President Theodore Roosevelt formed the Boone and Crockett Club and many other conservation organizations because of his love of all things natural. In the 1870s, fishing and hunting organizations urged local governments to restrict encroaching corporations from violating America’s natural resources. There was hope for the wilderness with an ally like Roosevelt in Washington.
John Muir was a naturalist who had been advocating for increased protections for Yosemite, as it was under threat of commercialization, overgrazing, and logging. Muir was one of the chief lobbyists to make Yosemite a National Park. On October 1st, 1890, it earned official status. He then founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to protect the sanctuary; however, it was still an uphill battle to preserve America’s natural beauty.
Meanwhile, other lobbyists were gaining momentum to further their own agendas (many of which were bad for the land) because even though Yosemite was a National Park, protections and regulations were administrated at the state level. Yosemite needed a champion and, in 1903, halfway through his presidency, the park found one in Teddy Roosevelt.
Roosevelt arrives at the Wawona Hotel
Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt looked forward to his stop in California because for three politic-free-days, he had a private tour of Yosemite with John Muir. Muir was an active voice in the realm of conservation, and his passionate ideals caught the attention of the President himself. Roosevelt loved the outdoors, and he personally wrote a letter to invite Muir to schedule the three-day camping trip through the park.
The favor of the President would surely land the support in Washington the park desperately needed. Muir replied, “…of course, I shall go with you gladly” via mail.
Mariposa Grove, then and now.
On May 15, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt arrived at Raymond, California to begin his adventure into the Sierra Nevada. He and his entourage had rooms at the Wawona Hotel, but he only ate lunch there. He was far more interested in mounting his horse and seeing as much of the park as he could. He visited the Mariposa Grove of giant trees, taking pictures, and set camp for the first leg of his stay.
Roosevelt and Muir discussed their shared beliefs on conservationism over fried chicken.
The following day, the President and Muir were up at dawn, determined to explore more of the trails and Glacier Point. When they reach the summit at 7,000 feet above sea level, they were hit with a snowstorm. They made camp at Washburn Point, marooned together amid the pine trees and snow-covered peaks.
He slept outside without a tent because that’s the kind of hard charger the President was.
The final day was spent with more exploration of the park’s majestic natural wonders. They rose horses until dusk before deciding to set up camp one last time at Bridalveil Fall. When Teddy laid eyes on Yosemite, it was love at first sight. By the third day, he was convinced that the park needed his influence in D.C. to preserve and protect it.
“We were in a snowstorm last night and it was just what I wanted,” he said later in the day. “Just think of where I was last night. Up there,” pointing toward Glacier Point, “amid the pines and silver firs, in the Sierran solitude in a snowstorm. I passed one of the most pleasant nights of my life. It was so reviving to be so close to nature in this magnificent forest…”
All of Teddy’s clubs had connections in Washington D.C., and his first-hand experience brought passion and determination to the subject. He signed the American Antiquities Act of 1906 that transferred the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove back under federal protection and control. A decade later, when the National Park Service formed in 1916, Yosemite had its own agency to protect it, thanks to Roosevelt’s efforts.