Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is considered one of the most beautiful locations in the world. Indeed, naturalist John Muir called it one of nature’s most majestic cathedrals, and devoted his life protecting it. Although the park spans Mariposa and Tuolumne counties, it is easily accessible via Highway 120 – the northern gateway located in Tuolumne County. The park, created over thousands of years ago by glaciations and many geologic forces, contains large granite stone formations, meadows, valleys and an abundance of waterfalls.
The human history of Yosemite is no less fascinating: from American Indians to European-American explorers and entrepreneurs to the Buffalo Soldiers of the U. S. Cavalry. There is a story in every area of the park.
Yosemite National Park spans 761,266 acres and is the destination famous among outdoor, back country sports enthusiasts, as well as casual sightseeing visitors.
History and Background
Yosemite Valley’s first inhabitants were American Indians who called themselves the “Ahwahneechee,” perhaps 6,000 years ago. They gathered black oak acorns and hunted and fished in Yosemite Valley. They traded these and other commodities for obsidian, rabbit skins and pine nuts that came from the east side of the Sierra.
After the discovery of gold in 1848, thousands of gold seekers arrived in the Sierra Nevada foothills. By 1851, the continued theft of Indian lands and murder of native people resulted in the Mariposa Indian War. On March 27, 1851, Major James D. Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley in search of renegade Indians, becoming the first non-Indians to record their entry into the valley.
Knowledge of Yosemite’s beauty spread, and in 1855, the first tourists began to arrive. During the Civil War, a group of influential Californians, wishing to protect the area, persuaded the U. S. Congress and President Abraham Lincoln to grant Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California as an inalienable public trust in June 1864.
By late 1860s, the surrounding high country became overrun with domestic sheep which were destroying vegetation and depleting the beauty of the landscape. John Muir arrived in California in 1868. He and Robert Johnson started a movement to protect the high country and campaigned to make Yosemite Valley into a national park. On October 1, 1890, the U.S. Congress set aside more than 1,500 square miles of “reserved forest lands,” which included areas surrounding the Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. In 1906, as a result of the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman, Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were ceded from the State of California’s control and became part of the Yosemite National Park.
In the early 1900s, the park was under the supervision of the U. S. Army’s 24th Mounted Infantry and the 9th Cavalry, also known as “Buffalo Soldiers.” These African American soldiers were charged with protecting the newly formed Yosemite National Park. The National Park Service would later take this responsibility when it was created in 1916.
In the 1920s, nature guides were hired to help educate visitors about the park’s special features; the Field School for Natural History was established to train future interpreters. Today, the National Park Service and volunteers continue to protect Yosemite’s unique natural and cultural treasures.
The Tuolumne Grove contains about twenty-five large giant sequoia specimens, covering approximately twenty acres at elevation 5,730 feet. The one-tenth-mile trail includes the “Dead Giant,” the first tree to be tunneled in the park, which is approximately thirty feet in diameter at the base. In 1878, a tunnel was cut through the already dead sequoia tree stump so that wagons, then later automobiles, could pass through it. Many of the giant sequoias are 1,000-3,000 years old. In 1993, park officials closed off car traffic due to damage to the grove’s ecosystem.
Perhaps the park’s most impressive view is located over 3,200 feet above the valley floor at Glacier Point. From there you can view the back side of Half Dome and the far reaches of Tuolumne Meadows and Mount Conness, a 12,590-foot peak.
Yosemite Valley area contains a visitor center with an adjacent full-scale Indian village that tells the story of how the Central Sierra Miwok lived, gathered and hunted. The world famous Ahwahnee Hotel is located at the north valley wall. The 5-star hotel’s grand opening was July 16, 1927. It has a grand multi-story dining room with massive log beams accented with Native American decor and tall windows with views of the surrounding meadow and sheer granite cliffs. All materials for building the hotel came from outside the park since park resources are protected by law.
How to Get There
Take Highway 120/Big Oak Flat Road to the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park. The Tuolumne Grove is located one mile east of Crane Flat on Big Oak Flat Road. To access the grove, park in the Tuolumne Grove parking area, then walk two miles roundtrip into the grove. After the intersection of Big Oak Flat Road and Highway 140/El Portal Road, look for the Valley View turnout for a view of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and the Merced River. Stay on Big Oak Flat Road and follow signs to reach the valley floor and the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.