The astounding beauty of California has inspired many a naturalist to hike the backcountry trails of the golden state. But no one knew this outdoor world better than Scotsman John Muir, one of California’s preeminent nature writers.

John Muir spent years in the Sierra Nevada, climbing its peaks, exploring its valleys, and thrilling to the power of Nature. Here in “Earthquake Storms” is John Muir’s enthusiastic description of such power, as the Inyo Earthquake of 1872 reshapes the Yosemite Valley:

At half-past two o’clock of a moonlit morning in March, I was awakened by a tremendous earthquake, and though I had never before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, “A noble earthquake! A noble earthquake!” feeling sure I was going to learn something. The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, that I had to balance myself carefully in walking as if on the deck of a ship among waves, and it seemed impossible that the high cliffs of the Valley could escape being shattered. In particular, I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, towering above my cabin, would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a large yellow pine, hoping that it might protect me from at least the smaller outbounding boulders. For a minute or two the shocks became more and more violent—-flashing horizontal thrusts mixed with a few twists and battering, explosive, upheaving jolts,-—as if Nature were wrecking her Yosemite temple, and getting ready to build a still better one.

"Sentinel Rock," photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, [signed "HELIOS"], 1867.
“Sentinel Rock,” photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, [signed “HELIOS”], 1867.
No one did more for conservation than did John Muir, first president of the Sierra Club and a writer whose work helped create the public and political will to win for Yosemite Valley the protection afforded a National Park.

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