Explore John Muir’s Yosemite: OFFICIAL LAUNCH!

I am so excited to share with you the final version of this project, which has been in the works for about a year and half!

Multimedia installation for web and iPad app Explore John Muir’s Yosemite, illustrates the writings of naturalist and conservationist John Muir through interactive photography and music, offering an engaging new interpretation of Muir’s vision of nature.

The 2014 launch of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite commemorates the centennial of John Muir’s death, the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.


Back in June ’13, I traveled with my partner John Resig to Yosemite and nearby Sequoia National Park to capture about 1,000 videos, photographs, and audio recordings of sites that were important to John Muir. You might have seen my travel diary on this blog from this special trip.

Visiting the site of John Muir’s cabin at Yosemite Falls.

Over the following several months, I designed and constructed an interactive media experience integrating selections from Muir’s essays with my photography and a non-linear score I composed and produced specially for this project. John then coded the Javascript engine that drives the animations and interactivity in the installation.

I was honored to exhibit the beta version of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite for renowned Muir scholars last March at the 2014 international John Muir Symposium at The University of Pacific in Stockton, CA, with support from NYU’s Student Senators Council Academic Conference Fund Grant.

Since then, John and I have been refining things under the hood and converting the browser experience into a visually immersive iPad app, which I’m excited to report is now available as a free download in the App Store.

If you like the iPad app, please consider leaving a review in the App Store.

Enjoy the finished product! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Production of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite was supported in part by a Challenge Grant from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Day 1: The Giant Forest

“Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, ‘the noblest of the noble race.'” —John Muir (Read Chapter 7 of The Yosemite  for more from  Muir on the sequoias in the Giant Forest and nearby locales.)

On June 10, 2013, I arrived with my partner John at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park (south of Yosemite National Park) with the intention of photographing, filming, and experiencing majestic ancient sequoia trees for my project Illuminating John Muir’s Yosemite (which could more accurately be called Illuminating John Muir’s Yosemite and Surrounding Relevant Areas!).

McKinley Tree
Can you spot tiny me in front of the giant McKinley Tree?

The Giant Forest (name coined by John Muir) is an exceptional stand of giant sequoias and other conifer trees. We entered the Forest in the late afternoon after a 4 or 5-hour drive from the Bay Area, where we had ended a several-day cross-country train trip from New York on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr.

Driving southeast through the dry San Joaquin Valley—where we saw endless, rolling fields of golden-brown dried grass, irrigated almond farms, ranches, and small highway-side farm towns—we  climbed winding Route 180 up and up into the pine-covered mountains, entering into Kings Canyon National Park. Heading further south into Sequoia National Park, we stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor Center to acquire trail maps and refill our water bottles, then made our way to our eventual destination at an elevation of roughly 6,400 feet.

We meandered down from the moderately busy parking lot to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living tree by volume, then walked a fairly short loop on the paved Congress Trail, where the number of fellow tourists rapidly decreased.

The giant sequoia’s broad trunks were more massive and ancient (they can live over 3,000 years, third oldest in the world) than I could comprehend. Snapping photos and attempting vainly to capture the sheer size of the trees in my viewfinder, I spotted a number of deer, squirrels, butterflies and ants (all of which John Muir loved) and enjoyed the fern-dotted slopes of exposed soil coated in beds of dried pine needles. Peeking through branches, pine-covered rolling hills hovered in the distance, hazy and blue.

The light was a bit difficult for shooting this evening: slightly overcast and flat, with brief, beautiful moments of golden light breaking through. Once the sun was too low to continue, we drove back to our room at Stony Creek Lodge for a modest dinner of vacuum-sealed grocery store sandwiches (the only readily available food at that hour!) and rested up for our first full day in the Sierra Nevada.

Read the next post in the series (Day 2)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

Day 2: Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow

On our first morning in Sequoia National Park (having explored some of the Giant Forest the previous evening), John and I drove through the Giant Forest to the Moro Rock trailhead. There we climbed up to the summit of a granite dome that is notable for having a readily accessible concrete stairway built into it (complete with railings… at least for part of the way!) for  non-climbers such as myself. Trivia of note: the unlikely stairway itself, an engineering and construction feat, is in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Alongside panting tourists and some more well-prepared hikers, I carefully walked up the 1/4 mile (300+ feet elevation gain) of stairs, treated to incredible pine and chaparral-blanketed mountain vistas all along the way.

