Yesterday, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Martin Litton, a former Sunset travel editor from 1954 to 1968, passed away on Sunday at age 97 in his Portola Valley home. Our garden editor Kathy Brenzel, whose time at Sunset briefly overlapped with Litton's, says that he was—first and foremost—an environmental trailblazer.And even bigger than the shoes he left at Sunset to fill, was the legacy of his practicing conservation.Litton saved a series of rivers first by blocking the Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. A true outdoorsman, he scouted the redwoods by foot to help establish Redwood National Park. His contributions to saving the environment were endless and his passion for nature were unparalleled.
In 1995, Litton brought current deputy travel editor Peter Fish on a treacherous adventure to see the sequoias. At the time, 78-year-old Litton was pushing for a sequoia reserve after witnessing the logging that took place in Sequoia National Forest. Fish describes him as a “seat-of-the-pants travel editor.”
A glider pilot in WWII, Litton once took out the old company plane with a Sunset coworker only to find out they were nearly out of gas. Brenzel recalls the story of his cutting finely down to land with zero fuel, laughing off the near-death experience afterward.
Brenzel remembers one of her first encounters with him, when she was new to Sunset and fresh out of college. She noticed an associate asking him for an overdue story. Kicking a door, Litton told his colleague he’d get it when it’s ready. Though his copy was always late, she says, his stories celebrated the beauty of the West in an exquisite way.
After his time at Sunset, the hiker, photographer, writer, and pilot continued traveling and exploring. In fact, he holds the record for the oldest man to row the Grand Canyon at 87. Sunset celebrates life in the West, and Litton’s is at the top of the list.
We dug deep into our archives to find this piece by Litton from our March 1966 issue. It exemplifies his tremendous effort to help establish a Redwood National Park in 1968.