Yosemite National Park History
Yosemite National Park History
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 them.
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 coaches.
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.
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