Yosemite National Park: A History

If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite I should start at daybreak, say at three o’clock in midsummer, with a pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, the head of Illiloute Fall, Nevada, Fall, the top of Liberty Cap and the wild boulder-chocked River Canyon.

– John Muir “How Best to Spend One’s Yosemite Time.”

Approximately four million people will visit Yosemite National Park next year. Few will be ambitious enough to follow John Muir’s advise, but most will spend the day touring the “Incomparable Valley,” perhaps having lunch at Glacier Point before making their way to the Mariposa Grove. And each will return home with their own tales of Yosemite and its grandeur.

IM000103.JPGSince the establishment of the Yosemite Grant in 1862 and Yosemite National Park in 1890, visitors have experienced Yosemite in seemingly countless ways. Each generation remade the park through an understanding of nature that sprang from its own recreation activities. But who were these hikers, climbers, and campers, and what drew them to Yosemite? How did their environmental attitudes shape their understandings of what was and was not acceptable within the park?

Stemming from my work researching and co-writing the Yosemite National Park Administrative History (YNPAH), I seek to answer these questions in my current book  project on the history of Yosemite National Parks. Under conditional contract with the University of Nevada Press, “Yosemite National Park: A History” will tell the story of the iconic park and visitor’s changing understandings its landscape over the past one hundred and fifty years. Half Dome

Many of the tales will be familiar to readers, including the removal of Native peoples from the park, the building of the O’Shaughnessy dam, the rise of rock climbing within  Yosemite Valley, and the Stoneman Meadow riots. Other stories include the tale of a family wrecked over the loss of their son in the Pacific during World War II seeking solace on a hike to Vernal Falls, a fist fight been cross-country skiers and snowmobilers over access to Tuolumne Meadows, and controversy surrounding the Merced River Plan.

Such stories underscore the human aspect of Yosemite, and provide a deeper understanding of the importance of tourism and the West’s changing cultural landscapes. It will also commemorate the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 2015, the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 2014. Each of these pieces of legislation has had a profound effect on the West’s landscape, culture, and economy.

As a part of my initial framing of the book I am spending this year highlighting documents from the Yosemite archives that tell the park’s history. Some are known tales, others are not. But they are helping me frame my ideas on Yosemite and offer a peek behind the curtain at my own use of sources in a public manner. To read what I have done thus far click on the links below:


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