A Wild Idea: The Hunting Trip That Changed John Muir and Created the American Wilderness

The California that John Muir traversed as he walked north toward Mount Shasta was, like the rest of the nation, determined to tame every remaining acre of wilderness. Virgin land and its subjugation under the farmer’s plow, the woodsman’s axe, and the miner’s pick had been central ingredients in American identity since the first colonists landed on the continent. By John Muir’s time, wilderness remained good only insofar as it offered the chance to be plowed, cut, or mined into something else, something civilized and cultivated.

Against this backdrop the 36-year-old, heavily bearded, northbound hiker was the odd man out...