Yosemite National Park was established on 01 October 1890,
and is the Nation's third oldest national park. The park was
established for the purpose of preservation of the resources
that contribute to its uniqueness and attractiveness. Congress
recognized the importance of preserving this great park for
future public enjoyment when it established Yosemite National
Park. Yosemite National Park is a showcase of spectacular
geological features, including the greatest concentration
of granite domes in the world and the largest exposed granite
monolith in the world.
The first application of a park concept originated in Yosemite
with the grant of 1864 (Federal land given to California for
preservation) signed by Abraham Lincoln and since that time
the park has played an important role in pioneering park management
Yosemite National Park possesses outstanding recreational
values and supreme scenic attractions, including alpine and
subalpine wilderness, three groves of giant sequoia trees
and thundering waterfalls that are among the world's highest.
Yosemite was the birthplace of the idea of the Sierra Club
and plays an important role in wildlife preservation and preserving
Yosemite National Park is a world heritage site which has
made a significant contribution to California's cultural heritage,
to the national park movement, and to Yosemite's 4,000 years
of cultural heritage by Native Americans. The park provides
solitude and inspiration and serves as an outdoor classroom
for environmental education.
While man has lived in Yosemite for thousands of years, the
park's human history is far shorter than its geological history.
At one time, this area was made up of gentle rolling hills,
crisscrossed with a maze of stream systems. Millions of years
ago, California's Sierra Nevada was formed by a gradual series
of earth upheavals. As the mountains rose, the land tilted
and the westward flowing Merced River accelerated, carving
deep, v-shaped river canyons. Later, massive glaciers flowed
down the canyons. Colder temperatures slowed melting and eventually
glaciers formed and began to carve away at the v-shaped canyons,
transforming them into u-shaped valleys. Tributary streams
did not carve their canyons as deep as Merced Canyon. Glaciers
sheared off these canyons leaving them as "hanging valleys."
Tributary creeks, which had once joined the main stream at
the same elevation, now plummeted off of shear cliffs, giving
birth to the park's famed waterfalls. Eventually, sediment
washed down out of the high country, filled in Lake Yosemite
to form the present valley floor.
The area's first residents were Native Americans who inhabited
the region perhaps as long ago as 7,000 to 10,000 years. Various
tribes lived in the area over the years, the most recent of
which was a Miwok tribe that 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. The discovery of gold in the foothills of California
ended this idyllic lifestyle when some of the tribe, angered
by the encroachment of the western miners, attacked a trading
post in the Merced River Canyon. In retaliation, the miners
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
By 1855, the first party of tourists arrived and nine years
later, encouraged by a group of influential Californians,
Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant which 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.
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.
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
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.
Size and Visitation
Yosemite National Park embraces almost 1,200 square miles
of scenic wild lands set aside in 1890 to preserve a portion
of the central Sierra Nevada that stretches along California's
eastern flank. The park ranges from 2,000 feet above sea level
to more than 13,000 feet and has these major attractions;
alpine wilderness, three groves of Giant Sequoias and the
glacially carved Yosemite Valley with impressive waterfalls,
cliffs and unusual rock formations.
Size - as of 23 Sep 2000
Federal Land - 759,530.26 acres
Non-Federal Land - 1,736.02 acres
Gross Area Acres - 761,266.28
Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours a day, year round
with the highest visitation in June, July and August and the
lowest in December, January and February.
Visitation - 1999
Total Recreation Visits - 3,493,607
The story of Yosemite began about 500 million years ago when
the Sierra Nevada region lay beneath an ancient sea. Thick
layers of sediment lay on the sea bed, which eventually was
folded and twisted and thrust above sea level. Simultaneously
molten rock welled up from deep within the earth and cooled
slowly beneath the layers of sediment to form granite. Erosion
gradually wore away almost all the overlying rock and exposed
the granite. And even as uplifts continued to form the Sierra,
water and then glaciers went to work to carve the face of
Yosemite. Weathering and erosion continue to shape it today.
Tuolumne Meadows and the High Country - This section of Yosemite
has some of the most rugged sublime scenery in the Sierra.
In summer the meadows, lakes, and exposed granite slopes teem
with life. Because of the short growing season, the plants
and animals take maximum advantage of the warm days to grow,
reproduce, and store food for the long, cold winter ahead.
The Tioga Road (California 120), crosses this area. This scenic
highway, originally built as a mining road in 1882-83, was
realigned and modernized in 1961. The road passes through
an area of sparkling lakes, fragile meadows, domes, and lofty
peaks that only 10,000 years ago lay under glacial ice. Scenic
turnouts along the road afford superb views. At Tioga Pass
the road crosses the Sierra's crest at 9,945 feet, the highest
automobile pass in California.
Tuolumne Meadows (at 8,600 feet) is the largest sub-alpine
meadow in the Sierra. It is 55 miles from Yosemite Valley
via the Tioga Road. Long a focal point of summer activity,
it is also growing in popularity as a winter mountaineering
area. In the summer Tuolumne Meadows is a favorite starting
point for backpacking trips and day hikes. The meadows are
spectacular in early summer, abounding in wildflowers and
Giant Sequoia Groves - The Mariposa Grove, 35 miles south
of Yosemite Valley, is the largest of three Sequoia groves
in Yosemite. The Tuolumne and Merced Groves are near Crane
Flat. Despite human pressures, these towering trees, largest
of all living things, have endured for thousands of years.
Only in recent years, however, have we begun to understand
the Giant Sequoia environment. During the last 100 years protection
has sometimes been inadequate and sometimes excessive. For
example, in the late 1800s tunnels were cut through two trees
in the Mariposa Grove. Conversely, good intentions created
another problem, protection from fire has resulted in adverse
Sequoias are wonderfully adapted to fire. The wood and bark
are fire-resistant. Black scars on a number of large trees
that are still prospering indicate they have survived many
scorching fires. Sequoia reproduction also depends on fire.
