Park, pronounced yoh SEHM ih tee, is a great wilderness in east-central California. It is
located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of San
Francisco. It has about 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of trails. Most of the trails lead to
the "High Sierra," a region of sparkling lakes, rushing streams, and jagged
mountain peaks. The park's Yosemite Museum has a collection of Indian displays and
exhibits of the area's wildlife. For the area of the park, see NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM
(table: National parks).
More than 60 kinds of animals and more than 200 species of birds live in the forests and
mountains. Bears and deer are numerous. Yosemite has more than 30 kinds of trees and more
than 1,300 varieties of plants. There are three groves of the famous Sequoiadendron
giganteum or Big Trees. The best known is the Mariposa Grove, 35 miles (56 kilometers)
south of Yosemite Valley. It includes the Grizzly Giant Tree, whose base measures more
than 34 feet (10 meters) in diameter.
In 1864, Congress gave Yosemite Valley to California for use as a public park and
recreation area. John Muir, a naturalist, first saw the area in the 1860's. His reports of
the beauties of the region aroused interest. Congress created Yosemite National Park in
1890. But it did not include Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. California ceded
these areas back to the federal government, and they were added to the park in 1906. The
park has many tourist accommodations. Skiing is popular in the High Sierra. Other
activities include horseback riding, fishing, golf, tennis, hiking, and swimming.
Yosemite Valley. Much of the park's most spectacular scenery is in the Yosemite Valley.
The valley lies at a 4,000-foot (1,200-meter) elevation in the heart of the park. A group
of explorers on their way to the Pacific Coast in the 1830's were probably the first white
people to see the valley. But white people did not enter it until 1851. In that year, the
Mariposa Battalion, a volunteer fighting force, set out to capture a group of Yosemite
Indians. Tenaya, the Yosemite chief, had been leading raids on white settlers in the
foothills of the Sierra Nevada. He was captured, but eventually was allowed to return to
the valley, which was named for his tribe.
Millions of years ago, California's Sierra Nevada was formed by a gradual series of earth
upheavals. As the mountains rose, the westward-flowing Merced River accelerated to
torrential speed and carved the narrow, V-shaped Merced Canyon. Later, massive glaciers
flowed down the canyon. The glaciers ground and polished the canyon to a smooth U-shaped
valley, nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide and almost 1 mile deep in places. Tributary
streams did not carve their canyons as deep as Merced Canyon. Glaciers sheared off these
canyons, leaving them as "hanging valleys." Today, the world's greatest
concentration of free, leaping waterfalls pours from these valleys.
Waterfalls. Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall seen by most Yosemite visitors. It
graces the southern wall of the valley with a 620-foot (189-meter) descent. The
Illilouette Falls also tumbles over the side of the valley. Yosemite Falls is formed by
Yosemite Creek, leaping free from its hanging valley 2,425 feet (739 meters) above the
valley floor. The Upper Falls is 1,430 feet (436 meters) high, and the Lower Falls
measures 320 feet (98 meters) high. The cascades between the two tumble another 675 feet
(206 meters). The total height is about 1/2 mile (0.8 kilometer).
Vernal and Nevada falls pour over giant steps formed by glaciers. Vernal Falls, 317 feet
(97 meters) high, is famous for the rainbows that sparkle in the heavy mist at its base.
About 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) upstream is 594-foot (181-meter) Nevada Falls. Indians named
it squirming fall because a curving rock causes the water to twist as it descends. Some of
the park's falls burst forth during the high-water season in spring. These include the
slender 1,612-foot (491-meter) Ribbon Falls; the erratic Sentinel Falls, which drops 2,000
feet (610 meters); and the 1,170-foot (357-meter) Silver Strand Falls.
Rock masses. A number of rock masses rise sharply from the valley floor. The Half Dome
rises about 8,800 feet (2,700 meters) at the head of the valley. El Capitan, which is a
gigantic mass of unbroken granite, rises vertically about 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above
the canyon. From Glacier Point, one can look down more than 3,000 feet (910 meters) into
the valley. Cloud's Rest, the highest point in Yosemite Valley, stands about 9,900 feet
(3,000 meters) above the valley floor.
Hetch Hetchy Valley lies in the northwestern part of the park. It was carved by the
Tuolumne River and ancient glaciers in much the same manner as Yosemite Valley. A
reservoir covers the valley floor. The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River is above Hetch
Hetchy, to the east. The river rushes through the canyon, dropping 4,000 feet (1,200
meters) in 4 miles (6 kilometers). It creates many cascades and waterfalls, including the
Waterwheel Falls, a series of pinwheels of water. Some pinwheels rise as high as 40 feet
(12 meters). Pinwheels are formed when the river, cascading down a steep granite apron,
strikes rocky obstructions.
The Tuolumne River flows through Tuolumne Meadows, a vast grassland. The meadows have an
elevation of about 8,500 feet (2,590 meters). Tourists camp there, and the area is also
used as a base camp by mountain climbers. Tenaya Lake, near the meadows on Tioga Road, is
the largest of the more than 300 lakes in Yosemite.
Transportation. Yosemite is a year-round park. Most roads remain open in the winter. But
snows close roads in the High Sierra region from about midautumn until late spring. In
August 1990, fires destroyed part of the park. Roads were blocked, and the park was closed
for 10 days.