Yosemite National Park lies high amongst the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains where domed granite peaks rise to 13,000 feet above a wilderness of evergreen forests and pristine alpine meadows. Heavy winter snows melt into late springtime, filling hundreds of lakes and creeks feeding into the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers. The light-colored granite bedrock of the Sierra Nevadas, along with the characteristic dome-shape of the peaks that it forms, give Yosemite National Park a patented landscape of bright contrast and color. At the heart of it, the Yosemite Valley, lined by its shining white 3000-foot cliffs towering over a paradise of grassland and forests, is a vision of grandeur and beauty unparalleled anywhere on the earth.
Geologic forces pushing up from deep in the earth have pushed the earth's crust to remarkable heights in the Sierra Nevadas. Untold thousands of feet of layered sedimentary rocks, which typically cover the earth's surface, eroded away in prehistoric times, leaving rock which once was once part of the earth's molten core. Relieved from the tremendous pressures deep in the earth, the granite expands. Cracks forming in the expanding granite cut corners, forming the naturally rounded domes.
Glaciers once covered all of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevadas, and were responsible for most of the erosion which bared the mountains of their upper layers. They formed rounded canyons and piled up broken mounds of rock and dirt called glacial moraines. It must have been a remarkable glacier that carved the Yosemite Valley. Once melted, a lake formed behind the moraine that was deposited at the low end of the valley. Over many more years the lake filled with sediment and vegetation, producing the flat grassland found today.
It was in 1851 that white men first set foot in Yosemite. Skirmishes between Indians and miners led to the formation of the Mariposa Battalion. Approaching from the south, following roughly the route of Wawona Road, the volunteer soldiers reported that the stunning beauty of the valley brought tears to their eyes. Inspired by their reports, tourists soon began visiting. Thirty-nine years later, Yosemite became one of the nation's earliest parks on October 1, 1890.
Yosemite National Park covers 761,266 acres which include all of the creeks and watershed that flow into the Yosemite Valley. It also includes the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The eastern boundary of the park follows the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas. Visitation to the park in 2002 comprised 3,305,631 people.
Few roads have been built across the Sierra Nevadas. One of these, Tioga Road, crosses through the center of Yosemite National Park, just north of Yosemite Valley. It is also designated as California Highway 120. It begins at Crane flat on the west side of the park, and exits the park at Tioga Pass on the east, then makes its descent into Mono Basin through Lee Vining Canyon.
Three roads access Yosemite from the west. El Portal Road, which is California Highway 140, follows the Merced River up the Merced River Gorge, entering Yosemite Valley directly. Wawona Road, also California Highway 41, approaches from the south. Its descent into the valley includes a mile-long tunnel cut through the granite face of the mountain. Big Oak Flat Road approaches from the northwest, crossing many miles of the lower Sierra Nevadas before reaching Crane Flat and then making its descent into the valley, which includes three shorter tunnels. Big Oak Flat Road is designated California Highway 120 from Crane Flat westward.For More Information
In the early 1900s, the conservationist John Muir wrote a book, The Yosemite, extolling the beauty of Yosemite, calling for it's protection as a National Park, and providing a detailed description of it.