Yosemite Park History

10 Things you Didn’t Know About Yosemite

If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite National Park, you might want to know a bit more about Yosemite history. Here’s a list of ten Yosemite facts we bet you didn’t know about this amazing park.

  1. Male deer (bucks) in Yosemite Park shed their antlers every fall after mating season. They grow them back in the spring.
  2. Giant Sequoias which grow in Yosemite National Park are the biggest living things on the planet. However, the seed for the Giant Sequoia is only the size of a piece of oatmeal. Grizzly Giant is the name of the oldest Sequoia in Yosemite Park.
  3. The American Indians who live in Yosemite are called the Ahwahneechee Indians. Their traditional homes look like teepees, but are actually made of incense-cedar bark.
  4. Yosemite National Park is visited by over 3.5 million people every year. Summer is by far the busiest season at Yosemite.
  5. Yosemite Park was the first area of land set aside by the US government for preservation and protection.
  6. Though Half Dome and El Capitan are Yosemite’s most well known summits, Mt. Lyell is actually Yosemite’s highest peak.
  7. Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles. However, only a tiny fraction of that land is traversed by visitors. The vast majority of the park is largely untouched and uninhabited by humans.
  8. California has approximately 7,000 known plant species. Yosemite contains twenty percent of those species.
  9. Galen Clark was the first designated Guardian of Yosemite. He used to hike through the park barefoot and was quoted as saying that shoes are “cruel and silly instruments of torture, at once uncivilized, unhuman and unnecessary.”
  10. Black bears found in Yosemite weigh between 150 and 500 pounds when full grown, but when they are born, they weigh less than half a pound. The mother black bear is fast asleep during hibernation when her baby is born.

Geological Evolution

The Sierra Nevada region which was once submerged beneath the sea grew thousands of feet in thickness and compressed the lower layers into rock from sediments that slowly accumulated on the ocean floor. Part of the Pacific plate slid under the North American plate in a process called subduction. This created tremendous heat and pressure which caused the Pacific plate to melt into magma deep within the earth. Magma rose toward the surface and cooled the underground into a huge block of granite.

The land that is now Yosemite National Park was made up of gentle, rolling hills and streams, including the slow-paced Merced River. Hardwood forests flourished. With time the Sierra Nevada rose. The Sierran block gave lift, tilting westward; it increased the Merced River?s flow so it carved the valley into a canyon. Redwood forests flourished. The Merced River carved its canyon as much as 3,000 feet deep. The land was cut slowly by its tributaries. As the Ice Age drew near, the forests began to thin.

Until approximately 250,000 years ago, glaciers filled the Yosemite Valley, widening, deepening and carving it into a “U” shape, as oppose to the V-shaped it previously had. It formed hanging valleys from which waterfalls now cascade. Many years later the Yosemite Glacier entered the valley but did little to alter the landscape. Older glaciers had already excavated 2,000 feet into the bedrock. Temperatures eventually warmed and the last valley glacier melted. Its terminal moraine (rock debris) dammed the valley 14,000 to 15,000 years ago, creating Lake Yosemite. Sediment eventually filled the lake, which became the flat valley floor we see today.

This process of sedimentation continues today at Mirror Lake. Eventually, sediment will completely fill in the lake, creating a meadow. Water and gravity continue to shape Yosemite’s landscape. The most dramatic events in the recoded history of the park have been the Happy Isles rock slide of July 1996 and the flood of January 1997.

Human History

Native Americans were the first to inhabit the region probably 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. The region was populated by various tribes throughout the years; the most recent was the Miwok tribe. They called Yosemite Valley Ahwahnee which is believed to mean, ?Place of the gaping mouth.? They referred to themselves as the Ahwahneechee.

The Ahwahneechee lived off the land, harvesting acorns, hunting and fishing. Their tranquil lifestyle ended with the discovery of gold in the foothills of California. Some of the members of the tribe, angered by the encroachment of the western miners, attacked a trading post in the Merced River Canyon. The miners in retaliation organized state-sanctioned Mariposa Battalion, which entered Yosemite Valley on 27 March 1851 in pursuit of the Yosemite Indians. Tenaya, the Yosemite chief, had been leading his tribe in raids on white settlers in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The Battalion captured Tenaya and his tribe. They marched them to reservations in the foothills and eventually let the Indians return to the valley, which was named after them.

The first party of tourists arrived by 1855. A group of influential Californians encouraged Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Grant nine years later. This set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as a state supervised public reserve. In 1890, Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, and John Muir, were concerned that the high country and watershed for Yosemite Valley were being destroyed by grazing and timber interests. The two launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to set aside the high country as a national park.

Wawona was once an Indian encampment and, later, was the site of a wayside hotel built in 1856 by Galen Clark. Known as Clark’s Station. It served as a stop for visitors in the transit between Yosemite Valley and Mariposa. In 1864, when Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Groves were set aside for protection. Clark became the first guardian of the area. In 1875, the year the original Wawona road opened, the Washburn brothers purchased the area and build the Wawona Hotel that is still in operation today. Wawona focuses on Yosemite’s human history. It is the setting of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of relocated historic buildings and horse-drawn coaches. In 1906, Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were returned to federal jurisdiction. In 1932, the Wawona Basin, including the Wawona Hotel and golf course were purchased and included in the National Park.

Open since 1927, The Ahwahnee is one of America’s most distinctive hotels, unparalleled in magnificence and charm. The hotel is a great American castle, massive and warm with huge cathedral ceilings, enormous stone hearths and richly colored Native American and Oriental rugs. The hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark on 02 Jun 1987.

Learn your Yosemite facts first hand by visiting this astounding site of natural history and unparalleled beauty. Summer is the most popular time to visit Yosemite, but the park offers countless sites and attractions year round. Decide what time of year would be best for you to visit, and then give us a call at 1-888-YOSEMITE (1-888-967-3648) or make your Yosemite lodging reservation online today!

At Scenic Wonders, we offer condominiums, houses, and cabins within the gates of the park – our location simply can’t be beat and our rates are always affordable. Check our rentals and rates page to see what Yosemite lodging we have available for your vacation.