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|Yosemite National Park
home to giant sequoias, five of the world's highest waterfalls, and more
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Mountains, about 200 miles east of San Francisco. There are about 700 miles of trails in the park, most of which lead to the "High Sierra," a region of sparkling lakes, rushing streams, and jagged mountain peaks. The Yosemite Museum in the park has a collection of Indian displays, and exhibits of area wildlife.
Yosemite is home to 67 species of mammals, including 32 rodents; 22 birds; 18 reptiles; 10 amphibians; and 11 fish, of which 6 are only found here. The park is also home to over 30 varieties of trees and 1,300 other plants. There are three groves of Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia), the best known of which is Mariposa Grove. This grove includes the Grizzly Giant Tree, whose base measures over 34 feet in diameter.
In 1864, Congress gave the Yosemite Valley to the State of California for use as a pulic park and recreation area. Naturalist John Muir visited the area in the 1860's, and his enthusiastic reports of the wonders in the region aroused national interest in the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park was created in 1890. The Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, the most well known of the giant sequoia groves, were ceded to the National Park Service by California in 1906. The official website of Yosemite National Park is www.nps.gov/yose
Much of the park's most spectacular scenery is in the Yosemite Valley (below), which lies at an elevation of about 4,000 feet. It was formed millions of years ago by a gradual series of upheavals. As the mountains rose, the westward-flowing Merced River carved a narrow, V-shaped canyon through them. Massive glaciers later flowed down the canyon, creating the U-shaped valley seen today, which is almost a mile wide and a mile deep in places. Dozens of tributary streams pour from dozens of "hanging valleys" into the valley. The world's greatest concentration of free waterfalls is found within the bounds of Yosemite Valley, including five of the world's highest waterfalls.
A group of explorers on their way to the Pacific Ocean in the 1830's probably saw the valley, but the first whites to actually enter it were members of the Mariposa Batallion, a volunteer fighting force sent out to capture a group of Yosemite Indians in 1851. Tenaya, the Yosemite chief, had been leading raids on settlers in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The batallion succeeded in capturing Tenaya, but he was eventually allowed to return to the valley, which was named for his tribe.
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Lying in the northwestern part of the park, Hetch Hetchy Valley was carved by the Tuolumne River and ancient glaciers in much the same manner as Yosemite Valley. A reservoir now covers the floor of the valley. The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River is above Hetch Hetchy to the east. The river rushes through the canyon at great speed, dropping 4,000 feet in 4 miles. It creates many cascades and waterfalls along the way, including Waterwheel Falls, a series of pinwheels of water that rise as much as 40 feet high. The Tuolumne River flows through Tuolumne Meadows, a vast grasslands at an elevation of about 8,500 feet.
Bridalveil Falls is the first waterfall seen by most Yosemite visitors. It falls 620 feet off the southern wall of the valley. Illilouette Falls also tumble down the southern side of the valley.
Yosemite Falls is formed by Yosemite Creek, which flows in a "hanging valley" 2,425 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. The Upper Falls are 1,430 feet high, and the Lower Falls are 320 feet high; the cascades between the two falls tumble another 675 feet, making the falls' total height about 1/2 mile.
Vernal and Nevada falls pour over giant steps formed by glaciers. Vernal Falls, 317 feet high, is famous for the rainbows in the mist at its base. Nevada Falls, about a mile upstream from Vernal, has a drop of 594 feet and is so violent that the Yosemite called them "The Twisted Fall."
Yosemite also has many waterfalls that only "come to life" during the high-water season in spring. These include the slender 1,612-foot Ribbon Falls, the erratic 2,000-foot Sentinel Falls, and the 1,170-foot Silver Strand Falls.
The glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley also left a number of impressive rock masses that rise sharply from the valley floor. The Half Dome is a granite formation that rises 8,852 feet above the eastern end of the valley. Although it appears to be the top of a mountain when seen straight on, it is actually a thin ridge of rock oriented northeast-southwest, with its southeast side almost as steep as its northwest side except for the very top. It was formed when a valley glacier undermined the "original"mountain, causing it to split top-to-bottom. El Capitan is a mass of unbroken granite that rises vertically 3,600 feet above the valley floor. The highest point in Yosemite Valley is Cloud's Rest, which stands over a mile above the valley floor.
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This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.