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Muir Slept Here: 5 Legendary Wilderness Treks

Glacier PointWhat do Theodore Roosevelt, U2, and Willa Cather all have in common?

The answer lies hidden in the American wilderness. These iconic personalities are linked to places — some easy to look up, others darn-near impossible to find — with legends, stories, and little-known facts that bring history back to life. Here are five destinations for hiking, backpacking — or just plain old looking — that might stir feelings of intrigue, inspiration, and awe.

Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point, Yosemite, CA For history buffs, this perch of granite (left) has a storied past. In 1903, rough-riding president Teddy Roosevelt met with Sierra Club patriarch John Muir at this very rock in Yosemite, where the two camped out for four days and (along with posing in this very famous picture) talked conservation, environmental protection, and better park management for Yosemite. And they couldn't have picked a better spot than Glacier Point — a lookout high above the Yosemite Valley that beholds a condensed paradise resplendent with Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite's high country.

Cather Prairie, Redcloud, Nebraska Eco-tourists can visit the 608 acres of wild American prairie that were dedicated for a Pulitzer-winning forerunner of modern American literature, Willa Cather, a name deeply rooted in the land. Moving from Virginia when she was 11 years old, Cather trekked with her family across this very expanse of Redcloud's sprawling prairie: a fenceless source of inspiration for Cather that allowed her to pen American classics like Death Came to the Archbishop, O Pioneers! and My Antonia.   

Mojave Desert, Darwin, CA In 1987, a band called U2 released The Joshua Tree — a timeless, monumental album capturing the solitary, arid, rusty, and humbling beauty of the American desert. The actual Joshua tree — that is, the hydra-limbed tree prominently featured in the album's art — has long since collapsed and disintegrated. However, if you're a dedicated fan of U2 and know how to use a GPS, you can find the original site of "the tree," along with a bronze plaque in the red desert dirt that reads, "HAVE YOU FOUND WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?"

Robert Smithson JettyRozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah On a remote spot of the Great Salt Lake's red-hued, northern half (divided by a causeway), Robert Smithson constructed this ecological art piece in 1970, which today consists of only natural mediums: mud, basalt, white salt crystals that have accumulated over time, contrasted with the red saltwater. Three years after the jetty was completed, Smithson died in a plane crash; his legacy remains, however, in the design, expression, and self-reflection in the viewers of his masterpiece earthwork. 

Cabeza Prieta Desert, Pima County, Arizona Edward "Cactus" Abbey made a life of environmental advocacy, witty writing, and bold activism. So when he died of an esophageal hemorrhage in 1989, he was buried with his reputation intact: an illegal burial involving a pickup truck, an old sleeping bag, five cases of beer, one bottle of whiskey, and an epitaph chiseled on a rock that reads, "NO COMMENT." Perhaps his last act of environmental civil disobedience, "Cactus" Abbey's final resting place remains a mystery to this day, and his bones remain at large. Doug Peacock, along with Abbey's closest confidants have kept the secret for decades — to this day no soul has proof of finding the headstone. Abbey certainly wanted it that way.

Got another storied place to add to the list? Tell us in the comments section. 


Photo Credits: iStock photo/Cebolla4; iStock photo/DCrane08

J. Scott DonahueJ. Scott Donahue is an editorial intern at Sierra. He was a freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.

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