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Encyclopedia > Yosemite
Image:LocMap Yosemite.PNG
Designation National park
Location California USA
Nearest City Modesto, California
Latitude 37 45' N
Longitude 119 30' W
Area 761,266 acres
3080.73 km
Date of Establishment September 25, 1890
Visitation 3,380,038 (2003)
Governing Body National Park Service
IUCN category Ib (Wilderness Area)
II (National Park)

Yosemite National Park (pron. yo-SEM-me-tee, SAMPA: IO"sEm@ti) is a national park largely in Mariposa County, and Tuolumne County, California, United States. The park covers an area of approximately 1,189 mi (3,079 km) and stretches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Over 3 million people visit Yosemite each year. The park is about 3.5 hours east of San Francisco, California by car.



Yosemite Valley represents only one percent of the park area, but this is where most visitors arrive and stay. El Capitan, a prominent granite cliff that looms over the valley, is one of the most popular world destinations for rock climbers because of its diverse range of difficulties and numerous established climbing routes in addition to its year-round accessibility. Impressive granite domes such as Sentinel Dome and Half Dome rise 3,000 feet/914 m and 4,800 feet/1463 m (respectively) above the valley floor.

The high country of Yosemite contains beautiful areas, such as Tuolumne Meadows, Dana Meadows, the Clark Range, the Cathedral Range, and the Kuna Crest. The Sierra crest and the Pacific Crest Trail run through Yosemite, with peaks of red metamorphic rock, such as Mount Dana and Mount Gibbs, and granite peaks, such as Mount Conness. Mount Lyell is the highest point in the park and Lyell Glacier is the largest in the Sierra Nevada.

The park has groves of ancient sequoia trees and also hosts Mule Deer and black bears.

Yosemite is surrounded by wilderness areas: the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the southeast, the Hoover Wilderness to the northeast, and the Emigrant Wilderness to the north.

Temperature decreases with increasing elevation and precipitation increases with elevation until around 8000 feet (2400 m) when it slowly decreases to the crest.

Altitude Average
Yosemite Valley 3970 ft
(1210 m)
53 F
(12 C)
37 inches
(940 mm)
Yosemite Falls
El Capitan 7600 ft
(2270 m)
Half Dome 8800 ft
(2700 m)
Mariposa Grove 6000 ft
(1800 m)
48 F
(9 C)
45 inches
(1150 mm)
Tuolumne Meadows 8600 ft
( 2620 m)
39 F
(4 C)
35 inches
(890 mm)
Tenaya Lake 8149 ft
(2484 m)
43 F
6 C
40 inches
(1020 mm)
Mount Dana 13,053 ft
(3978 m)
32 F
(0 C)
25 inches
(630 mm)
Mount Lyell 13,114 ft
(3997 m)


Main article: History of the Yosemite area

Miwok and Paiute peoples lived in the area for decades before the first white explorations into the region. A band of Miwok called the Ahwahnechee lived in Yosemite Valley when the first Caucasians entered it.

The California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century dramatically increased white travel in the area. United States Army Major James Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley in 1851 while in pursuit of around 200 Ahwaneechees led by Chief Tenaya as part of the Mariposa Wars. Accounts from this battalion were the first confirmed cases of Caucasians entering the valley. Attached to Savage's unit was Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, the company physician, who later wrote about his awestruck impressions of the valley in The Discovery of the Yosemite. Bunnel is credited with naming the valley after what he thought was the name of the band they were pursing. Correspondence and articles written by members of the battalion helped to popularize the valley and surrounding area.

Tenaya and the rest of the Ahwahneechee were eventually captured and their village burned. They were removed to a reservation near Fresno, California. Some were later allowed to return to the valley but got in trouble after attacking a group of eight miners in 1852. The band fled to take refuge with the nearby Mono tribe, which betrayed its hospitality—each Ahwahneechee was tracked down and killed by the Mono.

Entrepreneur James Hutchings, artist Thomas Ayres, and two others ventured into the area in 1855, becoming the valley's first tourists. Hutchings wrote articles and books about this and later excursions in the area and Ayres' scretchs became the first accurate drawings of many prominent features. Photographer Charles Leander Weed took the first photographs of the Valley's features in 1859. Later photographers included Ansel Adams.

The Wawona Hotel

Wawona was an Indian encampment in what is now the south-western part of the park. Settler Galen Clark discovered the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia in Wawona in 1856. Simple lodgings were built, as were roads to the area. In 1879, the Wawona Hotel was built to serve tourists visiting the Grove. As tourism increased, so did the number of trails and hotels.

