John Muir in Utah

© 2009 Utah Humanities Council

The Story:

In 1877, naturalist and future Sierra Club founder John Muir found himself in Salt Lake City, working as a correspondent for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin.  Not surprisingly, Muir was attracted to the city’s greenery and irrigation system.  Salt Lake was a “city of lilacs and tulips.”  “Nowhere have I seen them in greater perfection,” he effused.  “Scarce a home, however obscure, is without them.”  Of the city’s system for distributing water, Muir was less upbeat.  As City Creek entered town, he wrote, its water was drawn off to feed irrigation canals, which were “all pure and sparkling in the upper streets, but, as they are used to some extent as sewers, they soon manifest the consequence of contact with civilization, though the speed of their flow prevents their becoming offensive.”

Muir was especially dazzled by the Great Salt Lake and Oquirrh Mountains west of the city.  “When the north wind blows,” the naturalist noted, bathing in the lake “is a glorious baptism, for then it is all wildly awake with waves, looking like a prairie in snowy crystal foam.”  Of a hike through the Oquirrhs he wrote effusively: “I found many delightful seclusions—moist nooks at the foot of cliffs, and lilies in every one of them, not growing close together like daisies, but well apart, with plenty of room for their bells to swing free and ring … Descending the mountain, I followed the windings of the main central glen on the north, gathering specimens of the cones and sprays of the evergreens, and most of the other new plants I had met; but the lilies formed the crowning glory of my bouquet—the grandest I had carried in many a day.  I reached the hotel on the lake about dusk with all my fresh riches, and my first mountain ramble in Utah was accomplished.”

Sources:

See John Muir, “The City of the Saints,” “Bathing in Salt Lake,” and “Mormon Lilies,” in Steep Trails (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994); and Donald Worster, A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 227-232.

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