The travels and science of Clarence King — with his range of adventures and scope of public impact — were in the league of William Brewer (Class of 2005) and Josiah Whitney (Class of 2007). Along with Brewer and Whitney, he was one of four leading team members to make the first historic geologic survey of California over a four-year period by foot, horseback and boat. In September 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed King to make the first boundary survey of Yosemite Valley. Whitney then arranged for King to make the first survey of the Mojave Desert. In 1879, Congress chose King as the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
As an academic, King published “Systematic Geology,” where he is credited as “defining the geologic history of the Western U.S.” The work was called “one of the great scientific works of the late nineteenth century.” As an author, he wrote “Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada” (1872), which made him a public figure recognized across America, and for those who can find a copy, a cult classic. Mount Clarence King in Kings Canyon National Park is named for him.