A century after John Muir’s death, Glen MacDonald examines his legacy and argues that while Muir’s message of the value of wilderness to society might need to evolve for a twenty-first century audience, it is still relevant. For instance, Muir believed in the transformative power of visiting remote wildernesses such as Yosemite and urged everyone to do so, and his conception of nature preservation as preserving nature in a specific moment in time is now understood to be misguided. His specific prescriptions for relating to the natural world now seem old-fashioned, but his core values and his passion for getting Californians out in nature is just as important today, whether those natural places are national parks or city parks.
Glen M. MacDonald dispels the myth that Los Angeles is a desert city. But he also warns that a desert is what Los Angeles may one day become. After defining what a desert is and then proving that Los Angeles (for now) is not a desert, Macdonald investigates the origins of the “desert city” myth. This myth has thrived despite the evidence that MacDonald culls from various archives: a missionary's diary entries describing Los Angeles in 1769, nineteenth century newspaper reports and photographs, and a very recent MODIS satellite image of the city. If Los Angeles has yet to be described accurately as a desert, the encroachments that the ever-expanding city is making, particularly on the Mojave, along with climate change, threaten to make the desert city myth real. Nevertheless, MacDonald argues, rather than reify this old myth, perhaps it is time we create a new one.