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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central
California, a setting so spectacular and awe-inspiring that John Muir, a naturalist and the Sierra Club founder, called it "a landscape ... that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld."
Over millions of years, earthquakes, glaciers, and other forces of nature have left indelible footprints on this landscape, footprints that are still visible in the towering granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, steep mountains, and deep alpine lakes, and they all beckon visitors to explore, climb, photograph, and experience their grandeur.
Yosemite's geological history has been evolving for some 500 million years, from the area's initial position on the ocean floor, to its later incarnations as gentle, rolling hills, and then the steep Sierra Nevada mountain range replete with deep river canyons.
Three million years ago, the ice age brought glaciers that scraped and carved the valleys and canyons with such force that the remaining granite still shows the direction of the glacial movement. Those same glaciers created massive rock formations that present some of the most difficult and popular climbing challenges in the world for today's enthusiastic rock climbers.
When the last glacier finally melted 10,000 years ago, rock debris dammed the valley and created Lake Yosemite, while tributary creeks plummeted off sheer cliffs and gave birth to the park's famed waterfalls. Sediment continued to fill the lake until it eventually formed the present valley floor.
Yosemite's geological evolution continues today as Mirror Lake slowly fills with sediment in much the same way as Lake Yosemite did. In 1996, the Happy Isles rockslide sent 80,000 tons of rock to the valley floor at 160 mph -- proof that powerful forces are still at work.
The park has a rich organizational history, as well. The area's first residents were Native Americans, who inhabited the region perhaps as far back as 10,000 years ago. The most recent tribe was the Miwok, who called Yosemite Valley Ahwahnee, the place of the gaping mouth, and who called themselves Ahwahneechee.
The discovery of gold in California's foothills brought the first non-native settlers to the region around 1850; dazzled by the beauty and grandeur of the landscape, they quickly spread the word of its existence, and in 1855, the first tourists came to visit.
About the same time, Galen Clark homesteaded to Yosemite Valley and began his crusade to protect the area. Clark so fiercely and loyally protected Yosemite until his death at age 96 that he became known as the "Guardian of Yosemite."
In 1854, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant that set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as the first state park. In 1864, Yosemite became the first territory ever set aside by the United States Congress for public use and protection; however, it took another thirty-six years and the efforts of Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and other influential conservationists to bring all the lands of today's National Park under federal protection.
In 1889, Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, and John Muir had growing concerns about the devastating effects of sheep grazing in the high country, and they launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to set aside this area as a national park. On October 1, 1890, Congress set aside more than 1,500 square miles of reserved forest lands, and today 94.5% of the park's 1,170 square mile area is dedicated as true wilderness for all who visit to enjoy.
At Muir's invitation, Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite to experience its splendor first-hand. By all accounts, Roosevelt was so impressed he became instrumental in the return of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to federal protection in 1906.
In 1932, the Wawona Basin, including the Wawona Hotel and golf course, were added to the National Park to bring it to its current 1,170 square miles.
The classic beauty and fascinating ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are well represented in Yosemite National Park, where almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness. A place retaining its primeval character and influence, this wilderness area provides opportunities for solitude and unconfined types of experience. The lands within the wilderness range in elevation from 290 feet to 13,114 feet, the latter at the summit of Mt. Lyell. And with over 800 miles of trails to hike, visitors will find a spectrum of opportunities, of natural systems, and of levels of use.
There are four regions within the park. The first region is Yosemite Valley. Beautiful and majestic, Yosemite Valley boasts some of the most popular trailheads in the park. These strenuous trails lead the hiker up the seemingly sheer granite walls which form the Valley. To reach the top of such spectacles as Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, and El Capitan, the hiker will encounter steep terrain, switchbacks, and rapidly changing weather conditions. Spectacular views from the rim of the valley reward the hiker and quickly erase memories of any hardships suffered en route.
In winter and early spring, nearly all of the trails in Yosemite Valley remain open, although some have winter routes designated. In addition to serving the hardy day-hiker, these trailheads provide access for seasoned winter enthusiasts into Yosemite's snow-covered wilderness.
