Not without warnings of Black Bears breaking into our bus and a major effort to empty it of all our potentially bear-tempting snacks, we arrived in Yosemite National Park! The darkness meant we had no idea of the landscape that surrounded us and by the next morning the heavy snow meant we still didn’t have a clue!
The troops were rallied though and we set off to the valleys visitor centre to gain an understanding of where we were and what we could explore. After a walk through the extensive and very informative Yosemite Valley exhibit, we watched the park’s historical documentary in their onsite theatre.
The park has an incredible history, through its formation, preservation, vitality and its people. So many incredible influences have made Yosemite what it is today. Three major ice episodes allowed glaciers, the last of which would have melted 20,000 years ago, to carve and polish Yosemite to the spectacle it is today. Since then water has continued to erode and deposit sediment throughout the ever fluent landscape.
As much as glaciers created Yosemite, people have played a crucial role in preserving it. The parks first natives, the Ahwaneechee, set fire to the forests to enhance future growth by allowing greater light intensities down to the forest floor, thus allowing better grass growth for making baskets. As much as there has been some devastating news with regards to the recent wildfires in California, it is a natural process here. Fires reduce the accumulation of forest debris, helps recycle nutrients and are crucial in allowing the germination of Giant Sequoia seeds. Thus, prescribed fires are still carried out in Yosemite to enhance this process to ensure that the spectacular tree establishment here (some individuals are 2000 years old) can continue for centuries to come.
The park will be ever indebted to one of our fellow Scots, John Muir. A keen adventurer, he travelled to Yosemite in 1968, the first of many visits over the next 40 years. His love for Yosemite could not be mistaken. He not only unravelled the glacial story behind the park, but made its beauty one which everyone could share.
President Lincoln took time out during a period of civil war in 1968 to ensure the area as a site for Federal protection. This was the first of its kind with 60 square miles of land transferred to the care of the state of California never be offered as private ownership. Lincoln himself had never seen it in person.
Lincoln listened to John Muir, as did his successor Theodore Roosevelt. Tourism had developed long before the Yosemite had National Park status with visitors travelling long days on Indian trails to cast eyes upon all areas of the park. Entrepreneurs were soon competing to establish hotels and stage roads to cater for Yosemite’s audiences, with a rail road up the Merced Canyon serving visitors between 1907 and 1945. Muir laid out his concerns to Roosevelt with regards to this increasing commercialisation of the park. Uncontrolled deforestation was destroying spectacular trees with the source becoming increasing public as up to 20 people were posing for pictures standing round the circumference of a fallen tree stump. Since Yellowstone had been made the first every National Park as it didn’t belong to a state for protection. Muir who spent three nights camping with Roosevelt in Yosemite, enlightened him to the beauty that it was, resulting in the Yosemite undisputedly becoming a National Park in 1906. The National Park Services took over the running of the park.
The park covers 1000 square miles, encompassing two major watersheds, the area which Muir had mapped by October 1890, within 6 years of it gaining World Heritage Site status. Yosemite truly is the lasting legacy of John Muir.
The National Park status not only protected Yosemite but allowed people from all corners of the world to explore and enjoy it. As well as the publicity created by John Muir, alongside Lincoln and Roosevelt, photographers and artists, such as Albert Beirstadt, helped spread imagery of the unique landscape to the people.
Yosemite’s snowfall, along with that which falls across the rest of the Western mountains is a vital source for farmland across the state. It provides the summer melt without which irrigation would not be possible and California wouldn’t be the agricultural powerhouse it is.
After an adventurous day experiencing what many had before us, and being advised of a prime photo spot, we once again rallied together and made it to Sentinel Bridge with a view of the park’s infamous Half Dome in time for sunrise on Sunday morning. After a stormy Saturday we had a stunning Sunday with Yosemite showing us everything it had to offer! Demonstrating perfectly why sites like it should remain protected. There are 84 million acres across the US protected through National Park status, once which has travelled the world.
A picture perfect experience was enjoyed by all, including close encounters with a coyote, but snow chains on and we made the long drive south to Bakersfield for hen start of our second week.