After this little adventure, we continued following the footsteps of John Muir by visiting Crescent Meadow—which he  nicknamed the “Gem of the Sierras.” Muir writes about it in an essay on pioneer Hale Tharp:

“Resting awhile … it seemed impossible that any other forest picture in the world could rival it. There lay the grassy, flowery lawn, three fourths of a mile long, smoothly outspread, basking in mellow autumn light, colored brown and yellow and purple, streaked with lines of green along the streams, and ruffled here and there with patches of ledum and scarlet vaccinium. Around the margin there is first a fringe of azalea and willow bushes, colored orange yellow, enlivened with vivid dashes of red cornel, as if painted.

Then up spring the mighty walls of verdure three hundred feet high, the brown fluted pillars so thick and tall and strong they seem fit to uphold the sky; the dense foliage, swelling forward in rounded bosses on the upper half, variously shaded and tinted, that of the young trees dark green, of the old yellowish. An aged lightning-smitten patriarch standing a little forward beyond the general line with knotty arms outspread was covered with gray and yellow lichens and surrounded by a group of saplings whose slender spires seemed to lack not a single leaf or spray in their wondrous perfection.

Such was the Kaweah meadow picture that golden afternoon, and as I gazed every color seemed to deepen and glow as if the progress of the fresh sun-work were visible from hour to hour, while every tree seemed religious and conscious of the presence of God.” —John Muir

Crescent Meadow is a gloriously lush, marsh-like, medium-sized meadow ringed by sequoias and other conifers, quaking aspen trees, and fern-carpeted slopes, adjoined by the equally beautifully (and less tourist-y) Log Meadow. The fragile meadows themselves are protected from the trampling of visitors, so we took a leisurely hike in the forested areas looping around the two meadows, stopping to snack on trail mix while watching deer snack on leaves. The atmosphere was idyllic as we took in the delicate music of a small creek (a common feature of the forests and meadows in the area) and the colors of diminutive, elegant wildflowers, which were plentiful in this moderate late-spring weather.

Hoping to reach our room at the historic Wawona Hotel before dark, we made the 2 1/2 hour drive up through the southern gate of Yosemite National Park and into Wawona, where we enjoyed yet more beautiful meadow and forest scenery on a sunset hike on a loop trail around the (mosquito-infested yet lovely) meadow adjoining the golf course across Highway 41 from the hotel. Tucking into dinner in the super-quaint old fashioned dining room then settling into our room, we prepared ourselves for the following day and our first glimpse of the great Yosemite Valley.

Read the next post in the series (Day 3)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite

Travel Journal

July 1, 2013 — This series of posts recounts my June 2013 pilgrimage into the Sierra Nevada and includes slideshows with 160 of the best photos and videos from the trip.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park
Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park

About the Trip

June 4, 2013 — Tomorrow I begin a cross-country train trip from New York to California, where I’ll be photographing and filming in Yosemite National Park and nearby areas for multimedia project Illuminating John Muir’s Yosemite (more information about the project here). I feel privileged and thrilled to undertake this exciting journey into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The visuals and field recordings I collect in Yosemite will be developed into a browser-based multimedia immersive environment accompanied by new music and selections from the writings of naturalist/conservationist/genius John Muir.

Travel and art are an inspiring combination. I find the process of exploring new places becomes even more poignant and memorable with a creative project as my mission. Music and video piece The Faraway Nearby involved tracking down painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite landscapes in New Mexico (read my travel log about that adventure). My mini-documentaries for Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art led me to explore the homes and environments that inspired painters Thomas Cole and Charles Burchfield (see posts A Thomas Cole Pilgrimage and A Charles Burchfield Pilgrimage).

Once again, I’ll be posting about this project’s development. You’re invited to follow my journey’s progress on this blog and on Twitter.