The tiny seeds require minimal soil for germination, and seedlings
need sunlight. Historically, frequent natural fires opened
the forest, thinned out competing plant species, and left
rich mineral soil behind. But years of fire suppression have
allowed debris, such as fallen branches, to accumulate, stifling
reproduction and allowing shade-tolerant trees to encroach.
Prescribed fires, intended to simulate natural fires and improve
the health of the forest, are now set by the National Park
As you look at these trees, keep in mind that they have been
here since the beginning of history in the western world.
The Mariposa Grove's Grizzly Giant is 2,700 years old and
is thought to be the oldest of all Sequoias.
Yosemite Valley - "The Incomparable Valley", it
has been called, is probably the world's best known example
of a glacier-carved canyon. Its leaping waterfalls, towering
cliffs, rounded domes, and massive monoliths make it a preeminent
natural marvel. These attributes have inspired poets, painters,
photographers, and millions of visitors beginning with John
Muir for more than one hundred years. Nowhere in Yosemite
is the sense of scale so dramatic.
Yosemite Valley is characterized by sheer walls and a flat
floor. Its evolution began when alpine glaciers lumbered through
the canyon of the Merced River. The ice carved through weaker
sections of granite plucking and scouring rock but leaving
harder, more solid portions—such as El Capitan and Cathedral
Rocks—intact and greatly enlarging the canyon that the
Merced River had carved through successive uplifts of the
Sierra. Finally the glacier began to melt and the terminal
moraine left by the last glacial advance into the valley dammed
the melting water to form ancient Lake Yosemite, which sat
in the newly carved U-shaped valley. Sediment eventually filled
in the lake, forming the flat valley floor you see today.
This same process is now filling Mirror Lake at the base of
In contrast to the valley's sheer walls, the Merced Canyon
along California 140 outside the park is a typical river-cut,
V-shaped canyon, for the glaciers did not extend this far.
Back from the rim of the valley itself, forested slopes show
some glacial polish. But for the most part these areas also
were not glaciated.
The valley is a mosaic of open meadows sprinkled with wildflowers
and flowering shrubs, oak woodlands, and mixed-conifer forests
of ponderosa pine, incense-cedar, and Douglas-fir. Wildlife
from monarch butterflies to mule deer and black boars flourishes
in these communities. Around the valley's perimeter, waterfalls,
which reach their maximum flow in May and June, crash to the
floor. Yosemite, Bridalveil, Vernal, Nevada, and Illilouette
are the most prominent of these falls, some of which have
little or no water from mid-August through early fall.
Yosemite National Park is home to 300 - 500 American black
bears, Ursus americanus. Although usually referred to as the
black bear, very few are black, and they are more likely to
be found in a variety of colors ranging from black to brown,
blond, or cinnamon.
Black bears are omnivores and will eat almost anything. They
spend most of their days foraging for grasses, seeds, berries,
acorns, and insects and occasionally feed on carrion. Bears
tear open rotten logs or old stumps in search of insect larvae.
Meadows also furnish a wide variety of food, such as grass,
clover, lily, wild onion, and brodiaea bulbs. Research in
Yosemite shows that plants, including acorns, comprise 75%
of the diet of Yosemite bears. Bears are also fond of fruit,
particularly manzanita, service berry, elderberry, and wild
cherry. Chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmot, pocket gophers,
and mice are also a part of their diet. In the fall, bears
are often seen beneath oak trees searching for acorns. Unfortunately,
many Yosemite bears have also perfected the skill of obtaining
food from humans.
Bears are also opportunists which means that they can easily
adapt to new foraging habitats, from meadows to manzanita
bushes, from cars to picnic coolers. Opportunism is often
seen as an indication of intelligence in animals and most
researchers agree that bears are highly intelligent. Anyone
who has lost food to a bear learns that a bear's strength
and intelligence should never be underestimated. This enterprising
nature of the black bear can be linked to the fact that cubs
stay with their mothers for well over a year after birth.
This allows mother bears time to teach cubs survival techniques
that directly relate to opportunism. It is this characteristic
which allows cubs to learn from their mothers how to break
into cars for food.
The biggest threat to the survival of the black bear in Yosemite
is the availability of human food; in cars, campgrounds, picnic
areas, and the wilderness. Once a bear is rewarded by obtaining
human food, it will often continue to seek it out and some
may even resort to intimidating humans in order to get more.
As their natural fear of people fades, they may become more
aggressive. When they become too aggressive and human safety
is threatened, bears are sometimes killed by park rangers.
Obtaining human food alters the natural foraging habits, population
dynamics, biology, and behavior of bears. It is the ultimate
goal of wildlife managers is to have all bears in Yosemite
eating their natural diet, avoiding humans and our food altogether.
It is your responsibility to store food properly when visiting
Yosemite. Your actions can affect the lives of bears!
Black bears reach sexual maturity at the age of three. Males
and females stay together for only a few days when mating
occurs in June or July. Although black bears have a gestation
period of seven months, females do not show signs of pregnancy
until shortly before birth because they have a reproductive
adaptation called delayed implantation. The fertilized egg
does not attach to the females' uterine wall until autumn.
If food is scarce and a female is unable to put on sufficient
weight before hibernation, the fertilized egg will, as a result,
A black bear litter consists of one to three cubs weighing
as little as half a pound each. The cubs immediately begin
to nurse on the female's high fat milk and emerge from the
den in early spring weighing as much as five pounds. The average
adult bear stands three feet at the shoulder, measures five
feet in length, and weighs between 200 and 300 pounds. However,
some of Yosemite's bears have tipped the scales at over 650
During winter months when food sources are scarce, Yosemite's
black bears den in boulder caves and occasionally in the cavities
of large trees. By metabolizing the body fat stored throughout
the previous summer and fall they keep themselves warm. Black
bears in the Sierra Nevada do not truly hibernate, since their
body temperature and respiratory rate drop only slightly.
