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The Yosemite Valley (1910) by Galen Clark

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HUNDREDS of thousands of Yosemite visitors were grief-stricken a few weeks ago when it was announced that Galen Clark, the discoverer, in 1857, of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, had "joined the innumerable caravan" at the rare old age of ninety-six, and in full possession of all his senses and perfect storehouse of mind.

The writer had known Galen Clark intimately and had met him often for forty-odd years, and had deemed him one of the most agreeable and entertaining human beings he had ever met, and, altogether, one of the most benignant characters.

Mr. Clark was a New Englander, and came to California, via the Isthmus of Panama, in 1853, and to the mining camps between Sonora and Mariposa the year following. He had been carefully and healthfully brought up, but the insidious conditions of the Isthmus, or in. the mines, had brought on a pulmonary disorder of a serious nature, and a friendly physician advised him to seek an abode among the stately conifers and pellucid waterways of the High Sierras. In the spring of 1857 he built himself a log cabin in the beautiful valley now known as Wawona, which for nearly twenty years was known as "Clark’s. Station," and in a few months discovered the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias, only eight miles distant from his abode.

Mr. Clark was a member of the first Board of Commissioners for the care of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, and was the "Guardian of the Valley" for many years afterward; and for more than half a century he had lived in the Valley or at Wawona, and became familiar with every species of shrub and tree, grass land flower, and with the dimensions of every elevation and fall of water. He won the respect and friendship of all with whom he came in contact, including the tribes of Indians which then inhabited that region and who still remain in small-and scattered bands as one of the interesting features of the Yosemite Valley.

In 1904, when ninety years of age, Mr. Clark published a book on the Indians of the Yosemite, which was followed in 1907 by a volume on the Big Trees of California. These books are written in a simple and entertaining style and have proven valuable contributions to the literature of Western America. They have been widely read and are regarded as the most authoritative works on the subjects of which they treat. So far as I know, Mr. Clark’s experience has been absolutely unique in becoming an author at the age of ninety.

In this, his latest and most pretentious book, the manuscript of which he had personally handed to his printer less than two weeks before being summoned to his last account, he succinctly and delightfully presents descriptions of all the cataracts and waterfalls, spires and domes, trees and flowers, islands and, lakes, rivers and vales, and the multiplicity of other objects which have made the Yosemite Valley the masterpiece of the scenic world.

This last publication of Mr. Clark has many aims, but its principal object is to furnish answers to the numerous questions asked by Yosemite visitors, not only with regard to the great scenic features of the Valley and the various. theories which have been advanced to account for their origin, but also concerning the many beautiful and varied specimens of tree and plant life. The book therefore contains the correct name and a brief sketch of each flower, fern, tree, shrub and grass; and a description of all the falls and domes and other elevations, with their names and altitudes, their significance in Indian minds, and much else of an interesting aboriginal study and belief. It has been the aim of the author to avoid infinitesimal detail and ponderosity; in other words, he has omitted nothing that should be presented, but has made a book that may be carried in almost any pocket and drawn upon for reference at any time and at any place. It is the gem of books on the Yosemite Valley and scintillates like a star.

Very naturally Mr. Clark descants on the cause or causes which led to the creation of the great gorge, a question which has perplexed so many savants and other scholarly men of science and observation; and while he summarizes to some extent the conclusions of Professors Whitney and Le Conte (whose deductions are diametrically in conflict with each other) he advances a theory of his own which more or less harmonizes the views of Whitney, Le Conte, Davidson, Muir and other distinguished scientists and scholars, and also fits in palpably with all physical conditions. This may be regarded, I think, as the profoundest chapter in the book, and a feature that will elicit the admiration of all its readers.

The chapters descriptive of the flowering shrubs and flowering plants glow in all the colors of an Axminster; and these many blooms remind one of Milton’s "leaves that strew the brooks of Vallombrosa." There are more than a score of these gorgeous floral inhabitants described, and many ferns. Surely, these chapters may be veritably termed the very "language of flowers." The descriptions of the trees, which embrace the yellow, sugar and black pines and tamaracks, the Douglas spruce and the fir, the cedars and the oaks, the cottonwoods and the alder, the maple and the laurel, the quaking aspen and some others, are highly instructive and quite as bewitching as Emerson’s essays on "the woods," which he termed "God’s Temples. "

The author’s remains now sleep the everlasting sleep under a modest sarcophagus quarried from a fugitive granite boulder by his own hands, surrounded by trees and flowers, shrubs and vines. His was a good and warm and sympathetic heart, and he was always notably gentle and kind, radiant and lovable. He was strikingly pure and honest, for his word was as good and as unimpeachable as a bond.

There have been many noble Knights of the High Sierras, but Galen Clark was one of the noblest of all.

Ben C. Truman.

Los Angeles,
        May 2, 1910

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management