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Produced by Dan Anderson and Andrew Sly. Thanks to the
John Muir Exhibit for making this eBook available.

The Yosemite

by John Muir

Affectionately dedicated to my friend,
Robert Underwood Johnson,
faithful lover and defender of our glorious forests
and originator of the Yosemite National Park.


On the early history of Yosemite the writer is indebted to Prof. J. D.
Whitney for quotations from his volume entitled "Yosemite Guide-Book,"
and to Dr. Bunnell for extracts from his interesting volume entitled
"Discovery of the Yosemite."


1. The Approach to the Valley
2. Winter Storms and Spring Floods
3. Snow-Storms
4. Snow Banners
5. The Trees of the Valley
6. The Forest Trees in General
7. The Big Trees
8. The Flowers
9. The Birds
10. The South Dome
11. The Ancient Yosemite Glaciers: How the Valley Was Formed
12. How Best to Spend One's Yosemite Time
13. Early History of the Valley
14. Lamon
15. Galen Clark
16. Hetch Hetchy Valley
Appendix A. Legislation About the Yosemite
Appendix B. Table of Distances
Appendix C. Maximum Rates for Transportation

Chapter 1

The Approach to the Valley

When I set out on the long excursion that finally led to California I
wandered afoot and alone, from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, with a
plant-press on my back, holding a generally southward course, like the
birds when they are going from summer to winter. From the west coast
of Florida I crossed the gulf to Cuba, enjoyed the rich tropical flora
there for a few months, intending to go thence to the north end of South
America, make my way through the woods to the headwaters of the Amazon,
and float down that grand river to the ocean. But I was unable to find a
ship bound for South America - fortunately perhaps, for I had incredibly
little money for so long a trip and had not yet fully recovered from
a fever caught in the Florida swamps. Therefore I decided to visit
California for a year or two to see its wonderful flora and the famous
Yosemite Valley. All the world was before me and every day was a
holiday, so it did not seem important to which one of the world's
wildernesses I first should wander.

Arriving by the Panama steamer, I stopped one day in San Francisco and
then inquired for the nearest way out of town. "But where do you want to
go?" asked the man to whom I had applied for this important information.
"To any place that is wild," I said. This reply startled him. He seemed
to fear I might be crazy and therefore the sooner I was out of town the
better, so he directed me to the Oakland ferry.

So on the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite. It was the
bloom-time of the year over the lowlands and coast ranges the landscapes
of the Santa Clara Valley were fairly drenched with sunshine, all the
air was quivering with the songs of the meadow-larks, and the hills were
so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted. Slow indeed was
my progress through these glorious gardens, the first of the California
flora I had seen. Cattle and cultivation were making few scars as yet,
and I wandered enchanted in long wavering curves, knowing by my pocket
map that Yosemite Valley lay to the east and that I should surely find

The Sierra From The West

Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining
morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still
appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the
Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of
pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one
rich furred garden of yellow Compositoe. And from the eastern boundary
of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height,
and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with
light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.
Along the top and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-gray belt
of snow; below it a belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension
of the forests; and stretching along the base of the range a broad belt
of rose-purple; all these colors, from the blue sky to the yellow
valley smoothly blending as they do in a rainbow, making a wall of light
ineffably fine. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called,
not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten
years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its
glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming
through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the
flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls,
it still seems above all others the Range of Light.

In general views no mark of man is visible upon it, nor any thing to
suggest the wonderful depth and grandeur of its sculpture. None of its
magnificent forest-crowned ridges seems to rise much above the general
level to publish its wealth. No great valley or river is seen, or group
of well-marked features of any kind standing out as distinct pictures.
Even the summit peaks, marshaled in glorious array so high in the sky,
seem comparatively regular in form. Nevertheless the whole range five
hundred miles long is furrowed with canyons 2000 to 5000 feet deep, in
which once flowed majestic glaciers, and in which now flow and sing the
bright rejoicing rivers.