Concerned by the effects of commercial interests, several prominent people advocated for protection of the area. A park bill passed both houses of the U.S. Congress and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were ceded to California as a state park and a board of commissioners was proclaimed two years later.

Galen Clark was appointed by the commission as the park's first guardian but neither Clark nor the commissioners had the authority to evict homesteaders (which included Hutchings). The issue was not settled until 1875 when the land holdings were invalidated. Clark and the reigning commissioners were ousted in 1880 and Hutchings became the new park guardian.

Access to the park by tourists improved in the early years of the park and conditions in the Valley were made more hospitable. Tourism started to significantly increase after the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, but the long horseback ride needed to reach the area was a deterrent. Three stagecoach roads were built in the mid-1870s to provide better access to the growing number of visitors to the Valley.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point

Scotland-born naturalist John Muir first wrote many articles popularizing the area and increasing scientific interest in it. Muir was one of the first to theorize that the major landforms in Yosemite were created by large alpine glaciers, bucking established scientists such as Josiah Whitney, who regarded Muir as an amateur. Muir also wrote scientific papers on the area's biology.

Over-grazing of meadows (especially by sheep), logging of Giant Sequoia, and other damage, caused Muir to become an advocate for further protection. Muir convinced prominent guests of the importance of putting the area under federal protection. One such guest was Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine. Through Johnson, he was able to help pass an act of Congress that created Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890. The State of California, however, retained control of the Valley and Grove. Muir also helped persuade local officials to virtually eliminate grazing from the Yosemite High Country.

The newly created national park came under the jurisdiction of the United States Army's Fourth Cavalry Regiment on May 19, 1891, which set up camp in Wawona. By the late 1890s, sheep grazing was no longer a problem and the Army made many other improvements. The Cavalry could not intervene to help the worsening condition of the Valley or Grove.

Muir and his Sierra Club continued to lobby the government and influential people for the creation of a unified Yosemite National Park. Then, in May of 1903, Theodore Roosevelt, who was then President of the United States, camped with John Muir near Glacier Point for three days. On that trip, Muir convinced Roosevelt to take control of the Valley and the Grove away from California and give it to the federal government. In 1906, Roosevelt signed a bill that did precisely that.

The National Park Service was formed in 1916 and Yosemite was transferred to that agency's jurisdiction. Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, Tioga Pass Road, and campgrounds at Tenaya and Merced lakes were also completed in 1916. Automobiles started to enter the park in ever-increasing numbers following the construction of all-weather highways to the park.

To the north of Yosemite Valley but within the park is Hetch Hetchy Valley, which was slated for flooding to create a reservoir and hydroelectric power plant to benefit far-away San Francisco. A nationally polarized fight ensued, pitting preservationists like Muir and his Sierra Club against conservationists like Gifford Pinchot. The U.S. Congress eventually authorized the O'Shaughnessy Dam in 1913 through passage of the Raker Act.

Since then, preservationists have convinced Congress to set aside about 95% of the park in a highly protected wilderness area. The Park Service has also been moving away from allowing touristy inducements to visit the park, such as the famous Firefall (in which red hot embers were pushed off a cliff near Glacier Point at night).


Main article: Geology of the Yosemite area

The area around Yosemite National Park was on the passive edge of a very young North America from the Precambrian to the early Paleozoic. At first, sediment quietly settled in shallow water over the passive margin. Compressive forces from a newly formed subduction zone in the mid-Paleozoic fused seabed rocks and sediment to the continent. Heat generated from subduction created island arcs of volcanos (not unlike Japan) that were also thrust into the continent in the area of the park. These volcanic and sedimentary rocks were later heavily metamorphosed.

Most of the current landform of Yosemite National Park is composed of granitic rock which was formed below the surface 210 to 80 million years ago. This plutonic rock was emplaced as molten plutons about 6 miles (10 km) under the surface as a result of heat generated from subduction off the coast of North America. Over time, most of the overlying rock (made mostly of sedimentary and volcanic rock) was uplifted along with the rest of the Sierra Nevada and transported or eroded away from the area (the Sierras started to uplift in earnest two million years ago). This exposed the granitic rock to surface pressures and it responded by exfoliation (responsible for the rounded shape of the many domes in the park) and mass wasting following the numerous fracture joint planes (cracks; especially vertical ones) in the now-solidified plutons.

A series of glaciations from about 30 million years ago until around 8000 BC further modified the area. These ice age glaciers accelerated exfoliation and mass wasting through ice-wedging, glacial plucking, scouring/abrasion, and the release of pressure after the retreat of each glaciation. Severe glaciations formed very large glaciers that tended to strip and transport top soil and talus piles far down glacial valleys, while less severe glaciations deposited a great deal of glacial till further up in the valleys.


