their visit, Burroughs said of Roosevelt, He is doubtless the most vital man on the continent, if not on the planet, today. He is many-sided, and every side throbs with his tremendous life and energy.

 
Two men in a canoe on a lake with cliffs in background. Two men in a canoe on a lake with cliffs in background.

Left image
Two men set off to fish on Mirror Lake.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_19800

Right image
Mirror Lake is completely dry in this late summer photo.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Mirror Lake Trout Fishing, ca. 1875

Around 1875, a small ramshackle saloon was built on the western shore of Mirror Lake. It’s proprietor, William Howard, built a mile-long toll road that connected his pub to the Valley. With its forty-by-sixty foot dance platform built out over the lake, Howard’s Mirror Lake House was a popular and lively establishment until the Yosemite Grant Commissioners shut the operation down in 1879.

 
President Theodore Roosevelt greeting two women at the top of stairs. President Theodore Roosevelt greeting two women at the top of stairs.

Left image
President Roosevelt greets two women at Thomas Hill's studio.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_12675

Right image
Hill's Studio now serves as the Wawona Visitor Center.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Roosevelt at Hill's Studio, 1903

While visiting Wawona, President Teddy Roosevelt visited the studio of preeminent landscape artist Thomas Hill. In the photograph, Willeta Hill and Estella Washburn bid President Roosevelt goodbye. Of conservation, Roosevelt wrote, "It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals -- not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people are awakening." 

Today, Hill's Studio serves as the Wawona Visitor Center.

 
A group of men including President Roosevelt and John Muir at the base of a giant sequoia. A group of men including President Roosevelt and John Muir at the base of a giant sequoia.

Left image
President Roosevelt and John Muir at the base of the Grizzly Giant.
Credit: Photographer: Joseph Nisbet LeConte; Yosemite NP Archives RL_13724

Right image
These days, the base of the Grizzly Giant is protected by a fence.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Roosevelt at the Grizzly Giant, 1903

President Roosevelt chose to camp with John Muir under the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove rather than stay at the Wawona Hotel. He said the grove was "a temple greater than any human architect could by any possibility build." The President bedded down on a pile of 40 wool blankets. In the photograph, Roosevelt is fifth from the left and Muir is seventh. 

 
Two men stand on a rock with waterfalls and mountains in background. Two men stand on a rock with waterfalls and mountains in background.

Left image
President Roosevelt and John Muir stand on the edge at Glacier Point.
Credit: Photographer: Underwood and Underwood; Yosemite NP Archives RL_12904

Right image
Visitors are no longer allowed on the rock due to instability.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point, 1903

Two months prior to his visit, Roosevelt wrote to Muir asking him to guide him through the park. “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir rearranged his schedule to accommodate this request. Muir admitted that during their trip, "I stuffed him pretty well regarding the timber thieves, and the destructive work of lumbermen and other spoilers of the forest." When it snowed overnight on their camp at Glacier Point, Roosevelt said, "This is bullier yet."

 
Roosevelt and Muir on horseback with a mountain in the background. Roosevelt and Muir on horseback with a mountain in the background.

Left image
Roosevelt and Muir arrive in the Valley on horseback.
Credit: Photographer: Southern Pacific Staff; Yosemite NP Archives RL_18781

Right image
The walking trail has replaced the path of Roosevelt and Muir.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, May 1903

Upon arriving in Yosemite Valley,  Roosevelt told the reporters and crowds that, "We were in a snowstorm last night (at Glacier Point) and it was just what I wanted." They camped another night in a meadow across from Bridalveil Fall. In 1906, Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were receded to the United States for inclusion in Yosemite National Park, which was established in 1890.

 
Horses and buggies in front of a building with a waterfall in the distance. Horses and buggies in front of a building with a waterfall in the distance.

Left image
The old Sentinel Hotel across the Valley from Yosemite Falls.
Credit: Photographer: Underwood & Underwood; Yosemite NP Archives RL_16426

Right image
Cars and buses pass by the old hotel site.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2019

Sentinel Hotel and Yosemite Falls, 1902

Nestled on the south bank of the Merced River in the old Yosemite Village, the Sentinel Hotel was originally called the Yosemite Falls Hotel. At the beginning of an economic depression in 1893, the Yosemite Grant Commissioners authorized a new lease to a hotelier A.B. Glasscock, an associate of the Washburn brothers. He renovated the hotel into first-class conditions, mimicking the design of the Washburn’s Wawona Hotel. The Sentinel Hotel was well positioned to benefit from the end of the depression a few years later.

 
A river and a bridge in winter with a building on the edge of the river. A river and a bridge in winter with a building on the edge of the river.

Left image
Sentinel Bridge and the hotel alongside the Merced River.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_01609

Right image
Sentinel Bridge, Half Dome, and the Merced River in autumn.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2019

Sentinel Hotel and Half Dome

As visitation to Yosemite Valley soared in the late 1890s, the Sentinel Hotel was remodeled to add more rooms. But the hotel and its cottages could handle only two hundred guests, an insufficient number given the destruction of the Stoneman House in 1896. In 1915, the Department of the Interior moved to consolidate Yosemite’s concessions. The Desmond Park Service Company was able to acquire the Sentinel Hotel as well as Camp Ahwahnee, Camp Lost Arrow, Thorton’s general store, the butcher shop, Coffman’s stables, and the Mountain House at Glacier Point. The Desmond Park Service Company, along with the Curry Company, was the precursor to the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, which controlled most park concessions until 1993.