Characteristics Of The Canyons

Though of such stupendous depth, these canyons are not gloom gorges,
savage and inaccessible. With rough passages here and there they are
flowery pathways conducting to the snowy, icy fountains; mountain
streets full of life and light, graded and sculptured by the ancient
glaciers, and presenting throughout all their course a rich variety of
novel and attractive scenery - the most attractive that has yet been
discovered in the mountain ranges of the world. In many places,
especially in the middle region of the western flank, the main canyons
widen into spacious valleys or parks diversified like landscape gardens
with meadows and groves and thickets of blooming bushes, while the lofty
walls, infinitely varied in form are fringed with ferns, flowering
plants, shrubs of many species and tall evergreens and oaks that find
footholds on small benches and tables, all enlivened and made glorious
with rejoicing stream that come chanting in chorus over the cliffs and
through side canyons in falls of every conceivable form, to join the
river that flow in tranquil, shining beauty down the middle of each
one of them.

The Incomparable Yosemite

The most famous and accessible of these canyon valleys, and also the one
that presents their most striking and sublime features on the grandest
scale, is the Yosemite, situated in the basin of the Merced River at an
elevation of 4000 feet above the level of the sea. It is about seven
miles long, half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep in the
solid granite flank of the range. The walls are made up of rocks,
mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side canyons, and
they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously arranged
on a level floor, that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an
immense hall or temple lighted from above.

But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in
its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose;
others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance
beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to
storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything
going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these
rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep:
their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky,
a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their feet, bathed in
floods of water, floods of light, while the snow and waterfalls, the
winds and avalanches and clouds shine and sing and wreathe about them
as the years go by, and myriads of small winged creatures birds, bees,
butterflies - give glad animation and help to make all the air into
music. Down through the middle of the Valley flows the crystal Merced,
River of Mercy, peacefully quiet, reflecting lilies and trees and the
onlooking rocks; things frail and fleeting and types of endurance
meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one
mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw
her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

The Approach To The Valley

Sauntering up the foothills to Yosemite by any of the old trails or
roads in use before the railway was built from the town of Merced up the
river to the boundary of Yosemite Park, richer and wilder become the
forests and streams. At an elevation of 6000 feet above the level of the
sea the silver firs are 200 feet high, with branches whorled around the
colossal shafts in regular order, and every branch beautifully pinnate
like a fern frond. The Douglas spruce, the yellow and sugar pines and
brown-barked Libocedrus here reach their finest developments of beauty
and grandeur. The majestic Sequoia is here, too, the king of conifers,
the noblest of all the noble race. These colossal trees are as wonderful
in fineness of beauty and proportion as in stature - an assemblage of
conifers surpassing all that have ever yet been discovered in the
forests of the world. Here indeed is the tree-lover's paradise; the
woods, dry and wholesome, letting in the light in shimmering masses of
half sunshine, half shade; the night air as well as the day air
indescribably spicy and exhilarating; plushy fir-boughs for campers'
beds and cascades to sing us to sleep. On the highest ridges, over which
these old Yosemite ways passed, the silver fir (Abies magnifica) forms
the bulk of the woods, pressing forward in glorious array to the very
brink of the Valley walls on both sides, and beyond the Valley to a
height of from 8000 to 9000 feet above the level of the sea. Thus it
appears that Yosemite, presenting such stupendous faces of bare granite,
is nevertheless imbedded in magnificent forests, and the main species of
pine, fir, spruce and libocedrus are also found in the Valley itself,
but there are no "big trees" (Sequoia gigantea) in the Valley or about
the rim of it. The nearest are about ten and twenty miles beyond the
lower end of the valley on small tributaries of the Merced and Tuolumne

The First View: The Bridal Veil

From the margin of these glorious forests the first general view of the
Valley used to be gained - a revelation in landscape affairs that
enriches one's life forever. Entering the Valley, gazing overwhelmed
with the multitude of grand objects about us, perhaps the first to fix
our attention will be the Bridal Veil, a beautiful waterfall on our
right. Its brow, where it first leaps free from the cliff, is about 900
feet above us; and as it sways and sings in the wind, clad in gauzy,
sun-sifted spray, half falling, half floating, it seems infinitely
gentle and fine; but the hymns it sings tell the solemn fateful power
hidden beneath its soft clothing.

