John Harvey Williams.

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Tourists of the class that finds its chief out-door interest in discovering: zoological re-
semblances in natural objects have dubbed El Capitan "the Crouching Lion of Voseiu-
ite." This is a misnomer, as the splendid huge rock is obviously an elephant!

Stood, and where Its piers may yet be seen, a broad ridge of glacial debris,
now covered with young forest, and notched by the river channel, stretches
from the talus slope below Cathedral Rocks a quarter of a mile across to
the rock slide, or earthquake talus, west of El Capitan. It is largely buried
in silt and river gravel, but about twenty feet of its height is visible on the
upper side, and twice as much below. So solid and level an embankment of
soil and boulders,
some of which have
been freighted
down from the sea-
beach strata still re-
maining back on
the highest peaks,
is unmistakably a
glacier's record.
Had Prof. J. D.
Whitney seen it
when, as state geol-
ogist, he conducted
his famous Yosem-
ite survey, fifty

-' - A Glimpse of \urth Dome, from one of tlie beautiful forest roads

years ago, he would in Vosemlte Vallej.



not have made the
blunder of his life
by denying that the
valley was due to
glacial action, or
said: "There are be-
low the valley no
remains of the mo-
raines which such an
operation could not
fail to have formed."
For in fact this ridge
is simply a terminal
moraine, deposited
by the great valley
glacier at the point
where the last of its
repeated advances
stopped, and from
which its final slow
retreat began.

The line of the
moraine, geologists
tell us, practically
coincides with, and
covers, a granite bar,
or sill, which formed
the dam of the an-
cient Yosemite Lake.
This body of water
had the same history as hundreds of other cafion lakes still to be found
in the High Sierra, occupying the depressed treads of the huge glacial stair-
ways. Deep basins were quarried by the glaciers wherever inflowing
"branch glaciers greatly augmented their mass and weight, with a correspond-
ing increase in digging power. Glaciers alone produce these rock-basins.
Lakes such as Merced and Tenaya, above Yosemite Valley, and filled
lake-beds such as Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Valleys, are found only in
the tracks of the vanished ice-streams. River erosion never cuts such
hollowed steps in water-channels. It requires the long scouring of incal-
culable moving ice-masses, armed with vast rocks plucked from their beds,
to prepare the canons for the lakes and level valleys of the later time.

Thus the sudden change in the Merced River, from a quiet meadow
•stream to a brawling mountain torrent, recalls vividly to the modern
student that distant day when the receding glacier left behind it a beauti-
ful lake, seven miles in length and probably four or five hundred feet deep,

TLe "Back Road," on the south side of Yosemite. The trees
sho^vn are ehiefly California Black Oaks (Quercus kellog^^ii),
a deciduous species tliat does niucli to beautify Yosemite aud
Hetch Hetchy. Its acorns supply bread to the Indians, and
are prized by squirrels and woodpeckers.

Yoseniite FhIIh, seen from trail through tlie beautiful oak and pine foreiit that skirts the north
wall of the A'alley. The upper fall. beKlnninK 2,o<!."» fet^t above the \nlle>- floor, ilropn 1,4.30
feet; the lower fall, 320 feet, with Meveral Nnialler fnllM between. Vowenilte Point, 2,075
feet, is on the rlgrlit, and the tall {granite spire in front of it Im the "I>ost Arrow" of Indian



Cliir nt Head of Voseniifo Falls,
slio^ving the vertical cleavage
joints ^Tlileh have guided the gla-
cial sculpturing and made possible
the sheer v%alls of Yoseniite. Hetcli
Hetcliy and similar caiions.

walled by perpendicular cliffs rising more
than three thousand feet, and dammed by
a rocky moraine overlying a granite dike.
Where the lake ended, the Merced cut a
pass for itself through the moraine. This
is also used by the road to-day. The lake
itself, probably within the last two or
three hundred years, if we may judge by
the trees growing where once was only
water, has filled up with rich alluvial soil,
brought down mainly by spring freshets
from near-by heights, rather than by the
larger river, and giving us the fertile val-
ley floor, wMth an inestimable part of the
beauty of Yosemite.