 
Man sitting on granite slope with meadow and mountains in background. Man sitting on granite slope with meadow and mountains in background.

Left image
Stephen Mather looks out at Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Range.
Credit: Photographer: Francis P. Farquahar; Yosemite NP Archives RL_07374

Right image
The view from Lembert Dome hasn't changed much since 1921.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2021

Stephen Mather Descending Lembert Dome, 1921

Born in San Francisco on July 4, 1867, Stephen T. Mather was the first director of the National Park Service when it was established in 1916. He was a millionaire industrialist, a graduate and strong supporter of UC Berkeley, and a member of the Sierra Club. He also suffered from manic-depression and died of a stroke in 1930.

 
A park ranger presenting to a group of people with a glacier in background. A park ranger presenting to a group of people with a glacier in background.

Left image
Ranger Sharsmith speaks to a group of hikers, Conness Glacier in the background.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_07033

Right image
A hiker wears a mask to protect against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Conness Glacier and Ranger Sharsmith, 1932

Ranger naturalist Carl Sharsmith led a group climbing over Conness Glacier to the top of Mt. Conness in 1932. Sharsmith was a biology professor who worked each summer in the park from 1931 until he died in 1994 at age 91 as the National Park Service’s oldest ranger (at that time). The glacier itself has shrunk dramatically due to extended periods of above-average spring and summer temperatures. Between 1903 and 2014, based on photographic comparisons, Conness Glacier shrank by at least 60%.

 
Photo from inside a tunnel with icicles, snow, and mountains visible. Photo from inside a tunnel with icicles, snow, and mountains visible.

Left image
The Wawona Tunnel in winter, looking east.
Credit: Photographer: Unknown; Yosemite NP Archives RL_02960

Right image
Looking from the tunnel to the parking lot at Tunnel View.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Wawona Tunnel, Winter 1933

In 1927, Stephen Mather, Director of the National Park Service, initiated the development of a new Wawona Road that would meet the demands of modern automobile traffic. To minimize the new road’s impact on the park landscape, a design to bore a tunnel through the granite below Inspiration Point was adopted. The Wawona Tunnel construction began on November 30, 1930 and was formerly dedicated on June 10, 1933. At the time, it was the longest tunnel in the Western United States with its length of 4,230 feet. It cost $847,500 to build and required 275 tons of dynamite to blast through the solid granite. No workers lost their lives during its construction.

 
A man skiing on a lake in winter with mountains in background. A man skiing on a lake in winter with mountains in background.

Left image
A man skis across the frozen lake, heading east.
Credit: Photographer: Jack Emmet; Yosemite NP Archives RL_00862

Right image
A late Summer thunderstorm retreats across Tenaya Lake.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Tenaya Lake in Winter, 1933

In 1851, the Mariposa Battalion drove the Ahwahneechee from Yosemite Valley and captured their chief, Tenaya, on the shore of the lake that now bears his name. Lafayette Bunnell, a member of the Mariposa Battalion, wrote of telling Tenaya of the naming of the lake, “‘I called him up to us, and told him that we had given his name to the lake and the river. At first he seemed unable to comprehend our purpose, and pointing to the group of glistening peaks, near the head of the lake, said: ‘It already has a name; we call it Py-we-ack.’ Upon my telling him that we had named it Ten-ie-ya, because it was upon the shores of the lake that we had found his people, who would never return to it to live, his countenance fell and he at once left our group and joined his own family circle. His countenance as he left us indicated that he thought the naming of the lake no equivalent for the loss of his territory.’”

 
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing on a rock slab with granite cliffs in the background. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing on a rock slab with granite cliffs in the background.

Left image
The First Lady and Half Dome from Glacier Point.
Credit: Photographer: Ralph H. Anderson; Yosemite NP Archives RL_07723

Right image
Two tourists enjoy the view towards Half Dome.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Eleanor Roosevelt at Glacier Point, 1934

Mrs. Roosevelt visited Yosemite from July 21-24, 1934. Besides the visit to Glacier Point depicted in the photograph, she traveled to the Tuolumne Meadows area and camped at Young Lakes. She also participated in the rainbow trout stocking of an unnamed lake near Mt. Conness. That lake was later named Roosevelt Lake in her honor.

 
A park ranger and woman pose in a plaza with mountains in the background. A park ranger and woman pose in a plaza with mountains in the background.

Left image
Gertrude Stein and a park ranger pose in front of the Yosemite Musum.
Credit: Photographer: Ralph H. Anderson; Yosemite NP Archives RL_07698

Right image
A visitor wears a mask as a precaution during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone 2020

Gertrude Stein at the Yosemite Museum, 1935

Celebrities, politicians, business notables, and artists have made the pilgrimage to Yosemite over the years. In 1935, Gertrude Stein, the noted poet, playwright, and novelist, visited and stayed at the The Ahwahnee. She wrote a postcard with a photograph of a mother bear and her cubs to Carl Van Vechten, a writer, photographer, and patron of the Harlem Renaissance. It read, "Here we are unexpectedly and loving it, you must come next year with us and photograph the trees, they are worthy of your camera, really."

Last updated: August 26, 2021

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