The second region consists of Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Road. Tuolumne Meadows is located at over 8,600 feet in elevation. From Tuolumne, numerous trails lead hikers to lakes, meadows, and beautiful river canyons. More strenuous overnight backpacking trips allow the adventurer access to the northernmost reaches of the Park, the area between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley, or along extended wilderness routes such as the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.
Because of its elevation, temperatures in Tuolumne average 15 to 20 degrees cooler than in Yosemite Valley itself. Snow is not uncommon as late as June or as early as September. Peaks, such as Mt. Dana and Mt. Lyell, retain snow throughout the summer and provide breathtaking views from their bases and summits. Once the Tioga Road closes for the season (generally in early November), this area is accessible only to well-experienced winter enthusiasts with snow shoes or skis.
Tioga Road is a scenic 45 mile drive that covers almost 4,000 feet of elevation change. It begins at Crane Flat, travels through Tuolumne Meadows, and then climbs over Tioga Pass. The road is open to vehicles from late May or June (weather permitting) until the first major snow storm after November 1. During this 1 1/2 hour drive, visitors pass through meadows and forests, lakes, and granite domes.
Day hikes from the Tioga Road are abundant. For backpackers, there are also numerous trailheads. Some trails provide one way trips into Yosemite Valley. Others, less traveled but no less scenic, head into the northern part of the park. These trails lead through forested areas, deep canyons, past lakes, and finally above the tree-line. In winter and early spring, the snow-covered Tioga Road serves as an ungroomed cross-country ski route for the adventurous and seasoned winter camper.
The third region is the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located in the northwest part of the park; it serves as the portal to many beautiful, but less-well-traveled areas in Yosemite. The Hetch Hetchy Road normally stays open year-round, and the reservoir itself lies at a relatively low 3,900 feet, making this a good area for spring and fall wilderness travel.
High temperatures prevail along the trail during the summer months, but this is a small price to pay for the breathtaking areas that can be reached from here. Several lakes and popular valleys are all located within 15 miles of the reservoir, and hikers may elect to begin longer trips at this point, either toward Tuolumne Meadows or the northernmost reaches of the park.
The fourth region contains Wawona and Glacier Point. Historic Wawona, at 4,000 feet elevation, is located just inside the park's southern boundary on Highway 41. Because of its low elevation, trails from Wawona are accessible during the spring and fall, as well as during the summer. Here the lush open meadows, forests, and lakes which abound in Yosemite's less-frequented southern wilderness can be reached from numerous trailheads. The abundance of water in the spring makes this an attractive area for wilderness users.
Once under snow in winter, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is designated as a wilderness region, one where Nordic skiers and snow-shoers can obtain a permit to ski through and camp in the upper reaches of the Grove.
At an elevation of 7,200 feet, Glacier Point offers a spectacular view of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite Valley, and the Clark Range. It serves as the trailhead for many popular day hikes and provides access to the lesser-traveled wilderness areas in the southern portion of Yosemite.
Driving time from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point is about one hour. The Glacier Point Road is generally open from late May to late October, while in winter it serves as a groomed cross-country ski track starting from the Badger Pass ski area. Badger Pass, located 6 miles from the Chinquapin turn-off on Highway 41, also serves as the trailhead for numerous marked cross-country ski trails. Wilderness permits for overnight wilderness travel from Badger Pass can be obtained from the Badger Pass A-Frame.
In cooperation with the National Park Service, Yosemite Concession Services Corporation (YCS) acts as host to over four million visitors who come to Yosemite each year. YCS is the primary concessioner in Yosemite National Park and provides a variety of guest services to the park's four million annual visitors, including hotels, restaurants, transportation, sightseeing tours, conferences, recreation, and merchandise. YCS also takes its role as steward of this national treasure seriously, and it asks all visitors to join the company in working together to protect and preserve the park for future generations.d Mt. Lyell, retain snow throughout the summer and provide breathtaking views from their bases and summits. Once the Tioga Road closes for the season (generally in early November), this area is accessible only to well-experienced winter enthusiasts with snow shoes or skis.
The fourth region contains Wawona and Gl