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upper yosemite falls
There is an advert by the Bank of America, which says ‘Can the act of standing still leave you breathless?’ Well Yosemite National Park certainly can.
Yosemite is 1,170 square miles of wilderness in central California, in the United States of America. It has a vast array of wildlife including 240 species of birds, 80 species of mammals, and 1,400 species of flowering plants, 37 of which are trees. There are waterfalls, carved granite domes, glaciers, giant sequoias, alpine meadows, lakes and 13,000-foot peaks. The park ranges from 2,000 feet above sea level to more than 13,000 feet. Some 94.5% of the park is designated as wilderness.
Animals found in Yosemite include black bears (which are usually brown) and which abound in the lower forests all year round, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and coyotes. The grizzly bear disappeared from Yosemite around the time that the park was established.
An Act of Congress established Yosemite National Park in October 1890. On 30 June 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, setting Yosemite aside to the state of California to be ‘held for public use, resort, and recreation, inalienable for all time’. This was the first time an area had been preserved for public benefit and was the basis for the later concept of state and national park systems in the United States of America.
North American Indians have lived in what is now Yosemite for at least 4,000 years and probably for more than 7,000 years. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the southern Sierra Miwok inhabited the valley. The Miwok called the valley Ahwhnee that means ‘place of the gaping mouth’.

In 1833, Joseph Walker and his trappers ‘discovered’ Yosemite Valley although they did not actually enter. In 1848, gold was discovered 100 miles to the north. Explorer Kit Carson traced the gold to its source and discovered the first lode gold mine near Mariposa, west of Yosemite. The following year, prospectors swarmed into the area. They became known as the ‘49ers’. There were skirmishes between the miners and the Native Americans. The Mariposa Battalion, who were attempting to subdue a group of the Native Americans, stumbled into the valley by accident. They were the first non-native Americans to record their entry into the valley.

Dr Lafayette Bunnell, who was accompanying the Mariposa Battalion, named the area Yosemite. It was the name that soldiers called the North American Indians who lived there. The Indians called themselves 'Ahwahneechee'.

White settlers began living in Yosemite Valley in the late 1850s, and on 24 August 1864 the first white child, Florence Hutchings, was born there. Seventeen years later she became the third non-native American child to die and be buried there.

The Yosemite National Park has three main parts: Yosemite Valley, Wawona with its groves of giant sequoia, and the high country.

Yosemite Valley is the most visited part of the park. It is seven miles long and one mile across, has fairly mild winters and good visitor facilities.

The historical centre of the park is Wawona, the Native American word for the nearby giant sequoias. The giant sequoia is the largest living thing on Earth. It is neither the tallest nor the broadest tree, but the height and breadth combined gives it the greatest trunk volume. This species of tree has been in existence for 200 million years. It is found in isolated groves on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.

It was written ‘of all living things, only the giant sequoia is assured of living long enough to be struck by lightening’. Nearly every mature giant sequoia bears the scars of lightning strikes. The oldest sequoia is approximately 2,700 years old, and it is thought to have a potential life span of up to 10,000 years.

Another interesting feature is Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir completed in 1923 by building a dam across a Tuolumne River valley. Although it was to store water and generate power for San Francisco, it caused a conservation battle, led by the naturalist John Muir.

The high country is made up of meadows, lakes, granite domes, and a network of hiking trails. Half Dome is the most distinctive monument in the park and is about 87 million years old. Glacier Point is on the rim of Yosemite Valley, 3,214 feet above the valley floor. El Capitan is a granite monolith, 3,593 feet high, and very popular with climbers.

Copyright and Permission: Karen Starr 2002

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