Studies show that black bears, in general, have the ability
to sleep for over five months without eating or eliminating
The rising temperatures of spring and summer make it necessary
for bears to concentrate on keeping themselves cool rather
than warm. To stay cool, bears construct day beds or nests,
usually in shady thickets or boulder piles. Much like dogs,
they push aside leaves and twigs as they dig down to cool
mineral soil. Black bears are most active during the crepuscular
hours of the day, that is, dawn and dusk. During the warmest
summer months, few bears are active during the day, becoming
more and more nocturnal as summer temperatures rise. Many
bears have found this cool, quiet time period to be the easiest
opportunity in which to forage for natural foods, and search
for human food because less people are present.
Perhaps no more than five bears co-existed within the granite
walls of Yosemite Valley prior to the settlement of non-native
people. But after more settlers and visitors began to live
in and visit Yosemite, it was common to see as many as 60
bears at a time rummaging through garbage at a popular spot
called Bear Hill. Back then, Yosemite bears were fed by rangers.
The visitors who photographed them saw the bears as being
synonymous with the park, and the bears themselves were quick
to learn that human contact meant food.
In the 1920s and 1930s, human-conditioned bears were beginning
to wreak havoc, injuring tourists and raiding restaurants
nightly. In 1925, the National Park Service began luring bears
away from restaurants and campsites with a trail of food scraps
leading to open pit garbage dumps. This bear feeding program
also attracted tourists who wanted to view bears close up.
Responding to visitor demand, the National Park Service then
designated a parking area and constructed bleacher seating
at the dump in Yosemite Valley. Bear related injuries increased
as people made attempts to get too close.
During the 1950s and 1960s, most of the open dumps in the
Valley were closed due to the increased aggression by bears,
which resulted in numerous visitor injuries. In 1971, the
last dumps in the park were permanently closed. Bears learned
quickly that they could get food from visitors staying in
campgrounds, tent cabins, and the wilderness. In 1975, the
National Park Service began a more comprehensive bear management
program including research, public education, better methods
of storing trash, and controlling problem bears. Many conditioned
bears were killed by the National Park Service during the
first years of this management program. Killing bears that
had become conditioned to human food was the only way to decrease
dangerous bear incidents. They could not be shipped off to
zoos--which were more interested in exotic species, nor relocated
outside the park, because surrounding U.S. Forest Service
land managers and private owners did not want to deal with
Yosemite's conditioned bears.
Unfortunately, many park visitors fail to understand the connection
between leaving food for bears, in cars, unattended in campsites,
in backpacks, and killing them. Widespread noncompliance with
food storage regulations causes bears to become conditioned
to human food, and to become a threat to human safety. Currently,
food-conditioned bears are captured, tagged, and relocated
to more remote bear habitat within the park. Most of these
bears find their way back, usually within one week. Bears
that continue to return and exhibit aggressive behavior must
often be euthanized. A new strategy has been to release the
bears where they were captured while subjecting them to a
very negative experience. The hope is that the bear will associate
that area with the negative experience and avoid it.
The goal of wildlife managers is to provide the park's black
bears a home where they can thrive in a natural condition,
dine on native plants and animals, and reach a normal life
expectancy. To achieve this, one thing must happen in Yosemite:
all human food, scented items, and garbage must be properly
stored where bears cannot get them. This goal has been made
possible with the help of the Yosemite Fund, which over the
past 10 years, has donated food storage lockers for every
park campsite, trailhead, parking lot, and rental tent camp.
In 1998, the Yosemite Association launched a backcountry food
storage program, and provided food canisters for hikers at
a nominal rental fee. This program was expanded in 1999 when
the Yosemite Association and Yosemite Concession Services
combined efforts. Now, every backpacker who leaves from a
Yosemite trailhead will have access to a canister for a $5.00
per trip rental fee. Also in 1999, Yosemite National Park
received a budget increase of $500,000 to increase visitor
education, enforcement of food storage regulations, cleanup
of trash, and additional wildlife management staff to work
with bears. Since 1999, incidences of bears obtaining human
food have plummeted, in large part because of increased cooperation
of park visitors in storing their food and trash properly.
As for the future of black bears in Yosemite, some look forward
to a day when seeing bears in developed areas is a rare occurrence.
So, just as some people marvel that one could see bears at
dumps in the park, perhaps some day people will marvel that
bears used to walk through campgrounds and parking lots. Instead,
those same visitors will hopefully see wild bears in their
California Bighorn Sheep
When pioneers came to this scenic area more than 100 years
ago, many hundreds of bighorns roamed these mountains. Soon
after, however, the California bighorn sheep were forced to
extinction in Yosemite National Park by hunting, diseases,
and the competition for food by domestic sheep. Today, through
the efforts of the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service,
California Department of Fish and Game and the Yosemite Association,
the bighorns are once again part of Yosemite's wildlife population.
Found along the eastern edge of the park, the bighorns are
sometimes seen beside Highway 120 beyond Tuolumne Meadows.
The population of Golden Eagles, Aquila chrysaetos, within
the boundaries of Yosemite is doing well. Golden eagles are
not commonly seen in Yosemite Valley. They are superb fliers
and hunters. Look for their golden crown of feathers. Young
birds have white areas on wings and tails.
Great Gray Owl
Yosemite is home of the rare and endangered Great Gray Owl,
Strix nebulosa. A current study is underway documenting the
status, distribution, numbers, habits and health of the park
population of this large, noble species. In some areas of
the park you may hear their distinctive, deeply-toned hoot."
This silver-grey member of the canine family is seen year
round. At night you may hear them singing in a chorus of howls,
barks and yodels. Coyotes, Canis latrans, are primarily predators
of field mice and squirrels, though they have learned to beg
from people. Please do not feed them, as human food is harmful
to them, they may bite and conditioning them to seek food
from people makes them vulnerable to being hit by passing
All the deer in Yosemite are mule deer. Often seen in or near
meadows browsing or grazing, the naturally timid mule deer
have grown accustomed to seeing people. More attacks on humans
occur by deer than by bears. Though they appear to be tame
and may even approach you, the California mule deer is a wild
animal and will charge if cornered or threatened. Its hooves
and antlers are sharp. Always leave the deer a wide area to
walk away and, like all other animals in the park, never tempt
them with food.