Mule Deer near Wawona

With habitats ranging from thick foothill chaparral to expanses of alpine rock, Yosemite National Park supports over 250 species of vertebrates, which include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This high diversity of species is also the result of habitats in Yosemite that are largely intact, compared to areas outside the park where various human activities have resulted in habitat degradation or destruction.

Along much of Yosemite's western boundary, habitats are dominated by mixed coniferous forests of Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense-cedar, White Fir, and Douglas Fir, and a few stands of Giant Sequoia, interspersed by areas of Black Oak and Canyon Live Oak. A relatively high diversity of wildlife species are supported by these habitats, due to relatively mild, lower-elevation climate, and the mixture of habitat types and plant species. Wildlife species typically found in these habitats include Black Bear, Bobcat, Gray Fox, Mule Deer, Mountain Kingsnake, Gilbert's Skink, White-headed Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Spotted Owl, and a wide variety of bat species. In the case of bats, large snags are important as roost sites.

Black bear with a conspicuous ear tag browsing on its natural foods in Yosemite Valley.

The black bears of Yosemite were once famous for breaking into parked cars to steal food. They were also an encouraged tourist sight for many years at the park's garbage dumps, where bears congregated to eat park visitors' garbage and tourists gathered to photograph the bears. Increasing encounters between bears and humans and increasing damage to property led to an aggressive campaign to discourage bears from relying on human food or interacting with people and their property. The open-air dumps were closed; all trash receptacles were replaced with bear-proof receptacles; all campgrounds were equipped with bear-proof food lockers so that people would not leave food in their vehicles, which were easy targets for the powerful and resourceful bears. Because bears who show aggression towards people usually must eventually be destroyed, park personnel have continued to come up with innovative ways to have bears associate humans and their property with unpleasant experiences, such as being hit with rubber bullets. Today, about 30 bears a year are captured and ear-tagged and their DNA is sampled so that, when bear damage occurs, rangers can ascertain which bear is causing the problem.[1] (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/04/0423_wirebears.html)

Going higher in elevation, the coniferous forests become purer stands of Red Fir, Western White Pine, Jeffrey Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and the occasional Foxtail pine. Fewer wildlife species tend to be found in these habitats, due to their higher elevation, and lower complexity. Species likely to be found include Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Chickaree, Marten, Steller's Jay, Hermit Thrush, and Northern Goshawk. Reptiles are not common, but include Rubber Boa, Western Fence Lizard, and Alligator Lizard.

As the landscape rises, trees become smaller and more sparse, with stands broken by areas of exposed granite. These include Lodgepole Pine, Whitebark Pine, and Mountain Hemlock that, at highest elevations, give way to vast expanses of granite as treeline is reached. The climate in these habitats is harsh and the growing season is short, but species such as Pika, Yellow-bellied Marmot, White-tailed Hare, Clark's Nutcracker, and Rosy Finch are adapted to these conditions. Also, the treeless alpine habitats are the areas favored by Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. This species, however, is now found in the Yosemite area only around Tioga Pass, where a small, reintroduced population exists.

At a variety of elevations, meadows provide important, productive habitat for wildlife. Animals come to feed on the green grasses and use the flowing and standing water found in many meadows. Predators, in turn, are attracted to these areas. The interface between meadow and forest is also favored by many animal species because of the proximity of open areas for foraging and cover for protection. Species that are highly dependent upon meadow habitat include Great Gray Owl, Willow Flycatcher, Yosemite Toad, and Mountain Beaver.

Despite the richness of high-quality habitats in Yosemite, three species have become extinct in the park within historical time, and another 37 species currently have special status under either California or federal endangered species legislation. The most serious current threats to Yosemite's wildlife and the ecosystems they occupy include loss of a natural fire regime, exotic species, air pollution, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. On a more local basis, factors such as road kills and the availability of human food have affected some wildlife species.

See also: Biology of the Sierra Nevada



Over 800 miles (1300 km) of trails await excited hikers—anything from the easy stroll, to the grueling hikes up several park mountains, to multiple-day backpack trips.

The park is best divided into 5 sections for the day-user—Yosemite Valley, Wawona/Mariposa Gove/ Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, and Crane Flat/White Wolf. Numerous books describe park trails, and free information is available from the Park Service in Yosemite. There are also many free resources on the Internet that contain hiking recommendations and advice on Yosemite trails. Most park workers strongly encourage guests to experience portions of the park other than Yosemite Valley.


