Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984)

Posted on Oct 30, 2012 in category

Yosemite National Park is mainly the creation of glacial activity that began over a million years ago shaping the valley from a V shape to a U shape with the last glacier melting circa 10,000 B.P. (before present). Rock debris called 'moraine' acted like a dam on the ancient Merced River forming a lake. In time sediment from the river filled the lake to form today's large meadowed area. Yosemite's natural features are best described by John Muir who became the site's most famous 19th century conservation advocate:

"..noble walls sculptured into endless variety of domes and gables, spires and battlements and plain mural precipices (waterfalls)... sunny meadows here and there...groves of pine and oak...the great Tissiack or Half-Dome..is nobly proportioned and life-like...marvellous cliffs." (Chapter 5, My First Summer in the Sierra based on his 1869 shepherd's experiences and published in 1911).

To read more of John Muir's account of his Yosemite adventures see: My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)

 Another admirer of the Yosemite Valley was L.H. Bunnell, a soldier of the 'Mariposa Battalion', who along with Major J.D. Savage and his 200 'uninformed' yet 'well armed' men attacked the Yosemite Tribe or 'Bear Tribe'. Major Savage disparagingly called them 'Grizzly Bears'. On the arduous journey to the Yosemite Valley, which included riding Indian file through snow in order to 'smoke them out', the men expected to find 'a devil of a place'; instead, Bunnell was awestruck. In fact, he was reduced to tears! He found 'the greatest of the great' with 'that stupendous cliff.... Mount Beatitude' (now called 'El Capitan' or The Captain).

To read L.H.Bunnell's account of the Mariposa Battalion's expedition into the Yosemite Valley in 1851 see: 'Discovery of the Yosemite' published in 1892

A crystal-clear Merced River meanders through the Yosemite Valley with 'El Capitan'  (centre left) resolutely standing guard over the valley. 'Bridalveil Falls' (far right) graces the meadow below whilst 'Cathedral Rocks' (above left of the Falls) triumphantly adds to an awesome, peaceful place . Imagine having to surrender it to the 'Great Father' in Washington D.C.? Even L.H.Bunnell in the 1851 Mariposa punitive expedition admitted after admiring the Yosemite Valley that he struggled with the issue of 'the natural right of the Indians to their inheritance' (chapter 2).

Continuing with the military theme, another interesting Yosemite story concerns some 500 'Buffalo soldiers', a Plains Indians' nickname for African-American U.S. soldiers, who administered both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks between 1891-1913. Their mission included stopping poachers and illegal grazing of livestock as well as constructing nature trails, roads and infrastucture. Prevention of bushfires was also on their list of duties. Considering the increase in 'Judge Lynch' style persecutions of African-Americans during this era, their job must have required an enormous amount of diplomacy with the white settlers of this region. For example, the year 1892 was the worst year for recorded vigilante hangings in the U.S. with 161 African-Americans victims. Admittedly, 69 whites also suffered this terrible fate.

Yosemite Falls, one of the park's 'countless' waterfalls, is over 739 metres high and consists in three sections: Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades and Lower Yosemite Fall. For a list of the park's main waterfalls see: Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park

In conclusion, although it is a fairly arduous 'hike' from San Francisco for a one day visit, Yosemite National Park is worth the hassle of running the gauntlet of the odd shonky San Francisco tour operators.


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