Native Americans have inhabited Yosemite for as long as 8,000 years. Discovery of gold in the region in 1848 created mounting tensions between miners and the local natives. The Mariposa Battalion was formed as an expedition to bring an end to the “Mariposa Indian War”. The Battalion first entered Yosemite Valley March 27, 1851 while on patrol.
The portion of the Sierra Nevada surrounding Yosemite was one of the earliest of the ranges to be valued for its economic potential. After discovery in 1851, Yosemite Valley’s natural beauty encouraged the construction of hotels and way stations for travelers from around the world. Determined men such as Jessie Benton Fremont, photographer Carleton E. Watkins, Senator John Conness of California and Galen Clark all played crucial roles in getting Yosemite and Mariposa Grove of Big Trees designated as a park. Thanks to the efforts of John Muir, Yosemite received full protection as a National Park on October 1, 1890.
The areas surrounding Yosemite were primarily used for raising livestock such as sheep and cattle. Ranchers brought their herds to the summer meadows for grazing. The long dry summers in the foothills were not easy to deal with.
In the 1850’s a growing demand for lumber resulted in the establishment of several lumber mills in the area, such as the Madera Sugar Pine Company in Fish Camp. Their large operation transported lumber to Madera by flume a distance of about 60 miles. Gold rush towns were notorious for frequent fires so lumber was always in high demand. The rising demand for lumber rapidly thinned the forests south of Yosemite as millions of board feet were logged.
Along with wealth comes the desire for more recreation. The first hotel in Yosemite was promoted in California magazine by James M. Hutchings. Soon after, resorts were being developed both in and outside of the park. The Wawona Hotel was built in 1876, the Yosemite Lodge in 1916 (although originally as an army barracks) and the Ahwahnee Hotel in 1927.
When the gold rush began slowing, the search for minerals began expanding, resulting in the construction of Tioga Road, mining camps and the town of Bodie in the eastern Sierras. A number of high sierra camps soon sprang up along Tioga Road.
The road to Glacier Point was constructed in 1918. The spectacular view from the lookout inspired the construction of the Glacier Point Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1969.
The Great Depression resulted in poor visitation to the park. The building of State Route 140, or the “All Year Highway” offered more opportunity for year-round use. The Curry Company began a winter program along the Glacier Point Road which eventually led to the opening of Badger Pass Ski Resort in 1935. The resort quickly evolved into one of the best intermediate ski areas in the country.
Today, more than 4 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year with another million plus enjoying the recreational opportunities of the surrounding areas. One-way traffic patterns and free shuttle service make getting around in the park easy and convenient. Abundant wildlife can be enjoyed while walking along the Merced River or any one of the valleys established hiking trails and the spectacular granite walls and peaks surrounding the valley floor never fail to leave one in awe of nature’s raw power.