That Yosemite Valley is due mainly
to glacial action, which deepened and
widened a river gorge existing before the
glacial epoch or epochs, is now generally
accepted by the geologists; they differ only
as to the length of the main Yosemite gla-
cier, some believing

that it extended lit-
tle below El Capi-
tan, while others find
evidence that convinces them it reached the foothills.
Government geologists are now making a minute ex-
amination of the region, and the publication of their
work will throw light on many such minor problems.
But the main question is no longer disputed.

Such agreement, however. Is of comparatively
recent date. There have been many theories as to the
making of the great caiion. The most interesting of
these, because of the eminence of its author, and the
violence with which he mistakenly denounced the gla-
cial hypothesis, was the famous fault-block contention
of Prof. Whitney. Said he :

A more absurd theory was never advanced than that by
which it was sought to ascribe to glaciers the sawing out of
these vertical walls and the rounding of the domes. Nothing
more unlike the real work of ice, as exhibited in the Alps,
could be found. Besides, there is no reason to suppose, or at
least no proof, that glaciers have ever occupied the valley, or
any portion of it, so that this theory, based on entire ignorance
of the whole subject, may be dropped without wasting any
more time on it. . . . We conceive that, during the upheaval
of the Sierra, or, possibly, at some time after that had taken
place, there was at the Yosemite a subsidence of a limited

Leopard i/il.v < i-. par-
daliuiim), a gorgeous
orange - siud - purple
nienil>er of tlie Lily
family, which fre-
quents the louver
valleys of tlie Park.

Evenlnir Primroses nn.l the Half Dome. Tl.ese beautiful luinlnonH yellcT flo.ver« are a '«"••""
decoraUoTof Vosemlte. Hetch Hetehy an.l other valleyk In the Park during July. «hen their
buds "pop" open noisily at sunset for a sln^ile nlieht of fragrant revelry.



area, marked by lines of "fault" or
fissures crossing each other some-
what nearly at right angles. In
other and more simple language,
the bottom of the valley sank
down to an unknown depth, owing
to its support being withdrawn
from underneath. — The Yosemite
Guide Book, 73, 74.

Had Whitney's examin-
ation of the valley been
thorough enough to take note
of the old moraine below
El Capitan, it is probable he
would not have written those
words. And yet he had other
evidence that should have
prevented his error. El Cap-
itan Moraine and the old Yo-
semite Take which it helps us

loo Cone at the Foot of Upper Yo-
semite Full. This volcano-like
hill rises each ^vinter to a height
of four or five hundred feet,
formed by the freezing spray and
by blocks of ice fallen from the
face of the clilf. The mouth of
the cone is about 200 feet in
diameter, says Muir, ^vlio has
ooked dOYvn into it from the
edge seen on the right in tlie
upper picture. Tlie two small
specks on the side of the cone
in the lower view are the late
Galen Clark and a companion,
who climbed it to get a look into
the "crater."

to reconstruct are far from be-
ing the only reminders of the
valley's glacial history. Most
striking of all, the hanging
valleys on its walls are no
less clearly of glacial origin.

Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point, the most famous nu<l important vle^vpolnt on tlie rim of \o-
semite. From It tlie spectator looks «lown 3,2r>0 feet siieer to the Merce.l. ivIncllnR amonK the
forests and men.lows of the Valley floor, and across to the beautiful Yosemlte Fall, dropping
half a mile out of its o^vn banging valley.



