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The Scripture of Nature: 1851-1890 

A study of the first ideas which led to the establishment of America's national parks, with an emphasis on the work of John Muir and the exploration and preservation of Yosemite and Yellowstone.


Ken Burns


Dayton Duncan


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Coyote ... Himself - Narrator (voice)
Dayton Duncan Dayton Duncan ... Himself - Writer
Carl Pope Carl Pope ... Himself - Sierra Club
Clay Jenkinson ... Himself - Historian
William Cronon William Cronon ... Himself - Historian
Shelton Johnson Shelton Johnson ... Himself - Park Ranger
Alfred Runte Alfred Runte ... Himself - Historian
Lee Stetson Lee Stetson ... Himself - Muir Historian (voice)
Adam Arkin ... Reader (voice)
Gretel Ehrlich Gretel Ehrlich ... Herself - Writer
Philip Bosco ... Reader (voice)
Terry Tempest Williams Terry Tempest Williams ... Herself - Writer
Gerard Baker Gerard Baker ... Himself - Park Superintendent
Kevin Conway ... Reader (voice)
Tom Hanks ... Reader (voice)


A study of the first ideas which led to the establishment of America's national parks, with an emphasis on the work of John Muir and the exploration and preservation of Yosemite and Yellowstone.

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Release Date:

27 September 2009 (USA) See more »

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WETA See more »
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Nice, though a bit overly poetic
21 February 2013 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

This is the first episodes of Ken Burns' series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea". And, not surprisingly, it talks about the founding of the first parks in America. Despite popular American opinion that Teddy Roosevelt began the national parks program, the roots go all the way back to President Lincoln and the designation of Yosemite as a park in 1864. However, it wasn't exactly a federal park. Though created by Congress, the park was placed under control of the state of California and the integrity of the park against building programs was NOT guaranteed. Much of the first portion of the film is about a guy named Hutchings--who spearheaded making it a park but who also behaved as if it was for him to personally exploit. Folks like John Muir, however, would have a different view of national parks--and eventually this notion would win out and other parks would be established. During the course of this show, the first four national parks were discussed--with particular emphasis on Yosemite and Yellowstone. In addition, the life of John Muir is discussed in some depth. Interestly, while a fascinating man and a guy who worked so hard to preserve park lands, he did come off, at times, as a bit of a nut! See the show and judge for yourself.

Overall, this show is pretty much exactly what we've all learned to expect from a Ken Burns documentary. His extensive use of photographs and paintings, celebrity voices, excellent narration by Peter Coyote and lovely (but repetitive) music all paint a very poetic sort of picture. I see it as a lesser Burns project simply because I think the show is TOO poetic and talky. Instead of folks waxing so lyrical about nature, I'd rather the shows give an overview of the creation of the park system as well as more in depth explorations of all the parks. But, who am I to complain? After all, this IS Ken Burns and he really knows his stuff.

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