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April 1, 2009

In the spirit of John Muir, walking from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley

Mention the San Joaquin Valley, and images of a dusty, windy, sun-baked flatland consumed by agriculture likely come to mind. But when John Muir walked from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley in 1868, he described the Central Valley as "a scene of peerless grandeur," an "ocean of flowers" stretching nearly 400 miles in length.

Alex McInturff, a master's degree candidate in the School of Earth Sciences, will walk Muir's approximate route this spring, blogging as he goes. Rather than simply document the landscape changes since Muir's time, McInturff wants to assess different ways conservation has been approached on the varied types of land, and how methods have changed over time.

"Muir was looking at people and nature very separately, and he wanted to set aside natural areas as much for their protection as to keep people out," McInturff said, noting many recent conservation efforts trend away from that approach. "It's necessary to look at ways in which land can be conserved while people are still present and ways that private landowners can play a part."

McInturff has arranged meetings along his route with various land users, including farmers, conservationists and government agencies.

He was inspired to make the trek after a friend who was reading Muir's "Rambles of a Botanist" for a class shared the essay with him. The plan came together with the encouragement of faculty, support from the Earth Systems Program and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and advice from Jon Christensen, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, who taught the class McInturff's friend took.

McInturff departs April 6 and expects to reach Yosemite Valley in 32 days. His blog is at



Jon Christensen, Department of History: (650) 759-6534,

Louis Bergeron, News Service: (650) 725-1944,

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