by Bob Braban: Editor Travelwatchdog.com
Established by an Act of Congress on October 1st, 1890, Yosemite National Park occupies 1,200 square miles near the eastern border of Central California and is now one of the most beautiful and best known national parks in the entire world. It is oval in shape and has some 450 miles of roads, 800 miles of hiking trails, 250 bird species, 76 species of mammals and 1,400 species of flowering plants amongst which are some 40 varieties of trees. Elevations in the Park range from 2000 ft at the valley floor to more than 13,000 ft. 95% of the park is officially wilderness. The park attracts some 4,000,000 visitors each year, but such is the nature of the park that visitors often feel that they are alone.
The park is open throughout the year and offers accommodation, restaurant facilities, tours and a host of other visitor services. Busses offer tours throughout the park area. The lodging and other facilities are on the valley floor near the banks of the Merced river.
A major figure in the evolution of Yosemite was a young Scotsman, John Muir, who arrived in San Francisco in 1868. It is said that he asked directions to: "Anywhere that wild." He was pointed towards the Sierra Nevada and it was there that he began he began his love affair with Yosemite where he worked as a mill worker, shepherd, and hotel clerk, just to be able to stay in the park. In his journals he wrote: "As long as I live, I will ever after hear waterfalls and birds, and winds sing. I'll acquaint myself with glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near to the heart of the world as I can." With his trusty Mule, Brownie, he travelled extensively throughout the Sierra Nevada. He worked tirelessly to keep Yosemite in its original state and was a Charter member and first President of the Sierra Club, formed in 1892, to secure federal protection for the Yosemite Region. He died on 24th December 1914, at the age of 76 years, but his spirit lives on. At the Tuolumne Visitor Centre, there is a fascinating exhibition on the meaning and value of Yosemite, as John Muir saw it.
There is speculation that the name "Yosemite" derives from uzumati, the native name for Grizzly bear. The Grizzly is now extinct, but some 300 Californian Black Bears live in the park today. Ranger advice is that if you are confronted by a Bear: "act aggressively towards it!" Boo!! Others contend that the name Yosemite is derived from the Miwok word for the native Americans who lived in the area "yo'hem-iteh", the latter seeming the most probable.
Yosemite falls in Winter
At the foot of the falls - a torrent of raging water
The Merced river is the destination for water from the falls
Today, the walls of Yosemite Valley are draped with waterfalls that usually run full in the spring. (Yosemite boasts two of the worlds ten largest waterfalls; Yosemite Falls, at 2,425 ft is the 5th largest and Sentinel Falls, at 2,000 ft, the tenth). Spring is arguably the most exciting time for the visitor, who will also see the valley floor covered with hundreds of varieties of wild flowers. In summer the flower show continues, to be followed by the glorious colours of autumn and the brilliant mountain light of winter. Also in winter, there is basic skiing available at Badger Pass. Everyday, visitors awaken to a glorious new vista.
Wawona and the Big Trees are at the centre of the park. The Indians called the giant Sequoias 'wawona' which they felt imitated the call of the owl and there is a giant stand of these trees at Mariposa Grove, a short drive from the centre of the park. The Grizzly giant, one of the worlds largest trees, is the centre of attraction.
The high country can be seen from the valley floor, but the best way to explore the region is on foot or on horseback. For climatic reasons, the area is open only in summer and provides a wealth of waterfalls, brilliant blue lakes and rivers, spectacularly huge granite domes all covered by an extensive web of well marked hiking trails. Tuolumne Meadows, an alpine meadow, is at the heart of this region of the park. At 8,575 ft, it is one of the largest sub-alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada and a very popular spot. The area is accessed by the Tioga road which usually opens in June when the snow clears, and is closed again in October when the first snows usually fall. At certain times, chains may be compulsory. The Tuolumne Visitor Centre exhibits geological items, wildflowers, alpine and sub-alpine ecology, bears and other wildlife. its also gives an outline of the area's human history and details of wilderness etiquette.
We have visited Yosemite on three occasions, at three different times of the year and have seen three different vistas. This is a wondrous place and it should be the aim of every traveller with a love of nature to make this pilgrimage at least once.
Up-to-date and comprehensive details of Yosemite National Park can be found at http://www.yosemite.com
For beauty being the best of all we know, Sums up the the unsearchable and secret aims of nature.
Robert Bridges - (1844-1930)