A variety of tree and ground squirrels can be found throughout
Yosemite. One of the traditional favorites is the western
gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus. During mating season (twice
a year) they become animated, chasing one another, fighting
and making noise. Look for the impressive gray, bushy tail.
This comic, bright blue bird with pointed gray-black crest
has been dubbed the "camp robber" for the sly way
in which it steals a bit of food from a camp table. The distinctive
caw-like screech of the Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri,
is often an alert to others that food has been found.
An endangered species, the Peregrine Falcon has returned to
Yosemite Valley. Efforts by the National Park Service, Yosemite
Association and Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group and
other organizations have augmented the population that reappeared
in the park in the late 1970's. The Peregrines, nesting in
Yosemite, are carefully watched and protected by the Park
Of the 27 varieties of trees in the park, these four are easy
to identify, due to their impressive size and distinctive
California black oak is abundant in Yosemite Valley. These
large deciduous trees, with yellow-green leaves and dark trunks,
produce acorns which the Miwok Indians ground into nutritious
The incense-cedar has a feathery reddish bark which is often
confused with the giant sequoia. Incense-cedars grow abundantly
throughout the Sierra, while sequoias grow only in limited
numbers of groves.
The giant sequoias are the largest trees on earth. Three groves
of them are located in the park: the Mariposa Grove near the
southern entrance (Highway 41); the Tuolumne Grove, near Crane
Flat on the Tioga Road; and the Merced Grove, off the Big
Oak Flat Road between Crane Flat and the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
The giant sequoia often lives from 1,000 to 3,000 years. A
few of these big trees were planted by settlers in Yosemite
Valley, though they are not native to the Valley.
The ponderosa pine can be identified by its bark made up of
irregularly shaped plates separated by dark furrows. Mature
trees are considerably wide at the base with a straight trunk
rising many feet before reaching the branches.
The Big Tree is Nature's forest masterpiece and so far as
I know, the greatest of living things.
Although not the oldest living things, a distinction held
by the bristlecone pine, giant sequoias are the largest in
total volume. Outstanding trees are 2,500 to 3,000 years old,
measure up to 35 ft (11 m) in diameter, and tower to heights
of 250 to 300 ft (76 m to 91 m) above the ground. Single sequoia
limbs may be larger than record-size trees of other species.
There seem to be no limits on the trees' growth. Sequoias
typically do not die of old age: they usually die by toppling.
Is a sequoia a redwood?
What is the difference between sequoias and redwoods? The
giant sequoia, a member of the redwood family, has a column-like
trunk, huge stout branches, and cinnamon-colored bark. Its
scientific name is Sequoiadendron giganteum. It is sometimes
called the Sierra redwood. The taller more slender coast redwood,
Sequoia sempervirens, has the kind of profile and branch structure
associated with most conifers. It is named for the color of
its heartwood, not its brownish bark. A third species, the
dawn redwood, is native to China.
Giant sequoias occur only in about 75 groves scattered between
4,500 and 7,000 ft (1,372 and 2,133 m) in elevation on the
west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Some groves containa few
trees, others several thousand. The sequoias are not isolated
from other trees, but grow in association with white fir,
sugar pine, ponderosa pine, and incense-cedar. What makes
them stand out from the others is their tremendous size.
Fire: rebirth and renewal
Near the bases of these giants, the bark may be 12 to 18 inches
(30 to 45 cm) thick; however the bark on the limbs is very
thin. This soft, fibrous bark is fire resistant and protects
the growth layer from periodic fires ignited by lightening.
Intense heat generated by the debris accumulated at the tree's
base, along with the effect of repeated fires, can breach
the bark. However, the tree's water-based sap also enhances
the tree's heat tolerance. Burn scars and the blackened, hollow
trunks of some older, yet healthy, trees attest to the many
fires that have burned through the groves over the centuries.
Fire prepares the seed bed by burning off the duff (decomposing
bark, needles, and other vegetation) that accumulates on the
forest floor. Burning off the duff exposes bare mineral soil,
which giant sequoia seedlings need in order to germinate.
The park routinely conducts prescribed burns in the sequoia
groves in order to mimic the natural cycle of fire. Fires
not only bare the soil but also brun off competing smaller
species, such as the shade tolerant white fir and incense-cedar.
From seeds to saplings
Giant sequoias sprout only from seeds--seeds so small and
light they resemble flakes of oatmeal. A 1 ounce (30 grams)
package would contain about 57,000 seeds. The delicate seeds
are procuded in cones that take two years to develop. Although
the size of a chicken's egg, each cone contains 200 to 300
Giant sequoias often retain the green cones alive on the tree
for up to 20 or more years. Outside forces, such as fire,
insect larvae, and Douglas squirrels, are required to help
the tree disperse its seeds.
Contact with the ground does not assure the seeds will germinate.
Seeds contain little energy, producing a tap root that is
not more than one inch (2.5 cm) long. If this tiny root fails
to reach mineral soil, it will be unable to transport the
nutrients and water necessary to keep the sequoia sprout alive.
The maturing sequoia
Sequoia saplings grow to their maximum height within several
hundred years. At this time, they are conical, like an upside-down
ice cream cone. The limbs often grow along the entire length
of the trunk. After reaching their maximum height, the trunks
begin to grow outward more quickly. The bark thickens, the
lower limbs fall off, and the trunk expands to form the shape
of a huge column. In addition, the crown of the tree rounds
and the large limbs become craggy in appearance as this forest
monarch comes of age.