The Bridal Veil shoots free from the upper edge of the cliff by the
velocity the stream has acquired in descending a long slope above the
head of the fall. Looking from the top of the rock-avalanche talus
on the west side, about one hundred feet above the foot of the fall,
the under surface of the water arch is seen to be finely grooved and
striated; and the sky is seen through the arch between rock and water,
making a novel and beautiful effect.

Under ordinary weather conditions the fall strikes on flat-topped slabs,
forming a kind of ledge about two-thirds of the way down from the top,
and as the fall sways back and forth with great variety of motions
among these flat-topped pillars, kissing and plashing notes as well as
thunder-like detonations are produced, like those of the Yosemite Fall,
though on a smaller scale.

The rainbows of the Veil, or rather the spray- and foam-bows, are
superb, because the waters are dashed among angular blocks of granite
at the foot, producing abundance of spray of the best quality for iris
effects, and also for a luxuriant growth of grass and maiden-hair on
the side of the talus, which lower down is planted with oak, laurel
and willows.

General Features Of The Valley

On the other side of the Valley, almost immediately opposite the Bridal
Veil, there is another fine fall, considerably wider than the Veil when
the snow is melting fast and more than 1000 feet in height, measured
from the brow of the cliff where it first springs out into the air to
the head of the rocky talus on which it strikes and is broken up into
ragged cascades. It is called the Ribbon Fall or Virgin's Tears. During
the spring floods it is a magnificent object, but the suffocating blasts
of spray that fill the recess in the wall which it occupies prevent a
near approach. In autumn, however when its feeble current falls in a
shower, it may then pass for tears with the sentimental onlooker fresh
from a visit to the Bridal Veil.

Just beyond this glorious flood the El Capitan Rock, regarded by many as
the most sublime feature of the Valley, is seen through the pine groves,
standing forward beyond the general line of the wall in most imposing
grandeur, a type of permanence. It is 3300 feet high, a plain, severely
simple, glacier-sculptured face of granite, the end of one of the most
compact and enduring of the mountain ridges, unrivaled in height and
breadth and flawless strength.

Across the Valley from here, next to the Bridal Veil, are the
picturesque Cathedral Rocks, nearly 2700 feet high, making a noble
display of fine yet massive sculpture. They are closely related to El
Capitan, having been eroded from the same mountain ridge by the great
Yosemite Glacier when the Valley was in process of formation.

Next to the Cathedral Rocks on the south side towers the Sentinel Rock
to a height of more than 3000 feet, a telling monument of the glacial

Almost immediately opposite the Sentinel are the Three Brothers, an
immense mountain mass with three gables fronting the Valley, one above
another, the topmost gable nearly 4000 feet high. They were named for
three brothers, sons of old Tenaya, the Yosemite chief, captured here
during the Indian War, at the time of the discovery of the Valley in

Sauntering up the Valley through meadow and grove, in the company of
these majestic rocks, which seem to follow us as we advance, gazing,
admiring, looking for new wonders ahead where all about us is so
wonderful, the thunder of the Yosemite Fall is heard, and when we
arrive in front of the Sentinel Rock it is revealed in all its glory
from base to summit, half a mile in height, and seeming to spring out
into the Valley sunshine direct from the sky. But even this fall,
perhaps the most wonderful of its kind in the world, cannot at first
hold our attention, for now the wide upper portion of the Valley is
displayed to view, with the finely modeled North Dome, the Royal Arches
and Washington Column on our left; Glacier Point, with its massive,
magnificent sculpture on the right; and in the middle, directly in
front, looms Tissiack or Half Dome, the most beautiful and most sublime
of all the wonderful Yosemite rocks, rising in serene majesty from
flowery groves and meadows to a height of 4750 feet.

