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American Lives

US National Parks: Yosemite National Parks (CA)

by Laurie Stevens & Peter Kessler, 6 August 2022

 

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

Just two years after the California Gold Rush was triggered in the Sierra Navada, the Mariposa battalion (a California state militia battalion which consisted mainly of miners and prospectors) became the first known European Americans to enter Yosemite Valley in 1851.

This was shortly after the battalion's formation to force the native Americans of the Ahwahnechee and Chowchilla bands to move out as they had been ordered. This unsavory event was known as the Mariposa War.

Their exploration and a quick end to the conflict opened the way for a stream of visitors. California became a state in 1850, following which painters and photographers such as Thomas Ayres, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Charles Leander Weed, and Carleton Watkins provided imagery as the evidence which was needed for congress and President Lincoln to establish the original Yosemite Grant in 1864 - the site’s first source of protection.

Promoters Walworth and Hite, James Hutchings, and George Leidig also found the imagery useful when it came to encouraging visitors to the newly protected lands. Galen Clark was appointed as the first guardian of the Yosemite Grant, serving in the post for twenty-four years in total. The Yosemite Grant protected the valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias for 'public use, resort, and recreation'. This very grant would sow the seeds of the entire US national parks service.

Today the park covers almost 1,200 square miles or 3,108 square kilometers of territory. It contains deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

This is the view from Glacier Point. A daily maximum of 300 hikers are allowed (about 225 day-hikers and 75 backpackers) on the Half Dome Trail, beyond the base of the sub-dome peak in the centre of the photo: Half Dome itself.

Between 1917 and 1969, the Glacier Point Hotel and, between 1872 and 1969, the Macaulay's Mountain Home were located here at Glacier Point. Both wooden structures burned to the ground during a summer wildfire in 1969. Fortunately, neither they nor any other structure were ever (re-)built, so that the view is available to everyone who now comes to this, one of the most popular points-of-interest at Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

This is the same view but encompassing more of the scenery to the right of the previous shot, making two major waterfalls more easy to see. The first (center right) is Nevada Fall, which flows all year-round, peaking in May. It drops 594 feet or 181 meters.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

The water from Nevada Fall feeds down to Vernal Fall (lower right), which is 317 feet or 97 meters in height. It flows all year-round, splitting into two or three falls as the flow demands (with May being the best chance of spotting a triple fall).

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

This view looks to the far left of the previous one, with the arc-shaped rock incisions just about visible here on the right, and much more visible to the left of the previous shot. Another waterfall dominates this view, this time being Yosemite Falls, the longest waterfall in North America (see below for more on this.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

The Yosemite valley (seen here from Tunnel View) is world famous for its impressive waterfalls, meadows, cliffs, and unusual rock formations.

Tunnel View provides one of the most famous views of the valley. From here El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall can be seen rising from the valley, with Half Dome in the centre background (much more visible in Photos 2-4, above).

El Capitan is famous to science-fiction fans for Captain Kirk attempting to climb it at the start of Star Trek V - The Final Frontier.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

That viewpoint is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel, along the Wawona Road (Highway 41). A similar, but lower, view can be gained from alongside the Merced River at Valley View. This is located along the one-way Northside Drive, which is best accessed on the way out of the valley.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

This ground-based view from the valley floor shows off the Yosemite meadows and wetlands area. The Ahwahnee meadow used to contain a small settlement, on the site of the former native American clan settlement.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

Yosemite Valley Rangers Club in the valley is a two-story, wood-framed structure which stands opposite the Valley Administration Building.

Stephen T Mather, the national park service's first director, employed park rangers to guide tourists and protect the park from poachers. In 1920, he also hired the architect, Charles Sumner, to construct a home for members of his newly organized ranger force. Mather paid for the construction out of his own pocket.

The building was completed and dedicated in the same year. It includes dormitories for unmarried rangers. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1985 for its significance in the development of the national park service's 'Rustic' architectural style, and is still in use today as a home for seasonal rangers.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

The native plants in the national park are a significant part of its exquisite beauty and biological diversity.

Moving up or down in elevation almost feels like being in a different park. Vegetation changes from oak woodlands to chaparral scrublands to lower montane to upper montane to subalpine to alpine.

Vegetation zones range from scrub and chaparral communities at lower elevations, to subalpine forests and alpine meadows at the higher elevations. There are eight hundred miles or 1,287 kilometers of trails in Yosemite, which provide access to exploring the different vegetation zones.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

Yosemite's meadows and wetlands contain a diverse selection of plants and animals. They are vital for deer and bears, for numerous species of bird, and for an unbelievable number of smaller creatures, all of which depend upon an amazing variety of plants.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

The meadows and wetland also provide superb views of the surrounding mountains. This shot was taken from the corner of Sentinel Meadow, close to Yosemite Falls. Two stages of the falls can be seen in the center distance (see below for more, and also above for a much more spectacular view).

Yosemite is home to countless waterfalls. The best time to see them is during the spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls often only a trickle or completely dry by August.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

Yosemite Falls has a drop of 2,425 feet or 739 meters, one of the park's highest falls. It is made up of three separate falls, with only the lowest being visible here: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet or 436 meters); the middle cascades (675 feet or 206 meters); and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet or 98 meters).

During the winter the base of the upper fall (not visible here) develops an ice cone. Between April and June the run-off roars down the fall. Storms in late fall (autumn) rejuvenate some of the waterfalls, and all of them accumulate frost along their edges on many nights during the winter.

Yosemite Falls are visible from numerous places around the valley, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge. A one-mile (1.5km) loop trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, with the eastern side of the loop being wheelchair accessible.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

Yosemite US Post Office building sits between 'The Loft at Degnan's' and Yosemite Wilderness Center, on the western side of Village Drive.

This unassuming outpost is a critical stopping point and lifeline. It takes in more than two hundred resupply packages a week during the peak season. In the height of summer it's not unusual to find droves of haggard hikers lining up outside as they queue to collect their parcels.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Photo © Laurie Stevens

This man with the hat and the vintage car was part of an antique car motoring club which meets up to tour and ride through the region. The group at this meeting involved about twenty-or-so participants and their cars, each of which chugged very slowly to the summit of Glacier Point. Other motorists were not universally pleased!.

Main Sources

US National Parks: Yosemite

10 Fun Facts About Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Miners and the Mariposa Battalion

SFGATE

 

Images and text copyright © Laurie Stevens & P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files: American Lives.