As we pass Bridal \e\\
Fall, we note that it drops,
not from a flat plateau
abov^e, nor from a narrow
cleft in the wall, but out of
a high side-valley, which in
turn is framed by lofty cliffs.
The U-shape of this broad
valley is so clear that we at
once perceive that it, too,
must have been scoured out
by a glacier, rather than by
Pohono Creek, which could
have cut only a V-shaped
gorge. Its sculptor, in fact,
was a minor glacier, mighty
enough to dig a splendid
wild valley, more than fif-
teen hundred feet deep, but
not powerful enough to sink
it to the bed of the main
valley. Hence, as the larger

Glacier Point, jutting; into Yosem-
ite Valley at its junction Tvitli
tlie Alerced-IIIilouette Canon.
Seen eitlier from the Valley
floor or from the trail to Vernal
Fall, this massive cliff is the
stateliest headland of the south
^vall. Its precipitous faces are
due to i^Iuoial quarrying' along
vertical joint-planes.

glacier shrank in bulk, and
ceased to fill the great canon
of Yosemite, the Pohono
glacier was left "hanging"
on the side, to drop its ice and
rock in avalanches upon the
trunk glacier below. Final-
ly, both glaciers vanished,

Vernal Fall.

Thy springs are in the cloud, thy stream
Begins to move and murmur first

Where ice-peaks feel the noonday beam,
Or rain-storms on the glacier burst.

— Bryant.

Illiloiiclte Fall, viewed from Urn caiion below. Thin line waterfall lias a drop of 37« feet.
It In a hard elliiib up IllUouette C'auon from the Mereed River to the foot of the fall,
whieh ma.v he seen more eaNil.v from ahove, on the Lons Trail to Olaeler Point.



with increasing mean temperature and decreasing snowfall. Of their
canons one was occupied by the typical glacier-made lake of Yosemite,
nearly four thousand feet above sea; while the other, for want of icebergs
to drop into the lake, just as plainly declared its origin by flinging out a
glacial banner, the most graceful and musical, though far from the largest,

of the Yosemite waterfalls.
Other famous cata-
iM^^^^^^^^^^ft^ I Au ^^^ A ^,^P^^^H i'^(^ts hung high on the val-
■^^^^^^^^^^■kl^S^ "'^^k.^ml^^m^^^M ley walls repeat the story

of Bridal Veil. Yosemite

Falls, at the center of the

north wall, and Illilouette,

on the south wall at the

head of the valley, are the

tr. ^^KI^^^^Kh'VS^^^^^H^^^^^^^^^I most important in volume

■^^^EN^^r ^P^^^^^B^PP^^^SIR and length of season,

■i^^^^^3^Btey-«^7!^3Hy^^ S^^Ta ^ ing by their well-defined

hanging valleys and fan-
like amphitheaters, set deep
in the highlands, that thev,

The Merced at Happy Isles
— Xwn beautifully -woodert
islets at tlie upper enil of
the Valley, -vvliere the
river rushes out of its
narrow eaiion helow Illil-
ouette and Vernal Falls.

too, are glacier-born.
No more enjoyable oc-
cupation can be found
for part of a Yosemite

vacation than to trace their old glaciers to their sources in the Hoffman and
Merced spurs of the main Sierra.

If one follows up Yosemite Creek, above its falls, and beyond the old
Tioga Road, he discovers a fine cluster of glacial cirques, stretching around
from the north side of Mt. Hoftman, along the southern slope of the
Merced-Tuolumne divide, and forming a mountain-walled basin, almost


circular, and five or
six miles in diam-
eter. In outline it
is like the spreading
crown of one of the
caiion live-oaks that
beautify the upland
roads and trails.
This characteristic
abandoned home of
a minor glacier no
longer holds its per-
manent neve. It is
to-day merely a tem-
porary reservoir.
There the annual
snows are held until
it pleases their par-
ent, the Sun, to
transform them
again into summer floods, and send them, singing, down the valley to join
the Yosemite chorus. Yosemite Creek now flows to its fall amidst a wild
panorama of gray, barren domes and fir-covered moraines. But here for
centuries a shallow glacier, fifteen miles in length and several miles wide,
crept slowly from the Mt. Hoffman Range to meet the great ice-stream
of the Merced; and when the larger glacier sank low in its vast cafion, the
north-side feeder dug back its section of the wall until it had quarried a
deep branch canon, in which Yosemite Upper Fall now thunders its own

Le Conte Memorial, at the foot of Glacier Point; erected by the
Sierra Club in honor of the late Prof. Joseph Le Conte, the
famous g:eolog'i»it and autlior, of the University of California,
and maintained as the Club's Yosemite headquarters. Here
a library of out-door literature is accessible to the public.