The largest groves and biggest individual sequoias are found
in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, in the southern
Sierra Nevada. Many mature sequoias also live exist in Yosemite
National Park in three groves: the Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne
Grove, and Merced Grove. The Mariposa Grove, the largest of
the three groves, is well known for the Grizzly Giant (once
thought to be the oldest living sequoia) and the fallen Wawona
Tunnel Tree. The Wawona Tunnel Tree became world-famous when
an opening was cut through the tree in 1881. For the next
88 years, people came, first in stages and then in automobiles,
to ride through this tree. As a result of wet snow, soggy
soil, high winds, and perhaps combined with the weakening
of the tree from the tunnel, the tree toppled in the winter
of 1968/1969. You can still visit this fallen tree, as well
as still walk through the California Tunnel Tree (carved out
in 1895), near the Grizzly Giant.
The longest part of El Capitan's face is in the middle, around
"The Nose." It rises over 3000 feet from the valley
floor, which is around 3500 feet elevation. In the above shot,
you can see Half Dome just to the right of El Cap's lower
right shoulder. The right side of El Cap is shorter; it ranges
from the full 3000 to only about 1000 feet. This is made up
for by steepness, it's overhanging from the ground to the
top. BASE jumpers love it, even though their game is illegal
-- but, that is a different story. The extreme steepness of
the right side is due to the North America shaped areas of
more friable Dioritic rock. In contrast, the left side is
longer, generally around vertical with iron hard Granitic
There are over 70 different routes up this face, although,
their difficulties vary dramatically. Most of them require
both Aid and Free Climbing, in some combination. "Aid
Climbing" is used when the rock is too shear and steep
to climb using only the climber's body, so the rope and gear
must also be climbed. "Free Climbing," on the other
hand, is a game where climbers try not to use the gear and
rope for any thing other than a safety net, in case they fall.
Free Climbing, when possible, is quicker, but physically demanding.
Aid is technically demanding, but sure and steady. Hard Aid
is just plain scary.
Frequently asked questions:
How long does it take?
The average ascent of El Cap takes about 4 days, although,
it has been done as fast as 4 1/2 hours -- That's the record
on the nose route, the easiest route up the middle. On the
other extreme, it has taken as much as 40 days, and can easily
take 7-9 days. The length of an ascent depends on plenty:
the weather, the length and difficulty of the route, the experience
of the team, the time of year (the length of the days), the
number of times that the route has been previously climbed,
What do you eat?
It doesn't help to bring freeze dried food, because we would
just have to bring up the water too. We bring whatever we
like, but on the shorter routes and summer routes we don't
bring a stove. As you might imagine, breads/bagels, canned
food (canned fruit is a tremendous hit up there), cheese,
fruit, that sort of thing.
How do you sleep?
Sometimes we sleep on natural ledges on the cliff, but sometimes
we have to bring Portaledges. A portaledge is a metal frame
with a hammock strung tight within it, which folds up when
not in use. The bed then attaches to a secure point on the
rock, that we rig, by adjustable straps on the corners. There's
also a rain-fly that goes over this contraption in bad weather.
Natural ledges can be comfortable, but there is no changing
them, so they can also be very uncomfortable. After all of
the work of the day, fatigue makes it easy to sleep. No matter
what, we are tied in to the cliff at all times, even while
How much do you bring?
A 2 man team that plans to spend 6 days might start out with
over 200 pounds of gear, which is hauled up, from anchor to
anchor, in a big haul bag on the end of a rope. We use a hauling
system with a pulley and a cam, to stop the rope from pulling
back out. This is an approximate break down:
7-8 gallons of H2O, 60 lbs
food, 35 lbs
clothes and personals, 40 lbs
2 sleeping bags and 2 pads, 20 lbs
2 portaledges with rain flys, 35 lbs
On top of these things are the ropes (2-3 @ 8 lbs each) and
hardware. If pitons are required then the pins, carabiners,
wedges of metal called stoppers, camming devices, and other
hardware weigh 30 - 60 lbs. If no pins are required then "the
racks" check in at 15 - 30 lbs. Of course, as you climb
the food and water weight disappears. Even so, there is usually
a fair bit to carry down.
How do you get down?
There are a number of options for the descent. There are a
couple of long trails -- about 10 miles each. The most popular
method, however, down the east shoulder, the East Ledges Descent.
It starts with a 1/4 mile hike, but steep and treacherous,
to a point where you can rappel 3 rope lengths past a steep
section. From there, you continue scrambling down a steep,
loose, dirty, climber's trail to the valley floor. With big
packs this journey can take all day.
There is more big wall information at the John Middendorff
web site. John started A5 Adventures where he designed and
manufactured quality wall climbing gear for many years. A5
is now a part of The North Face.
Yosemite National Park covers a huge area of the western
Sierra Nevada mountains in central California and has innumerable
lakes,meadows, forests and rocky summits with endless unspoilt
Alpine scenery. At the centre is Yosemite Valley, a half-mile
deep depression carved by glaciers during the last ice age,
which now has soaring 3,000 foot high granite domes and many
powerful waterfalls, includingthe third and seventh highest
in the world. The area received National Park status in 1880,
as a result of the efforts of the pioneering Scottish naturalist
John Muir, and has grown in popularity ever since.
The Merced River runs through the valley, and is followed
either side by two scenic drives. Unfortunately this area
is the preferred destination of three million visitors each
year, most of whom do little more than drive around the congested
roads and stop at neighbouring viewpoints.
Parts of the valley have become spoilt by badly-planned developments,
overcrowding and commercialism; however in January 1997 severe
flooding destroyed half the campsites and one third of the
buildings. It was decided that many would not be rebuilt,
and instead the land is to be returned to nature. Other improvement
measures include a reduction in the number of roads available
to private cars and increased use of shuttle buses, as is
the case, for example, with Zion Canyon in Utah and the Grand
Canyon in Arizona. Still, even in the heart of Yosemite Valley,
perfect solitude is only a 30 minute walk away along one of
the many trails leading into the wilderness, and despite the
overcrowding, the scenic drive is a must for any visitor to
California. Highlights include the various waterfalls that
tumble into the valley, and Glacier Point, an elevated overlook
with arguably the best easily-reached view in the whole of
the Sierra Nevada range.