Rock climbing is an important part of Yosemite. Camp 4—a walk-in campground in Yosemite Valley—has been said to be one of the most important places in the world to the history of rock climbing. Climbers can generally be spotted in the nonsnowy months on anything from ten foot (3 m) high boulders to the 3,300 foot (1 km) face of El Capitan. Classes are offered by numerous groups on rock climbing.

Summer activites

  • Backpacking - Between late spring and early fall, much of the park is open to multiple-day backpack trips. All overnight trips into the back country require a wilderness permit and most require approved bear-resistant food storage. The park wilderness office can provide more information.
  • Bicycling - Yosemite Valley contains more than 15 miles (24 km) of bike trails. Under Park Service regulations, bikes are allowed only on paved areas. Mountain biking is not allowed in Yosemite National Park.
  • Swimming/Rafting - Generally about midsummer, the Merced River in Yosemite Valley becomes warm enough and is still deep enough to raft down substantial portions. For those who don't like the cold water, a few heated pools are available.
  • Horseback riding - Stables are open in the summer, offering guided rides (generally by mule). Public stables are present in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows. Many operations outside Yosemite ride horses into the park. Horses are allowed in many sections of the "backcountry"; however, visitors are advised to check with the park wilderness office for more info.

Winter activites

A ranger-guided snowshoe walk in the park

Much of the park closes due to heavy snow in winter. However, Yosemite Valley is open all year long.

  • Skiing - Badger Pass Ski Area (the oldest ski area in California) opens in winter. Skiing is not up to par with Lake Tahoe or Colorado resorts, but has its own charm, being in Yosemite. The are several downhill runs and a ski school. Much of the park is open to cross-country skiing, with several backcountry ski huts open for use. Wilderness permits are required for backcountry overnight ski trips.
  • Snowshoeing - Also known as winter hiking, snowshoes are commonly used to experience portions of Yosemite. Many guided snowshoe walks are conducted in winter by the Park Service and by other organizations
  • Ice skating - The Curry Village ice rink is open between November and March. Now smaller than its historical size, the rink still offers room for the figure skaters and those with poor balance. The rink runs 2-to-3-hour sessions and cleans the ice between sessions.


  • Geology of National Parks: Fifth Edition, Ann G. Harris, Esther Tuttle, Sherwood D., Tuttle (Iowa, Kendall/Hunt Publishing; 1997) ISBN 0-7872-5353-7
  • Yosemite: A Visiters Companion, George Wuerthner, (Stackpole Books; 1994) ISBN 0-8117-2598-7
  • Yosemite National Park: A Natural History Guide to Yosemite and Its Trails, Jeffrey P. Schaffer, (Wilderness Press, Berkeley; 1999) ISBN 0-89997-244-6
  • National Park Service: Yosemite Wildlife (http://www.nps.gov/yose/nature/wildlife.htm) (adapted public domain text)
See also: List of guidebooks about the Sierra Nevada

External links

  • Official site: Yosemite National Park (http://www.nps.gov/yose)
  • The Yosemite Association (http://www.yosemite.org)
  • DNC Parks and Resort @ Yosemite (http://www.yosemitepark.com)
  • The Yosemite Institute (http://www.yni.org/yi)
  • Yosemite National Park Pictures (http://www.nationalparksgallery.com/parks/Yosemite-National-Park)
  • More photos of Yosemite (http://www.terragalleria.com/parks/np.yosemite.html)
  • Photographic virtual tour of Yosemite. (http://www.Untraveledroad.com/USA/Parks/Yosemite.htm)

  Results from FactBites:
Yosemite Lodging (1386 words)
Yosemite Lodging for rent INSIDE the entrance gates of Yosemite National Park!
DNC is the concession operator for all of Yosemite and controls such lodging as the Ahwahnee, Curry Village, and the High Sierra Camps.
Yosemite Vacation Homes is not affiliated nor takes responsibility for the renting of the independently owned homes listed on this site.
Roadside Geology of Yosemite Valley (4536 words)
The foremost objective of this trip is to introduce (or reintroduce) you to a Yosemite Valley and National Park that has been changed by a series of geological events and natural disasters in the 1990’s, including a 100-year flood, wildfires, and several massive rockfalls.
Yosemite Falls is a composite waterfall totaling 746 meters (2,425 ft), with the Upper Fall (435 m; 1,430 ft), Middle Cascades (208 m; 675 ft), and Lower Fall (98 m; 320 ft).
Yosemite Falls Visitor Area (access now via Trams from Day Parking area; this used to be a parking area, and was remodeled in 2004-05): A short hike from the center provides a spectacular view of lower Yosemite Falls (98 meters; 320 feet).
  More results at FactBites »



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