The "Fallen Monarch," with troop of cavalry. This great Sequoia, standing, ^vas one of the

largeHt in the Mariposa Grove.

Vernal Fall, from Clark's Point, on tlie horse trail. This famous oataraot is eighty feet >vi«le, and
haa a drop of 317 feet. Although the most conventional of the great falls in Yoseniite, Vernal
offers a niat;nifloent ploture. both in Its setting and in its >vealth of color. The isrolden lereens and
blues of the steadily fnllln;^ stream, its shootini^ "comets," clouds of spray, and circular rain-
bows, uiake it an Ideal study, tvell worth many vlaits.



chapter of the glacial story, king of all the
waterfalls in height and stateliness.

How easily the Yosemite cliffs were
undercut and torn away by the blows of
avalanches from the glacier above may be
guessed from the picture on page 72, show-
ing the wall so deeply fissured by vertical
and intersecting cleavage planes that it is
merely a standing pile of huge rectangular
granite blocks, ready to be tumbled over
by any power that can.

The Illilouette watershed is larger,
and even more interesting, as rimmed by
higher mountains. From the "Long Trail"
approaching Glacier Point, we get a good
view of its deep lower valley, encircling
Mt. Starr King, and inviting us back to its
fountain basins sunk in the west flank of
the Merced Range. There Mt. Clark, and
Gray, Red and Merced Peaks, accent as
noble a ring of cirques as we shall find
below the very crest of the Sierra. This
watershed, once occupied by a broad river
of ice, is now a land of sunny meadows,
shining domes, and densely forested con-
verging moraines, the whole walled by snowy mountains that rise to eleva-
tions of eleven thousand feet. Some idea of it may be had from the
illustration on page 22. But its wonder
and beauty are beyond the power of pho-
tography. The best general view is to be
had from Mt. Clark or the east slope of
Mt. Starr King, whence one carries away
a lasting picture of what a glacier can do
as a landscape architect.

Differing from these three important
cataracts in their manner of birth, but
none the less proclaiming a glacial origin,
Vernal and Nevada Falls, at the head of
the valley, are the largest in volume of all
the Yosemite group. Instead of falling
from their own hanging valleys, backed
by independent basins, they are part of the
Merced itself, and drop from giant steps ^^ ^„^. „^,,., ^^ j,^^.„,^^ p„„^ ^^^^ „
in the river's glacial stairway. These urojecting leii^^e, gruaraeii by an

i., > J. I |./-|- (■ iron rail, enables visitors to study

Steps, like the outstanding sheer cliffs ot the >viid flood at dose range.

Vernal Fall in AVinter, when the
MereedN fountains in the High
Sierra are frozen, and eurlous iee-
fornis are built by the spray at the
foot of the slirunken fall.



Yosemite, owe their remark-
able height and perpendic-
ular faces to the alternation
of practically solid granite
ridges, lying across the path
of the ancient Merced gla-
cier, with areas of looser
rock, vertically jointed, and
therefore readily disinte-
grated by the ice.

Glacial caiion steps as
high as these are exceeding-
ly rare. Hence caiion water-
falls of the height of Vernal
and Nevada are elsewhere
almost unknown, while cliff
cataracts of even greater
fall, dropping from hang-
ing valleys on the sides of
trunk-glacier caiions, are a
familiar feature of every
important alpine district.
But the two renowned falls
of the Merced stand quite
alone among canon cata-
racts in their union of large
volume with great altitude.
Vernal falling 317 feet, and
Nevada 594 feet. Not only are they thus exceptional in magnitude, but the
glacier used the local rock formations to make them different. Each has
its own special character. Vernal meets all the requirements of an ideal
cataract, — a solid sheet of clear water bending easily from the brink of a

'Cataract uf Diunionils," bettveen Vernal and
Neva<la Falls.