Yosemite is 200 miles east of San Francisco; three state
roads (CA 120, CA 140 and CA 41) approach from the west and
converge on the lower end of the valley. CA 120 continues
east across the Sierras via the Tioga Pass, a route that is
often closed by snow until July. South of here there are no
through roads across the mountains for 140 miles. At the western
end of the valley where the mountains at either side come
close together, the roads become narrow, cut precariously
into the cliffsides, and pass through several tunnels - these
open to reveal an astonishing vista of vertical cliffs and
green woodland, fading into the hazy distance; this is Yosemite
Valley, central attraction of the park.
Yosemite is home to variety of birds. The most commonly seen
birds include the Stellar's jay, American robin, Brewer's
blackbird, acorn woodpecker, raven, and black-headed grosbeak.
In spring, listen for the splendid glissade of the red-wing
blackbrid (most often seen in meadows) or watch the American
dipper dart in and out of creek and river rapids.
Some of the more sought-after birds to see in Yosemite include
the great gray owl, Peregrine falcon, pileated woodpecker,
and northern goshawk.
In general quiet forests away from developed areas and meadows
(particularly in the mornings) are the best places to see
some of the less common birds.
Bring along or buy a plant key or book about trees or wildflowers.
Then wander the meadows and forests trying to identify the
various plants and trees. It can be a rewarding, educational,
and fun experience!
Wildflowers typically begin appearing in spring at the lower
elevations (around El Portal, just outside the park along
Highway 140). Flowers become showy above Yosemite Valley sometime
in June (Pacific dogwoods start blooming in May), and at Tuolumne
Meadows in July.
Yosemite Valley is world famous for its impressive waterfalls,
cliffs, and unusual rock formations. It is open year-round
and is reached via Highway 41 from Fresno, Highway 140 from
Merced, Highway 120 from Manteca, and in later spring through
late fall via Highway 120 from Lee Vining (the Tioga Road.
Many activities and services are available in Yosemite Valley.
A few of its most famous attractions are described below.
The Yosemite Indians (Ahwahneechee) called this place "Pohono"
or spirit of the puffing wind. The wind swirls about this
place, often lifting Bridalveil Fall and blowing it sideways.
This massive monolith is the largest single granite rock on
earth, standing nearly 4,000 feet from base to summit. Rock
climbers from around the world come to challenge their abilities
on the face of El Capitan. From the turnout along El Capitan
meadow, spring to fall, you can spot them inching their way
up the sheer walls. But, please do not walk into this meadow
or picnic upon it, as it and most other meadows in the national
park are easily damaged.
Four Mile and Panorama Trails
These trails travel along spectacular routes from Yosemite
Valley to Glacier Point. The Four-Mile Trail is a strenuous
3 to 4 hour climb to Glacier Point, beginning on Southside
Drive at road marker V 18. The more moderate route is along
the Panorama Trail, 8.5 miles, and taking 4 to 6 hours one
way. It begins at Happy Isles. A hiker's bus can be taken
from yosemite Valley to Glacier Point.
Gates of the Valley
Along Northside Drive, past El Capitan Meadow, you will find
a turnout which looks back toward El Capitan. It is a serene
spot beside the Merced River. Here you'll find one of the
best Valley-level views of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and
Walk to the edge and catch your breath along with one of the
most spectacular overlooks on earth. From this perch on the
rim of Yosemite Valley, you'll look down 3,214 feet to the
Valley floor and have an eagle's view, an overlook, with a
commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the High
Sierra. It is located 30 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Valley.
Take Highway 41 for fourteen miles to the Chinquapin junction,
then turn left onto Glacier Point Road. The road ends at Glacier
Point. In winter, the road is plowed as far as the Badger
Pass Ski area and Glacier Point can be reached via skis or
Yosemite's most distinctive feature, Half Dome, dominates
the valley view. Half Dome rises 4,733 feet from the valley
floor and at 87 million years old, it is the youngest plutonic
rock in the valley. A hike to the top of Half Dome provides
the physically fit with a strenuous walk, intimidating climb
and rewarding view. This trek is not to be undertaken without
care and preparation.
No one can leave this place unhappy, or so the saying goes.
The Merced River rushes around two little islands near Shuttle
Bus Stop #16. Bridges connect foot paths to the islands. Bring
a picnic lunch or get a snack at the snack stand. The trails
that lead to Vernal and Nevada Falls begin here.
Hetch Hetchy, similar in character to Yosemite Valley, is
located near the Highway 120 West (Big Oak Flat) entrance.
The name "Hetch Hetchy" is derived from a Miwok
Indian word for a grass with edible seeds which grew abundantly
there. In 1913, after a lengthy legal battle, famed Sierra
conservationist John Muir lost his fight to save the valley
from being dammed. Today a large hydroelectric dam on the
site holds water for the City of San Francisco. Studies are
now being made as to whether it is feasible to remove the
dam and restore Hetch Hetchy to its former wilderness state.
Indian Village of Ahwahnee
Located behind the Yosemite Museum and always open. Sometimes
there is the opportunity to join Indian Cultural Program staff
for demonstrations or programs about Ahwahneechee skills and
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, located at the southernmost
end of Yosemite, is the largest stand of giant sequoias in
the park. Allow 1.25 hours driving time from Yosemite Valley.
Cars are prohibited beyond the parking area, however many
giant sequoias can be seen from there. The access road to
the Grove may close for extended periods due to heavy snowfall.
Call 209-372-0200 for current road and weather information.
If the access road is closed, add an extra half-hour walking
time from the South Entrance of the park to the Grove.
Mirror Lake is a moderately easy 1-mile walk from Shuttle
Bus Stop #17. Here you will find impressive views and mirror
reflections of Tenaya Canyon during spring and early summer.
