The magic of John Muir lives today in our public parklands and wilderness areas, the orchards and vineyards of Contra Costa County, sunsets atop Mt. Wanda, and in writings and teachings that spread the word about nature and our place in it.

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The Muir Glacier

Muir Glacier was painted by California artist Thomas HIll.

John Muir commissioned his friend to paint the glacier because Hill's work depicted a more authentic glacier in shape, color, and texture as observed by the naturalist. The painting originally hung in the west parlor of the Muir House. The painting is now owned by the Oakland Museum but is not on display.

Muir first discovered the glacier that bears his name in 1879 while exploring glaciers in Glacier Bay. It was not until Muir was leaving the bay in a canoe that he saw the glacier. Stormy weather blocked it from sight on the way in. On subsequent visits the Glacier Bay Muir spent much time exploring and writing about the glacier.

Glacier Bay National Park

Muir Glacier is part of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska bounded on the north by the Takkinska Mountains, a range that averages 6,0000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. Mount Harris (elevation 6,575 feet) is the source of the Muir, Riggs, McBride, and Casement glaciers, all of which may be seen from Muir Inlet.

What is a Glacier?

A glacier is a perennial accumulation of ice, snow, water, rock, and sediment that moves under the influence of gravity. A glacier changes in response to fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, and other geologic processes.

There are three components of a glacier. First is the glacial ice and the material entrained in and on it. Second is the glacial valley, fiord, or channel and its related rock features that the ice mass flows in, on, and over. Third is the complex array of deposits that are produced by the glacier as it advances, retreats, or melts in place.

Glacial ice forms through a slow continuous change of snow to a material called "firn" and finally to bubbly glacial ice. The change takes place as yearly snowfalls pile up as layers on each other, increasing the pressure on the older layers as they are buried. This causes changes in density, volume, and crystal structure. Glacial ice is blue because the physical characteristics of the water molecules absorbs all colors except blue. (Note blue color of ice in Hill's painting.)

Sources: "Alaska's Glaciers," Alaska Geographic
Glacier Bay by William Boehm

Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, December 1997, Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association.





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