Top 12 Facts About Yosemite
1. Scary fact: The largest glacier on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada is melting quickly. It's Yosemite's Lyell Glacier. Day hikers can get their binoculars on it from the top of Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows.
2. Strange fact: The tallest pine tree on our planet just died in the past year. It is a sugar pine that grew near Hodgdon Meadow in Yosemite.
3. Believe-it-or-not fact: The Ripley's resource cites a pinecone from this same area of Yosemite as the largest ever found in the world.
4. International fact: Hundreds of Chinese laborers built two of Yosemite's important early roads - dozens of miles were carved through the mountains in a matter of months. Now Yosemite has two sister national parks in China.
5. Interesting fact: Scholars consider Yosemite to be the first 'national park' on earth; the US Congress and President Lincoln protected the land here for all time. This was 8 years before Yellowstone was protected.
6. Random fact: As of 2011, the Yosemite Medical Clinic is operated by the US Public Health Service, a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
7. Wierd fact: Most fatalities in Yosemite are not lost hikers or falling rock climbers; they're people in cars. After car wrecks the number two cause of deaths in Yosemite is water: drowning, being swept over waterfalls, etc. Be careful!
8. Fun fact: Every national park ranger in the US wears a leather uniform belt embossed with sequoia cones, emblematic of the Mariposa Grove, part of the origin of our park system, in 1864.
9. Multicultural fact: African-American cavalry troops - the famed Buffalo Soldiers - were assigned to protect Yosemite in its early days as a national park.
10. Bureaucratic fact: The National Park Service will celebrate its Centennial in 2016.
11. Huge fact: Giant sequoias are considered by many to be the largest living things ever. They're bigger than blue whales or dinosaurs. Yosemite has three groves of these floral monsters.
12. True fact: The most important thing about your visit to Yosemite is YOU. The expectations you bring, the curiosity you display while in the park, and your care for it as a citizen are what matter most. It's your park...
Ore-bearing Paleozoic metamorphic belts border the east and west edges of the park, while Mesozoic granitic intrusions comprise the main area of Yosemite. Uplift driven by powerful continental drift lifted the granite bodies to the surface, mostly within the past 5 million years, when a fracture along the east side of the Sierra Nevada opened up. During the Ice Age, starting about 2 million years ago, glaciers covered the highest parts of the park and slid down the river-carved canyons of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers. Ice was as much as 4000' deep at times - a potent erosional agent. Over the 20,000 years since the last glaciers retreated, various elements of erosion sculpted (and continue to shape) the Yosemite area into the spectacular scenery you see today.
Perhaps 9,000 years ago, American Indians moved into the Sierra, adjusting subsistence patterns to rich seasonal resources. Later, Miwok-speaking people moved into the region from California's Central Valley and Paiutes came in from the east. The two cultures shifted territories and intermarried and for centuries they thrived in a 'hunter-gatherer-trader' life in the greater Yosemite/Mono Lake region. People spent summers in the higher terrain and Yosemite Valley, which they called 'Ahwahnee' and moved to the lowlands when winter came. The Indians aren't gone; they and their cultures are still here today.
Euro-Americans swarmed into the Sierra in the 1850's looking for gold. They forced the First People out of their homelands through disease and one-sided warfare. As the aggressive search for gold continued, clashes between the Indians and Euro-Americans increased, with the Euro-Americans either killing or rounding up bands of Indians and forcing them into reservations and rancherias outside the mountains. By the 1870's, there were only a few dozen Miwoks/Paiutes in the Yosemite Valley area. A visit to the Indian Village of Ahwahnee will give you some of the history and the ongoing story of Yosemite's Indians.
Awareness of the wonders of Yosemite spread slowly at first. In 1855, English ex-pat James Mason Hutchings brought the first group of tourists to the Valley and the party's artist ,Thomas Ayres helped spread the fame of the area even more rapidly with his sketches. Hutchings stayed around and realized that ecotourism could be his livelihood.
Early conservationists, Israel Ward Raymond and Fredrick Law Olmsted (the landscape architect who previously helped establish New York's Central Park) believed this unusual landscape should be preserved. Raymond worked with Congress and Olmsted with the state to protect the area. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that granted Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees to the State of California, essentially the world's first manifestation of the national park concept.
A wandering laborer named John Muir stumbled in to work in Yosemite and catalyzed a passion that still lives on today. His intelligence and his strong sentiment for environmental protection won him important allies in the idea of protecting more of the Sierra Nevada and other places. He wrote several influential articles, then books, which brought more people to the cause of preserving public lands simply because they were beautiful.
In 1890, the federal government created a huge national park that surrounded the two state parcels. The U.S. Army (including the legendary African-American Buffalo Soldiers) was put in charge of the park, and their work lives on today. They blazed trails, explored unknown areas, ran out sheepherders, fought fires and prepared maps.
President Teddy Roosevelt came to visit Yosemite and go camping with John Muir in 1903, and Muir helped persuade Roosevelt to unify Yosemite wholly under federal control. This gave us more or less the park borders we know today.
Along with American prosperity and California's population growth, tourism grew. The scattered hotels and private camps were eventually unified under one concession company, which made commercial tourism easier to manage. After what may have been the first national environmental battle, the city of San Francisco was given Congressional permission to build a large dam in the park on the Tuolumne River.
Another landmark moment came from Washington, D.C. in 1916 with the creation of the National Park Service, now the most admired agency of the federal government. Its mandate was to 'conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations'. All of our national park lands are still governed by this notion that resources are to remain forever unimpaired and that people should come see them.
In 1984, 95% of Yosemite was designated as Wilderness and the United Nations recognized Yosemite National Park as being worthy of inclusion on the World Heritage Site list. Today about 20% of visitors come from other nations and Yosemite has sister national parks in Chile and in China.
The biggest challenge for the Park Service now, is keeping the park accessible to about four million people a year without harming its resources. With those things in mind science and citizen input inform the challenging mandate of the NPS. Caring for Yosemite involves everyone who visits; all who are inspired by the astonishing beauty should be stakeholders in the stewardship of this unique resource.