Little YoMeniite, ^vitli Its bare granite itlopeM, neen from Humnilt of Liberty Cap, ^vltli Half
Dome on the left. Here, too. a .lefTrey Pine, more Mymmetrical than that on !Sentinel
Dome, haM eMtnblitibed ItNelf. >It. Clark In in dlNtance (left).



broad, level granite
platform, and offering
all the colors of its own
delightful rainbows, as
the flood changes swift-
ly from golden green
at its brow to broken
grays and flashing
snows in the sunny
canon below. Nevada
presents a striking
contrast to such con-
ventional, if surpass-
ing, beauty. Already
churned to foam in

Nevada FaH (5!>4 ft.), seen
from the eaiion belo^v and
from Zig-Zag Trail, lialf-
y\ay to the top. In dis-
play of power, this great
fall ranks first among the
Yosemite cataracts.

Steep, crooked trough,
it shoots far out from
its narrow cleft, a pas-
sionate cloud, seeming-
ly made up of millions
of distinct, pearl -like
drops; and midway in
Its descent it strikes the
sloping cliff, spreading
into a wide "apron" of



Little Yoseinite, with Clouds Rest in tlie distance.

Still more dazzling whiteness. So splendid are the children of the glaciers.
The record of these waterfalls is corroborated by the rock-basins which
the glacier scoured out on
their plateaus, just as it hol-
lowed the basin of Yosemite
Lake itself. Emerald Pool,
the little tarn immediately
above Vernal Fall, is hardly
a stone's throw across, but
unmistakable. River erosion
could never have fashioned
so perfect a bowl. A mile
higher up, beyond Nevada
Fall, the basin was three
miles long, holding a lake
that has now given place to
the charming vale of Little
Yosemite. Here bare cliffs
and domes frame another
level valley of meadow, for-
est and lazy river, all on
about one-half the scale of
the greater Yosemite below.
Other yosemites lie beyond,
until we reach the splendid

glacial lakes, Merced and Sugar-Loat Dome, at the head «f l.ittle Yosemite.



Washburn, far up the canon. These, too, in time will fill with detritus from
the hills, and become delightful valleys. Nature abhors barren waters.

Glacial history is

also written plain on the

two "domes" that rise

just north of Nevada

Fall, called the Cap of

Liberty and Mt. Brod-

erick. These are simply

masses of unfissured

granite, too large and

solid for the glacier to j^^^^^HHBlEI^HRinnSMlri^^i^iflji

plane away, though it

gouged out the vast beds

of jointed rock in which

Climbing; the Half Dome. This
feat was first performed in
1875 by George Anderson
who drilleii holes and set
eye-bolts in the northeast
slope, the only practicable
route. The ascent is now
made by occasional adven-
turers, aided by Anderson's
spikes and a rope. The
lower view here shows a
climber making his way up
across the projecting lay-
ers of granite.

they lay ; and as it swept
over them, it shaved

down their east slopes so that one may easily scale them, and find glacier

boulders on their tops that have traveled far.



As Merced Canon forms the

southeast hranch of Yosemite Val-
ley, so the still deeper canon of

Tenaya Creek is its northeastern

arm. Here the glacial story is less

plain, and on first sight, from the

heights on either side, it might be

overlooked. For above the carion's

lower two miles, — that is, beyond

the foot of Mt.Watkins, — it crowds

to a narrow box-caiion between that

great cliff and the steep incline of

Clouds Rest. This might seem to

be a V-shaped, stream-cut gorge,

rather than to have the broader

bottom commonly left by a glacier.