The Upper Canyons

Here the Valley divides into three branches, the Tenaya, Nevada, and
Illilouette Canyons, extending back into the fountains of the High
Sierra, with scenery every way worthy the relation they bear to

In the south branch, a mile or two from the main Valley, is the
Illilouette Fall, 600 feet high, one of the most beautiful of all the
Yosemite choir, but to most people inaccessible as yet on account of its
rough, steep, boulder-choked canyon. Its principal fountains of ice and
snow lie in the beautiful and interesting mountains of the Merced group,
while its broad open basin between its fountain mountains and canyon is
noted for the beauty of its lakes and forests and magnificent moraines.

Returning to the Valley, and going up the north branch of Tenaya Canyon,
we pass between the North Dome and Half Dome, and in less than an hour
come to Mirror Lake, the Dome Cascade and Tenaya Fall. Beyond the Fall,
on the north side of the canyon is the sublime Ed Capitan-like rock
called Mount Watkins; on the south the vast granite wave of Clouds' Rest,
a mile in height; and between them the fine Tenaya Cascade with silvery
plumes outspread on smooth glacier-polished folds of granite, making a
vertical descent in all of about 700 feet.

Just beyond the Dome Cascades, on the shoulder of Mount Watkins, there
is an old trail once used by Indians on their way across the range to
Mono, but in the canyon above this point there is no trail of any sort.
Between Mount Watkins and Clouds' Rest the canyon is accessible only to
mountaineers, and it is so dangerous that I hesitate to advise even good
climbers, anxious to test their nerve and skill, to attempt to pass
through it. Beyond the Cascades no great difficulty will be encountered.
A succession of charming lily gardens and meadows occurs in filled-up
lake basins among the rock-waves in the bottom of the canyon, and
everywhere the surface of the granite has a smooth-wiped appearance, and
in many places reflects the sunbeams like glass, a phenomenon due to
glacial action, the canyon having been the channel of one of the main
tributaries of the ancient Yosemite Glacier.

About ten miles above the Valley we come to the beautiful Tenaya Lake,
and here the canyon terminates. A mile or two above the lake stands the
grand Sierra Cathedral, a building of one stone, sewn from the living
rock, with sides, roof, gable, spire and ornamental pinnacles, fashioned
and finished symmetrically like a work of art, and set on a well-graded
plateau about 9000 feet high, as if Nature in making so fine a building
had also been careful that it should be finely seen. From every
direction its peculiar form and graceful, majestic beauty of expression
never fail to charm. Its height from its base to the ridge of the roof
is about 2500 feet, and among the pinnacles that adorn the front grand
views may be gained of the upper basins of the Merced and Tuolumne

Passing the Cathedral we descend into the delightful, spacious Tuolumne
Valley, from which excursions may be made to Mounts Dana, Lyell, Ritter,
Conness, and Mono Lake, and to the many curious peaks that rise above
the meadows on the south, and to the Big Tuolumne Canyon, with its
glorious abundance of rock and falling, gliding, tossing water. For all
these the beautiful meadows near the Soda Springs form a delightful

Natural Features Near The Valley

Returning now to Yosemite and ascending the middle or Nevada branch of
the Valley, occupied by the main Merced River, we come within a few
miles to the Vernal and Nevada Falls, 400 and 600 feet high, pouring
their white, rejoicing waters in the midst of the most novel and sublime
rock scenery to be found in all the World. Tracing the river beyond the
head of the Nevada Fall we are lead into the Little Yosemite, a valley
like the great Yosemite in form, sculpture and vegetation. It is about
three miles long, with walls 1500 to 2000 feet high, cascades coming
over them, and the ever flowing through the meadows and groves of the
level bottom in tranquil, richly-embowered reaches.

