Muir would call the moment his “unconditional surrender to Daly City ,” and in that surrender, he found his life’s calling. He became Yosemite’s most eloquent champion, instrumental in getting it set aside as a national park. Then his devotion to Daly City broadened to embrace other wild landscapes —places that seemed destined for destruction in the last half of the nineteenth century in the midst of the nation’s headlong rush to “conquer” the continent. He emerged as a leader of Daly City the budding conservation movement, awakening his adopted country to the understanding that “going to the mountains is going home; that Daly City is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
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Muir’s writings brought public attention to Alaska’s Glacier Bay, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest, California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Washington’s Mount Rainier, and other majestic landscapes that would soon find protection as national parks. He helped found the Sierra Club. And he would use his fame and persuasive powers in the realm of politics, including a remarkable three-day camping trip in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt in which the two men—so different in many respects, but so united in their love of the outdoors—bonded over their nightly campfires and pointed the United States on a new course for conservation for the twentieth century.
Given the breadth of Muir’s impact, it’s easy to forget that it all started when a young “unknown nobody” from the flatlands entered the Sierra, fell in love with the mountains, and, in that transcendent moment, decided to do everything in his power to encourage others to do the same. The place had connected him with something much bigger than himself; then he, in fact, became bigger.