11 Iconic Facts About Yosemite National Park
By Megan Snyder
Yosemite National Park is internationally known for its spectacular waterfalls, soaring monoliths (El Capitan and Half Dome might ring a bell), and overall stunning landscape, but there’s more to this California park’s history than its naturally picturesque views.
1. IT WAS HOME TO THE COUNTRY’S FIRST PARK GUARDIAN.
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Outdoorsman and conservationist Galen Clark wasn’t the first person to find Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, but he is thought to be the first person to count and record the giant sequoias there. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln transferred the future Yosemite park to the state of California, and two years later Clark was named the guardian of Yosemite, a role that allowed him to educate park visitors and conserve the wilderness he loved. He is buried in the Valley Cemetery surrounded by sequoias he planted.
2.WHEN THE TIMING IS RIGHT, ONE OF THE PARK’S WATERFALLS GLOWS.
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On evenings in mid- to late February, some visitors are lucky enough to spot the glow of Horsetail Fall, shining like a ribbon of fire down the side of the cliff. The way the setting sun hits the water gives it the appearance of being aflame. For the best view, set up in (or just east of) the El Capitan picnic area.
3. IT IS REVERED AS THE BIRTH PLACE OF ROCK CLIMBING FOR SPORT.
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Yosemite’s granite monoliths and challenging climbs make the park a major attraction for rock climbers. In the years after World War II, adventurous visitors have flocked to Camp 4, a campsite in the park known for welcoming some of history’s most famous climbers while they conquered the granite walls. Both amateur and world-class athletes have trained, traded techniques, and set up shop at the grounds, which earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
4. BUFFALO SOLDIERS WERE SOME OF THE PARK’S FIRST PROTECTORS.
The Buffalo Soldiers were African-American Army soldiers who in 1899 were assigned to patrol Yosemite and other protected areas in the West. The successful military regiment became some of the country’s first backcountry rangers and had several responsibilities, among them protecting Yosemite from poachers and fighting forest fires.
5. YOSEMITE’S MOST FAMOUS HOTEL WAS USED AS A WARTIME HOSPITAL.
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When socialites of the late 1920's rejected the primitive lodgings in the area, the idea for the Ahwahnee Hotel, a luxury hotel on park grounds, was born. Years later, it was leased by the U.S. Navy to serve as a naval hospital during World War II. The facility was originally meant for psychiatric rehab but transitioned to offering more holistic treatments for patients.
6.THERE’S COMPETITION FOR SOME OF THE MORE COMFORTABLE CAMPSITES.
Yosemite offers a select number of High Sierra campsites for those who want to backpack through the high country during the day without worrying about where to camp at night. Each camp provides meals, clean water, and access to bathrooms and canvas tents (complete with comfy beds and wood-burning stoves). You'll have to enter a lottery system to nab one of these in-demand sites.
7. THE SODA SPRINGS CABIN IS NO PLACE TO GRAB A DRINK.
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The Soda Springs Cabin is a small historic structure built in the late 19th century by John Baptiste Lembert, the first white man to settle in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. The roofless cabin protects the Soda Springs, which are named for their gaseous, bubbling nature.
8. DRIVING THROUGH ITS TREES WAS A POPULAR PASTIME.
One of Yosemite’s most famous giant sequoias was the Wawona Tunnel Tree. Located in Galen Clark’s beloved Mariposa Grove, the Wawona tunnel was carved in 1881 and was a favorite photo op for tourists until a snow storm knocked the tree down in 1969. Luckily, you can still visit the aptly renamed Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree.
9. YOSEMITE COULD HAVE BEEN THE SITE OF WORLD-CLASS WINTER SPORTS.
Originally considered a summer destination, Yosemite became a popular location for winter sports in the early 20th century. The park’s improved winter activity offerings inspired Yosemite’s bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympics. Though the event was held in the United States, the honor went to Lake Placid, New York instead.
10. THE YOSEMITE FIREFALL WAS POPULAR, BUT IT WASN’T NATURAL.
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began in 1872 when James McCauley, owner of the Glacier Point Hotel, first pushed a torrent of campfire embers from the top of Glacier Point. Though the tradition was stopped and restarted several times over the course of nearly a century, the unique bonfire remained a popular tourist attraction until 1968, when the National Park Service officially shut it down.
11. YOSEMITE’S HOLIDAY TRADITIONS ARE ROOTED IN THE RENAISSANCE.
Described as a Renaissance pageant, the Bracebridge Dinner has been a holiday tradition at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel since 1927. Famed photographer Ansel Adams, who lived in the Yosemite Valley part-time, directed the elaborate dinner production from 1929 to 1973 and often appeared as the Major Domo.