An Illustrated History

The bill creating Yosemite National Park was signed into law Oct. 1, 1890. By 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt had visited the park, hiked to Bridalveil Falls with John Muir and added Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Sequoia Grove to the park’s acreage.

On a typical mid-summer weekend, there are 3,320 tourists per square mile in Yosemite Valley.

Ansel Adams worked as Yosemite’s publicist / photographer when he moved there in 1927; in the next thirty years he shot more than 40,000 park images.

The Ahwahnichi (meaning “ people who live in the valley shaped like a big mouth ") Indians inhabited Yosemite Valley as early as the1500s. In 1625, there were 2,000 Ahwahnichi Indians; the last Ahwahnichi family left Yosemite in 1969.


Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock made a famous on-camera “ascent” of El Capitan in “Star Trek V.” Stunt climbers were used for the rock-face scenes, and the two actors, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, were helicoptered to the summit for the finale.

The first ascent of the back of Half Dome, using ropes and eyebolts, was in 1875. In 1919, Sierra Club members replaced those with the rock’s first cable ladder-cum-walkway.

Naturalist Johnn Muir was 30 when he first came to Yosemite Valley via Inspiration Point in 1868; he had sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to San Francisco and from there hiked 200 miles into the valley. He once rode half a mile on a Sierra snow avalanche, living to write: “Elija’s flight in a chariot of fire could hardly have been more exciting.”

Exhaust, traffic jams and high tempers led to the 1972 start of the valley shuttle-bus service to stores, restaurants and museums. Today, the average wait for a shuttle is eight minutes.

Seventy-seven species of mammals live in Yosemite National Park. The most common is the deer mouse; the rarest is the wolverine. In 1892, Yosemite banned grizzly bear hunting, and that same year the Department of Fish and Game introduced rainbow trout to the park’s streams and lakes.

Each evening at sundown, park rangers used to fill a large chicken-wire ball with redwood bark and set it afire, and hurl it off Glacier Point to create the famous Yosemite fire fall. The spectacular sight was canceled in 1968 when spectator traffic jams filled the valley floor. It had been a park tradition since 1872.

During Yosemite’s third decade, rangers coaxed bears into the valley to eat garbage and frolic for spectators. The popular tourist attraction was discontinued in 1941, after the bears began to stay past showtime. The bears, however, had learned that where there were humans, there was food. By 1975, the number of reported human-bear incidents rose to 860; that year, rangers shot and killed six Yosemite bears. Not long after, the Human-Bear Management Plan, which educated people and marked troublesome bears for relocation in the high country, was developed.

Yosemite rangers started carrying guns in 1967--"It was during the hippie era and you never knew what you would encounter,” remembers one--and still carry them today. The 1970 Steadman Meadow affair also marked the hippie era. Rangers were accused of brutality when they used riot sticks to disperse hundreds of young people gathered for the July 4th weekend; 174 were arrested.


Yosemite Valley was the first runner-up as the site of the 1932 Winter Olympics. The Games were held in Lake Placid.

Each year, about 1,200 climbing parties attempt to scale El Capitan, 3,593 feet above the valley floor. Fewer than half make it to the top. There are 200 routes up the famous rock’s face; the fastest party to reach the summit did it in six hours this year.

The first car drove into the park in 1900, but most early visitors rode the Central Pacific Railroad from Stockton to within miles of the park entrance. The rest of the journey into the valley was completed in horse-drawn stagecoaches. In 1913, when car access began in ernest, the speed limit on curves was 6 miles per hour.

Parachuting off El Capitan was briefly permitted in 1970, but was eventually considered too dangerous and outlawed in 1980. In 1973, stunt skier Rick Sylvester became the first--and only--person to ski -parachute off El Capitan. When he landed he was arrested and charged with illegal flight.


On a peak visitor day, the general store in Yosemite Village will sell 450 rolls of camera film.

John Muir considered the Hetch-Hetchy Valley, on the park’s northern boundary, even more beautiful than Yosemite Valley, and when the Hetch-Hetchy Dam was approved in 1914, he left the park heartbroken. He died of pneumonia the following year and never saw the flooded valley. The dam was completed in 1934, sending water to San Francisco taps.

Every year, Yosemite hosts the Bracebridge Dinner, a traditional English Christmas supper served by costumed actors in the Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee. The first dinner was held the year the Ahwahnee opened, and the lead role of Squire Bracebridge was played by photographer Ansel Adams.

When the Ahwahnee Hotel opened in 1927, a room cost $6 a night and included maid service and a chauffeur. Today, rooms go for nearly $200 a night, and it’s almost impossible to get reservations less than a year ahead of time.


As part of a tourist package, the Curry Co. in 1924 created Indian Field Days, a “festival and rodeo to celebrate the colorful culture of the park’s original inhabitants.” The Ahwahnichi, fewer than 15 families who lived at government-owned Camp Sunnyside in the park, demonstrated basketry and weaving, competed in a “cutest Indian baby” contest and performed native dances for a mostly Anglo audience. Indian Field Days ended in 1929 amid criticism calling the event exploitative.

A raging fire ignited by lightning charred close to 13,000 park acres this past August. Aggressive firefighting, which snuffed the blaze in two weeks, caused some grumblings in the Park Service, which contends that natural fires should be allowed to burn unchecked in parts of the park.

Galen Clark, appointed Yosemite’s first superintendent in 1866, was paid $500 a year and lived rent-free on parkland; Michael Finley, the current superintendent, is paid $69,086 and rents National Park Service housing for $487.54 a month.