The lake is evolving into a meadow, drying up by summer's
end... a natural process. A 3-mile trail loops the lake. If
you're bicycling, park your bike at the base of the Mirror
Lake hill and walk to the lake; riding back down on the hill
On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada is Mono Lake, one
of the oldest lakes in North America. The lake has high concentrations
of salt and alkali. A significant migratory bird resting area,
Mono Lake provides the nesting grounds for 90% of the California
Gull population. Along the shores of Mono Lake are starkly-shaped
calcium formations called "Tufa Towers."
Hours of operation vary. Check door of Gallery for current
schedule. Exhibits may include historic paintings from the
Yosemite Museum collection (through 15 February), and Yosemite
Renaissance XII, contemporary works of art selected from juried
competition (opens 28 February).
Pioneer Yosemite History Center
See horse drawn wagons, walk across a covered bridge, and
visit historic buildings out of Yosemite's past. Take a 30-minute,
self-guided tour through the Pioneer Yosemite History Center
and learn about people and events of Yosemite. The Center
is always open, and explanatory signs and brochures are available.
Located adjacent to the Wawona General Store, across the Covered
There are several fine hikes long the Glacier Point road.
One is the 2.2 mile round-trip out to Sentinel Dome from the
Sentinel Dome-Taft Point trail head along the Glacier Point
Road. The hike to the top is a small price to pay for the
360 degree view.
The Miwok in Yosemite is a short loop trail that winds through
a reconstructed Miwok-Paiute Village in the Indian Village
of Ahwahnee. It introduces Southern Miwok life, history, and
language. The trail begins behind the Yosemite Museum building.
Located just below "Inspiration Point," the turnout
at the eastern end of the Wawona tunnel on Highway 41 has
one of the most photographed vistas on earth. It provides
the classic view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan,
Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.
Tuolumne Grove of Big Trees
This grove of giant sequoia stands near the junction of Highway
120 and Tioga Pass (at Crane Flat). The grove is a one mile
hike from the parking lot at Crane Flat on Tioga Road. To
avoid the one-way trip, park your car and walk the short distance
into the grove.
Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass
Tioga Pass (Highway 120 East), at 9,941 feet is the highest
vehicle pass in California. A number of scenic pullouts and
parking areas are located along the way. A wonderful stop
is found at Tenaya Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in
the Sierra. Farther on, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine
meadow in the Sierra Nevada. California bighorn sheep can
sometimes be seen grazing along the Tioga Road beyond the
eastern boundary of the park. Closed in winter.
Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and the Mist Trail
Among the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley is the Mist
Trail. This hike starts at Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop #16)
and climbs beside the scenic Merced River to Vernal Fall (317-ft
drop) and Nevada Fall (594-ft. drop). The first mile is moderately
difficult. Beyond the Vernal Fall view footbridge, the Mist
Trail is a strenuous climb. However, you are rewarded by seeing
rainbows in the mist of the falls when the light is at the
right angle, and Nevada Fall is awesome. Carry a poncho or
rain jacket in springtime.
This historic cemetery is located across the street and just
west of the Yosemite Museum. People buried here include Native
Americans, casual park visitors, and people who played important
roles in the development of what is now Yosemite National
Park. A Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery is available at the
Valley Visitor Center.
The base of Yosemite Falls is an easy walk from Shuttle Bus
Stop #7 near the Yosemite Lodge. Impressive views are seen
on the path to the falls. The upper and lower falls, connected
by the intermediate cascades, drop 2,425 feet, making them
the highest in all of North America and fifth tallest in the
Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees
Travel to the southern end of the park on Highway 41. At Wawona,
you'll find a lovely Victorian hotel of the 1800's and the
Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Six miles farther south is
the magnificent Mariposa grove of giant sequoias.
INDIANS IN THE VALLEY
The Miwok Indians who lived in Yosemite were called the Ahwaneechee
(Ah-wah-nee-chee). The Ahwaneechee tribe has populated Yosemite
for nearly 4,000 years. At one time the Ahwanee tribe was
struck with a fatal sickness that caused many to die and the
survivors to flee from the Valley and join other tribes. For
many years afterwards, the Valley was unpopulated. Finally
Tenaya, who claimed to be descended from an Ahwaneechee chief,
left the Monos, where he had been born and raised. He gathered
some of his father's old tribe around him, visited the Valley
and claimed it as the birth right of his people.
The Eastern Miwok Indians first saw white people when Spanish
explorers arrived in the late 1700's. The white people, especially
the white people looking for gold, began to take over the
Indian land. Soon the two groups started fighting, so the
government sent Major Savage and his men to kill or remove
the Indians from Yosemite. It was during this campaign that
Major Savage and his men discovered the Yosemite Valley. The
Yosemite Indians were moved to a reservation near Fresno.
Although they had plenty of food and a place to live, they
became very homesick. Chief Tenaya especially missed the mountains
of Yosemite. Tenaya and his family were finally allowed to
return. Soon after he returned to Yosemite they were attacked
by the Mono's, a tribe from the Eastern side of the Sierra's
and Chief Tenaya was killed. In 1855 all the Indians on the
reservation were allowed to return to their original homes.
Since that time, they have lived more or less at peace with
the ! white settlers.
One of the main foods the Miwok ate was acorns. The acorns
were mainly from Black Oak trees. Acorns were a vital food
source for the people. The women would crack and shell the
acorns, then dry them. After drying, they would remove the
spoiled meats and pound the kernels into a fine yellow meal.
Then, they would leach the acorns. Leaching would remove the
bitter tasting tannin from the meal. To leach the acorns they
would pour water over the acorns while the acorns were in
a basin of sand. Acorns made mainly three things depending
on the fineness of the meal. The fine meal was used for gruel
or thin soup. The middle product was used for mush and the
coarser materials made small patties cooked on hot flat rocks.
Acorns were kept and stored in a chuck-ah. A chuck-ah is a
small building made of intertwined tree branches and bushes.
One chuck-ah could hold almost a winter's worth of acorns.