Beyond this Little Yosemite in the main canyon, there are three other
little yosemites, the highest situated a few miles below the base of
Mount Lyell, at an elevation of about 7800 feet above the sea. To
describe these, with all their wealth of Yosemite furniture, and the
wilderness of lofty peaks above them, the home of the avalanche and
treasury of the fountain snow, would take us far beyond the bounds of a
single book. Nor can we here consider the formation of these mountain
landscapes - how the crystal rock were brought to light by glaciers made
up of crystal snow, making beauty whose influence is so mysterious on
every one who sees it.

Of the small glacier lakes so characteristic of these upper regions,
there are no fewer than sixty-seven in the basin of the main middle
branch, besides countless smaller pools. In the basin of the Illilouette
there are sixteen, in the Tenaya basin and its branches thirteen, in the
Yosemite Creek basin fourteen, and in the Pohono or Bridal Veil one,
making a grand total of one hundred and eleven lakes whose waters come
to sing at Yosemite. So glorious is the background of the great Valley,
so harmonious its relations to its widespreading fountains.

The same harmony prevails in all the other features of the adjacent
landscapes. Climbing out of the Valley by the subordinate canyons, we
find the ground rising from the brink of the walls: on the south side to
the fountains of the Bridal Veil Creek, the basin of which is noted for
the beauty of its meadows and its superb forests of silver fir; on the
north side through the basin of the Yosemite Creek to the dividing ridge
along the Tuolumne Canyon and the fountains of the Hoffman Range.

Down The Yosemite Creek

In general views the Yosemite Creek basin seems to be paved with
domes and smooth, whaleback masses of granite in every stage of
development - some showing only their crowns; others rising high and free
above the girdling forests, singly or in groups. Others are developed
only on one side, forming bold outstanding bosses usually well fringed
with shrubs and trees, and presenting the polished surfaces given them
by the glacier that brought them into relief. On the upper portion of
the basin broad moraine beds have been deposited and on these fine,
thrifty forests are growing. Lakes and meadows and small spongy bogs
may be found hiding here and there in the woods or back in the fountain
recesses of Mount Hoffman, while a thousand gardens are planted along
the banks of the streams.

All the wide, fan-shaped upper portion of the basin is covered with a
network of small rills that go cheerily on their way to their grand fall
in the Valley, now flowing on smooth pavements in sheets thin as glass,
now diving under willows and laving their red roots, oozing through
green, plushy bogs, plashing over small falls and dancing down slanting
cascades, calming again, gliding through patches of smooth glacier
meadows with sod of alpine agrostis mixed with blue and white violets
and daisies, breaking, tossing among rough boulders and fallen trees,
resting in calm pools, flowing together until, all united, they go to
their fate with stately, tranquil gestures like a full-grown river. At
the crossing of the Mono Trail, about two miles above the head of the
Yosemite Fall, the stream is nearly forty feet wide, and when the snow
is melting rapidly in the spring it is about four feet deep, with a
current of two and a half miles an hour. This is about the volume of
water that forms the Fall in May and June when there had been much snow
the preceding winter; but it varies greatly from month to month. The
snow rapidly vanishes from the open portion of the basin, which faces
southward, and only a few of the tributaries reach back to perennial
snow and ice fountains in the shadowy amphitheaters on the precipitous
northern slopes of Mount Hoffman. The total descent made by the stream
from its highest sources to its confluence with the Merced in the Valley
is about 6000 feet, while the distance is only about ten miles, an
average fall of 600 feet per mile. The last mile of its course lies
between the sides of sunken domes and swelling folds of the granite that
are clustered and pressed together like a mass of bossy cumulus clouds.
Through this shining way Yosemite Creek goes to its fate, swaying and
swirling with easy, graceful gestures and singing the last of its
mountain songs before it reaches the dizzy edge of Yosemite to fall 2600
feet into another world, where climate, vegetation, inhabitants, all are
different. Emerging from this last canyon the stream glides, in flat
lace-like folds, down a smooth incline into a small pool where it seems
to rest and compose itself before taking the grand plunge. Then calmly,
as if leaving a lake, it slips over the polished lip of the pool down
another incline and out over the brow of the precipice in a magnificent

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