Yosemite National Park

views updated Jun 11 2018


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, called "the greatest marvel of the continent" by journalist Horace Greeley, was also described by the naturalist John Muir as having "the noblest forests … the deepest ice-sculptured canyons." Located in the California High Sierra and consisting of 1,189 square miles (760,917 acres), Yosemite boasts one of the three largest exposed granite monoliths in the world, the El Capitan rock face, rising 3,600 feet from the valley floor. The 1,430-foot Upper Yosemite Falls is one of the world's five highest waterfalls. Only four trees, also California giant sequoias, surpass Yosemite's 2,700-year-old Grizzly Giant in size.

Native Americans occupied Yosemite 8,000 years ago. During the mid-1800s, the region belonged to the Southern Miwok nation. Captain Joseph Walker's trappers explored much of the surrounding area in 1833, but there is no known record of a white man entering Yosemite Valley until William Penn Abrams, a millwright, did so in 1849 while tracking a grizzly bear. State volunteers from the Mariposa Battalion under Major James D. Savage ventured into the hidden valley on 27 March 1851 seeking Indians. They named the area Yosemite after hearing one of the Miwoks exclaim Yo-che-ma-te or "some among them are killers."

James Hutchings guided the first tourists into Yosemite in 1855. The region swiftly gained fame for its unparalleled scenery, popularized through stunning panoramas created by the artist Albert Bierstadt and the photographer Carleton Watkins. Concern over the commercialization of the valley prompted calls for its protection. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees to California on condition that the areas would "be held for public use, resort, and recreation … inalienable for all time." The grant stimulated the creation of parks in other states.

Inspired by fears of private exploitation—notably expressed by the Scottish-American John Muir, who had been enraptured with Yosemite since visiting the area in 1868—Congress on 1 October 1890 authorized Yosemite National Park, which was created from about two million acres surrounding Yosemite Valley State Park. Following a series of boundary changes, California ceded Yosemite Valley to federal control in 1906.

From 1901 until 1913, Yosemite was at the center of a bitter controversy over San Francisco's attempts to get federal approval to build a dam in the park across the Tuolumne River. The dam, completed in 1923, destroyed the park's Hetch Hetchy Valley, similar in grandeur to Yosemite Valley, and described by its foremost defender Muir as "a mountain temple." Beginning in the 1960s, problems of traffic congestion and development in Yosemite Valley drew attention from resource managers and environmentalists. In the year 2000, annual visitation was 3.4million.


Huth, Hans. "Yosemite: The Story of an Ideal." Sierra Club Bulletin 33 (March 1948): 47–78.

Runte, Alfred. Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Russell, Carl P. One Hundred Years in Yosemite: The Story of a Great Park and Its Friends. Reprint. Yosemite, Calif.: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1992.



See alsoCalifornia ; National Park System .

Yosemite National Park

views updated May 18 2018

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a 748,542-acre (303,160-ha) park, located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas in northern California. The name Yosemite comes from the name of an Indian tribe, the U-zu-ma-ti, who were massacred in 1851 by soldiers sent by the governor of California for refusing to attend a reservation agreement meeting.

By the mid-1800s, Yosemite had become a thriving tourist attraction. As word of Yosemite's wonders spread back to the East Coast, public pressure led Congress to declare that the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias be held "inalienable for all time." President Abraham Lincoln signed this law on June 30, 1864, turning this land over to the state of California and thereby giving Yosemite the distinction of being the first state park. Concern about sheep overgrazing in the high meadows led to the designation of the high country as a national park in 1890.

The person most strongly associated with the protection of Yosemite and its designation as a national park is naturalist and philosopher John Muir . Muir, sometimes called the "Thoreau of the West," first came to Yosemite in 1868. He devoted the next 40 years of his life to ensuring that the ecological integrity of the region was maintained. In 1892, Muir founded the Sierra Club to organize efforts to gain national park status for the Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite National Park is famous for its awesome and inspiring scenery. Geologic wonders include the mile-wide Yosemite valley surrounded by granite walls and peaks such as El Capitan (7,569 ft [2,307 m] above sea level; 3,593 ft [1,095 m] from base) and Half Dome (8,842 ft [2,695 m] above sea level; 4,733 ft [1,443 m] from base). Spectacular waterfalls include Yosemite Falls (Upper 1,430 ft [436 m], Middle 675 ft [206 m], Lower 320 ft [98 m]), Ribbon Falls (1,612 ft [491 m]), Bridalveil Falls (620 ft [189 m]), Sentinel Falls (2,001 ft [610 m]), Horsetail Falls (1,001 feet [305 meters]), and Vernal Falls (317 ft [97 m]).

The park supports an abundance of plant and animal life. Eleven species of fish, 29 species of reptiles and amphibians, 242 species of birds, and 77 species of mammals can be found in the park. There are approximately 1,400 species of flowering plants, including 37 tree species. The most famous of the tree species found here is the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum ). The park has three groves of giant sequoias, the largest being the Mariposa Grove with 500 mature trees, 200 of which exceed 10 ft (3 m) in diameter.

Because of the high degree of development and the congestion from the large numbers of visitors (over four million per year as of 2002), some have disparagingly referred to the Valley as "Yosemite City." Yosemite has become a focal point in the controversy of whether we are "loving our parks to death." People and traffic management has become as critical as traditional resource management. At Yosemite, balancing the public's needs and desires with the protection of the natural resources is the National Park Service's greatest challenge as they enter the twenty-first century.

[Ted T. Cable ]



Frome, M. National Park Guide. 19th ed. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1985.


Yosemite 1992 Fact Sheet. National Park Service, U. S. Department of Interior, 1992.


Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 20240 (209) 372-0200, Email: [email protected], <http://www.yosemitepark.com>

National Park Service, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240 (202) 208-6843, <http://www.nps.gov>

Yosemite National Park

views updated Jun 11 2018

Yosemite National Park Spectacular national park, established 1890, in the Sierra Nevada range of central California, USA. Yosemite means ‘grizzly bear’, and the park was named after the river that runs through it. It is a mountainous area of glacial gorges and granite cliffs rising to the 3990m (13,090ft) of Mount Lyell. Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America, drops 739m (2425ft) in two stages. Other features include Half Dome Mountain and the vertical rock-face of El Capitan. Area: 308,335ha (761320 acres).


Yosemite National Park

views updated May 21 2018

Yosemite National Park a national park in the Sierra Nevada in central California. It includes Yosemite Valley, with its sheer granite cliffs and Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in the US.