Acorns were taken as needed from a hole in the side of the
Another main source of food for the Miwoks was from hunting
and fishing. They ate deer that they killed using spears and
arrows made with obsidian points. They also ate squirrels,Quail,
rabbits and bird meat. The favorite of fish was Rainbow Trout.
The Miwok usually cooked the fish or dried them for winter
The Miwok also ate mushrooms, berries, bulbs, insects and
at least 37 different plants.Some of the bulbs they ate were
Soaproots, Corn Lily and Swamp Onions. Some of the berries
were Green Manzanita Berries, White Leaf Manzanita Berries,
Gooseberries, Currants, Wild Strawberries and Elderberries.
Like most Native American Tribes, the Miwok depended a great
deal on ritual and wild plants for curing sickness and disease.
§ Yarrow: bad colds, influenza, leaves and flowers were
soaked and drunk or applied externally. Mashed leaves were
bound to wounds to stop pain.
§ Milkweed: milkweed milk applied to warts.
§ Monkey Flower: diarrhea, root used to make tea.
§ Wild Rose: leaves and berries soaked and drunk to relieve
§ Nettle: root used in bath to relieve rheumatism.
§ White Leaf Manzanita: tea brewed from bark to relieve
§ Horsetail Equisitism: tea to relieve fever and skin
irritations and a general medicine; boil the cleaned shoots
for five minutes.
§ Mountain Misery: a tea was made of this to relieve
rheumatism, treat acne, venereal diseases, measles and chicken
pox. The leaves were soaked in hot water and drunk hot. A
medicine man or shaman would never treat skin eruption diseases.
§ Snow Plant: Indians dried and made a powder of this
for use as a wash for ulcers and sore mouth and toothache.
Pharmacopeia says the plant is poisonous; however, the Indians
probably never swallowed it.
This is only a small list of the plants that the Miwoks used.
If we compare the Miwok medicine to that of the white man's
medical practice 150 years ago, we find that the Natives were
not the lazy and ignorant people some historians have made
them to be.
Have you ever thought about how lucky you are to have a nice
house with electricity and and modern appliances? How about
your TV, you probably couldn't live without your TV now could
you? Well, Miwok kids were not half as lucky as us. Just think
a Miwok child, maybe your age, lived in a bark slab u-ma-cha
house, where a"modern" appliance was the acorn granary
outside where their mom ground acorns for dinner. The u-ma-cha
was made of bark slab sometimes with an inner layer of pine
needles.An outer layer of dirt and mud was piled against the
lower reaches. It was usually eight to fifteen feet in diameter.
For the door a smaller slab of bark was used. An u-ma-cha
could house six people at one time. Can you imagine being
stuck in an u-ma-cha with all of your brothers and sisters?
Well, you would be able to if you were a Miwok.
Instead of taking a bath you would get in a sweat house get
all hot and sweaty then run out and jump into a nearby stream.
And then you wouldn't smell so bad anymore. At night you would
sleep on a deerskin and if you were well-to-do you slept on
a willow frame that would just barely lift you off the ground.
If you were the chief you slept on a bearskin. The fire was
in the center of the u-ma-cha and it was used for cooking;
depending on the food and weather.
The ceremonial house was a very large structure in the center
of the village. The roof was carefully laid in a certain fashion.
The first layer had willow brush laid sideways on top of the
horizontal roof timbers. Over it was placed at a right angle
a second layer of willow brush.After it a layer of thick shrub
then a layer of earth.And after it was all finished it must
measure 5inches thick. The structure was built over a large
pit. Center poles and beams supported the roof.Miwok shelters
were simple yet they never had to move, because they had such
a plentiful food source in Yosemite Valley.
Tools and Weapons
The Yosemite Indians used bone and deer antlers to make a
variety of tools and implements. Limb bones of the jack rabbit
and grouse became whistles used for ceremonial dances. The
great obsidian quarries near Mono Lake supplied material Piqutes
brought chunks of the obsidian up to the large trading sites
in the Sierra where the Yosemites met them. The Yosemites
bartered acorns and other goods for the obsidian they needed.
They hammered off pieces of suitable size for tools and arrowheads
from the larger chunks, and then carried these "blanks"
back to their villages in deerskin sacks. Small pieces of
obsidian were roughly shaped with an antler tool and finished
with a smaller antler implement. The Yosemites grasped the
obsidian in the palm of the hand, protected by a buckskin
pad, and exerted pressure on it with the end of an antler
Before The Hunt
To cleanse the body until it was free of odors that might
frighten the prey and to loosen up their muscles for the chase,
the Miwok's would go through a thorough course of sweating
and cleansing. A fire was built inside a sweat house that
produced heat and not steam. After they got very hot and sweaty
the hunters would jump into the icy stream. Sometimes this
process was repeated from before dawn of the day of the hunt
until they felt free of bodily odor. They also rubbed their
bodies and clothing, top to bottom, with Mugwort, a minty
The deer was the Miwok's most important source of meat. Deer
were obtained in five ways: (1) stretching a net over a deer
trail during winter and spring migrations; (2) V-shaped brush
fence with traps set in openings at the angle of the V and
hunters would drive the deer into the V; (3) by driving the
animals over a cliff; (4) by sitting close enough to shoot
them with a bow and arrow or (5) by running down an animal.
Some hunters wore a false deer head and were able to get closer
to the deer.
Hunting Other Mammals
The rabbit was the Miwoks next most important food animal
after the deer. They were caught with nets and snares. Beavers
and squirrels were hunted down by bow and arrow. The quail,
the most important food bird of the Miwok, were taken by means
of human hair snares set in small openings along a brush fence.
Fish were caught by means of a net, spear, or by hand. When
the water was low in late spring or summer the Yosemites stupefied
fish with pulverized soaproot mixed with soil and water. For
the fish, it was a form of strangulation, causing them to
rise to the surface where they could be easily captured by
Indians with scoop baskets. The Indians were lucky to live
in a place where food was easy to get to.