Yosemite—even the word has the lure of the wild and romantic. This national park located in east central California in the Sierra Nevada Mountains covers 1200 square miles in Tuolumne, Madera and Mariposa counties. Yosemite National Park is the travel destination for millions of vacationers seeking to commune with nature in this unique treasure of the National Park Service System. The Park has a unique and interesting history that encompasses both ancient native cultures and the development of modern America.
The Geology of Yosemite
Yosemite’s history goes back 10 million years when the Sierra Nevada Mountains were lifted up by shift in the tectonic plates of the underlying ground. This shifting formed the gentle western slopes of the area, as well as the more dramatic canyons and streambeds of the eastern slope. The downward movement of glaciers from high up in the Sierra Nevadas helped to carve out the river valleys and meadows that are part of the area. These features made Yosemite a haven for artists, photographers, hikers and climbers that flock to the Park each year.
Yosemite gets its name from the Miwok Indian language, according to the Yosemite Park website. The word means “the killers,” because the area was a hideout for the bands of renegade Indians from a variety of tribes known for their war-like behavior. Other Native American groups also inhabited the area, some as far back as 10,000 years ago. Wars between native tribes and against white settlers that soon moved in to make their homes in this desirable area were a feature of the early history of the Yosemite Valley.
The Quest For Gold
White settlers soon came to the Yosemite Valley, drawn by the beauty of the area and reports of gold dust brought to trading posts by the native tribes. Conflicts over territory soon became part of interactions between native tribes and white settlers. Native groups often loss their traditional lands and hunting grounds as miners and settlers moved into the Yosemite Valley.
Tourism Comes To Yosemite
Soon word of the extraordinary natural beauty of the Yosemite Valley became more generally known. Entrepreneurs began leading visitors through the area to see the natural wonders, providing transportation, camping facilities and provisions. Simple lodgings were eventually built to house the growing stream of tourists to the area. In 1879 the Wawona Hotel was built near the Mariposa Grove sequoias to serve the tourist trade.
The Yosemite Grant
Yosemite Park became public lands as part of the Yosemite Grant in 1864, an extraordinary act of forethought that President Abraham Lincoln accomplished despite the distractions of the Civil War that was going on at the time. The grant ceded the 36,000 acres to the state of California as a state park, for protection and preservation. The grant was a culmination of effort by a variety of legislators, explorers and naturalists who worked tirelessly to bring public attention to this extraordinary area of the nation.
National Park Status
Yosemite became part of the National Park System in 1906 under the management of the U.S. Cavalry. Later, in 1916, Yosemite became part of the newly created National Park Service which today oversees 380 of the country’s national parks and historic monuments.
Today’s Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is still one of the premier destinations of American vacationers and visitors from around the world. Each year 3.5 million people visit the Park to enjoy the scenic beauty, comfortable amenities and exciting outdoor activities that Yosemite National Park offers.