But a little exploration discovers

glacial footprints in the terminal

moraines and the lakes and filled

lake-beds, with fine connecting

waterfalls, that mark a glacier's

descent from the Cathedral Peak

Range, south of the Tuolumne. We

have hardly entered the cafion, in-
deed, before we are reminded of

El Capitan moraine and the enclosed Yosemite Lake. A similar boulder

ridge, thrown across the canon here, is traversed by the road as it carries

visitors on their early morning trips to
see the sunrise reflections in Mirror
Lake. This lakelet evidently occupies
the lowermost of the glacial steps. It
is a mere reminder of its former size,
the delta of Tenaya Creek having stolen
a mile from its upper end. Farther
up the caiion, below and above Mt.
Watkins, stream sediment has already
turned similar lakes into meadows. But
eight miles east of Yosemite, at the
head of the canon, Tenaya Lake not
only presents one of the most fascinat-
ing views in the whole Park, but also
recalls, in its polished granite pave-
ments, walls and domes, a verv dififer-
„,.. ,„ , .... „ ^,, . ent scene, — a picture of the old Tuol-

Plilox (P. <loiiKl"Nii ), on the Glacier . ^

Point Trail. umnc glacier, split against the east front

Overhang at Summit of the Half Dome, nearly
a mile above the Valley floor and Tenaya
Canon. Ell Capitan is seen in the fllNtance.


vv^r * ^^ " «^^ •* «SI




Half Dome at Sunrise, seen from Glueier Point.

of Mt. Hoffman, and sending part of its immense ice-stream over the low

divide into Tenaya basin, to form the main ice supply of Tenaya glacier,

and the rest down Tuolumne Canon to Hetch Hetchy.

Thus Tenaya Canon forms no exception. Its narrowness between

Clouds Rest and Mt. Watkins, well shown in Prof. Le Conte's pictures on

page 49, is seen to be due to the
solidity of the huge inclined strata
of the former, and the fact that the
latter is a single block of massive
granite, rising as high, as sheer and
as unbroken as El Capitan, which
it greatly resembles. The striking
contrast which Tenaya Canon thus
presents to Yosemite Valley is
lucidly set forth by Mr. Matthes,
the well-known expert of the Geo-
logical Survey:

The Yosemite Valley evidently was
carved from prevailingly fissured materials
in which the ice was able to quarry to
great depth and width. Tenaya Caiion,
on the other hand, was laid along a rather
narrow zone of Assuring, flanked by
close-set, solid masses; and the glacier
that flowed through it, while permitted
to carve deeply — more deeply even than
the mightier Yosemite glacier, — was im-
peded in its lateral excavating, and has
r» *i ii^t * m ti,« ^ ft , r. I * rr.! - been able to produce only a narrow.

On tlie "Short Trail" to Glueier Point. Tins *, , , ^ ,r ..

trail commands Hiilendi.l vie.vs of Sentinel gorge-llke trough. — iiketch of 1 osemtte
Hoelt, Vosemile Falls and the Valley floor. National Park.



Yosemite offers
many other convinc-
ing particulars of the
life of its great val-
ley glacier. The
beauty of its cliffs
is no more obvious
than is their testi-
mony regarding
their origin, outline
and sculpturing.
Their perpendicular
fronts and project-
ing angles, narrow-
ing the valley here,
or overtowering its
deeper recesses there,
tell unmistakably of
the glacier's work as
a giant sapper and
miner. But that
work was made pos-
sible by the extreme
mingling of zones
of jointed and un-
jointed granites. It
was carried on first
by the ice, and later
by all the agencies of weathering, — water, frost and snow. Where the
valley contracts, we find unfissured masses that resisted the stresses of the
cooling earth, and in
the glacial age were
able equally to with-
stand the action of
ice. Here El Capi-
tan and Cathedral
Rocks, rising oppo-
site each other at
the valley's narrow-
est part, were undi-
vided blocks too vast

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Online LibraryJohn Harvey WilliamsYosemite and its High Sierra → online text (page 4 of 7)