Everybody needs beauty…places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” ~ John Muir
Yosemite National Park. This is not just a stunning feature of America, but a long, rich story full of Indian battles, gold rush settlers, iconic patrons who fought for land preservation, presidents eluding their secret service to meander the valley, and sights more beautiful than photographs will ever be able to capture. It is often said that when the first settlers came to Yosemite they immediately called it God’s Cathedral ~ because it was a place of such beauty God could worship there.
I had the pleasure of visiting this quintessential park the same week it celebrated its 125th anniversary. One Hundred and twenty five years since becoming the 3rd national park in America. Although it was the 3rd park to gain its “National Park” status, the history of this piece of land dates as far back as a Sequoia trees roots.
Galen Clark served as the Guardian of Yosemite for 24 years. In 1853, at the age of 39, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis – before antibiotics were around. The doctors prescription was plenty of rest and fresh air. On hearing the news he quit his job as a packer at the Mariposa Ditch Company and built a log cabin on a trail in Yosemite Valley. “I went to the mountains to take my chances of dying or growing better, which I thought were about even” exclaimed Clark. Within time his lungs healed and he was climbing all over Yosemite, and took a special interest in the Giant Sequoia trees. It is believed that he was the first person to count and measure the massive trees, which later led him to writing The Big Trees of California. However, what Clark is most notable for is the Yosemite Grant. Clark gained the support of US Senator John Conness from California, thus convincing Honest Abe that Yosemite was an American treasure. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant – making Yosemite the first piece of land that was set aside for preservation and public use by the U.S. federal Government.
Of course during this time frame Lincoln was fighting to abolish slavery and saw Yosemite as an opportunity to allow any and every American to enjoy the park. This was a big deal because back then preserved lands in Europe were only for the filthy rich and royalty, so Lincoln made sure that this would not be the case with America’s park system.
The Yosemite Grant set the precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone National Park. Galen Clark’s name is dropped often throughout the park, and is loved by many locals. He is buried in the the Yosemite Valley Cemetery.
John Muir was a naturalist to his core and hailed from the remarkably alluring country of Scotland. He first visited Yosemite at the age of 30 and fell in love, becoming one of the parks most iconic figures in history. He carried on the movement of protecting this massive territory within the government. Although he only lived in Yosemite from 1868-74 he frequently went back to visit and explore. His work brought an end to logging of Giant Sequoias, and overgrazing of the meadows by sheep. In 1889 he camped in Tuolumne Meadows with Robert Underwood Johnson – an editor of Century Magazine. Together they created a proposal to congress for Yosemite to become a National Park. Congress passed the proposal the following year on October 1, 1890. But Muir wouldn’t stop there. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the park in 1903 it was Muir that helped him slip by his secret service agents, they escaped to Glacier point and camped for three days. During this time it is believed that Muir was able to convince President Roosevelt to expand Yosemite National Park by combining Yosemite Valley with Mariposa Grove. President Roosevelt made this happen in 1906.
During his lifetime Muir wrote multiple naturalist articles and traveled while helping the government realize the value of preserving land. But it was Yosemite that inspired him to take his path in life , as he said ~“But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”
“I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate.” ~ Ansel Adams. Adams was a photographer and pianist his entire life. He believed photography was art in a pure form, not just a type of art. His calling was to help people find inspiration in the outdoors, and he constantly strove to do that through his stunning photographs. Adams black and white images of the American West are well renown, but none as much so as his images of Yosemite National Park. The love affair with Yosemite started in 1916 when he begged his parents to take him to the National Park after he had read a book about its magnificence. After that trip he joined the Sierra Club and spent six summers as a photographer for tour groups throughout the park. Adams was also apart of the team that would always set up the infamous cables to finish the grueling climb up half dome for many years. In 1927 it a shot of the face of half dome that gained Adams significant critical acclaim. Soon after Adams black and white images were shown to congress to convince them to sign Kings Canyon as a National Park. Today in the heart of Yosemite Valley, you can go and visit The Ansel Adams Gallery, which is still family owned and operated.
Today, 125 years later, Yosemite boasts 4 million visitors a year. It is the size of Rhode Island with over 800 miles in trails. You can read about those here.