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Self-guiding Auto Tour of Yosemite National Park (1956) by Richard P. Ditton and Donald E. McHenry


YOSEMITE VALLEY TO WAWONA, AND SOUTH ENTRANCE

(Total driving distance 25.4 miles)

W-1 WAWONA TUNNEL. The Wawona Tunnel, blasted out of granite in 1933 to avoid a roadcut which would deface the landscape, is four-fifths of a mile long 28 feet wide and 19 feet high. There is a maximum of 550 feet of rock above the tunnel and a maximum of 503 feet to the edge of the cliff. The tunnel was drilled entirely from the east side under government contract; it took almost 2 years to complete and cost $847,500. One of the amazing facts is that not a single person was killed or seriously injured in the construction of this tunnel. Automatic fans in the tunnel exhaust carbon monoxide. When 1 part gas to 20,000 parts of air is registered, the controls turn the fans on low and as the ratio of carbon monoxide increases they gradually increase the speed. At full speed impure air is exhausted at a rate of 300,000 cubic feet per minute. Grade in the tunnel is 5%, approaching 6% at the west end.

(1.5 miles)

W-2 EXFOLIATION. As the road here passes under Turtleback Dome, it is cut through solid granite exposing layers or “shells” of rock. These are caused by an expansion process called exfoliation, the same which has caused the curved, smooth surfaces of domes such as North Dome and Half Dome, and the Royal Arches. The black splotches in the rock are concentrations of diorite, a type of granite in which the dark materials (black mica and hornblende) predominate. The white streaks running through the rock are quartz and felspar, the two light-colored minerals found in granite.

(0.2 of a mile)

W-3 VIEW OF CASCADE FALLS. Just beyond the west end of the tunnel you can see Cascade Falls on your right and on the opposite side of the valley. They drop about 500 feet.

Exfoliating granite of Turtleback Dome west of Wawona Tunnel
[click to enlarge]
Exfoliating granite of Turtleback
Dome west of Wawona Tunnel
(1.0 mile)

(1.0 mile)

W-4 COULTERVILLE ROAD. The descending scar along the wooded slope opposite is the old Coulterville Road, first wagon road into Yosemite Valley. This toll road, built with private capital, reached the valley floor June 17, 1874, one month before its competitor the old Big Oak Flat Road. The latter is located along the wooded heights somewhat above the present Big Oak Flat Road. The Coulterville Road is narrow with an 18% grade in the last 1000 feet as compared to a 6% maximum on modern mountain roads. It still receives limited use today.

(0.2 of a mile)

W-5 RAVAGES OF FOREST FIRES. Across the canyon you can see the results of forest fires. One fire, which occurred in 1941, was started when electrical transmission wires were blown down on dry underbrush. The area is now being reseeded through the action of the prevailing winds blowing from the southwest. A five-year study has shown remarkable recovery of growth without the help of man. At a greater distance and across the canyon you can see dead trees from a September 1953 fire when a series of dry lightning storms started different fires.

MERCED ROAD — Paralleling the Merced River below is the Merced Road, called the “All-Year Highway,” leading to the town of Merced in the San Joaquin Valley some 80 miles distant.

TREE ZONES — Between the tunnel and Chinquapin you pass through zones where the ponderosa pine and oak trees give way to the sugar pine, Jeffrey pine and lodgepole pine. Of special interest is the sugar pine, a tall shaft frequently clear for a hundred feet or more, its arms flung wide. At certain seasons long cones hang from the end of its branches. The Pacific dogwood adds beauty to this forest drive, especially in spring when it is white with blossoms and in autumn when the foliage turns red or pink. (More can be learned about trees in “Cone-bearing Trees of Yosemite” and “Broadleaved Trees of Yosemite,” available at museums and gift shops.)

(5.0 miles)

W-6 CHINQUAPIN. Chinquapin, 6,039 feet in elevation, receives its name from a flowering shrub common in the area. This shrub grows in the Sierra at an elevation from 3,000 to 8,000 feet. It is from 1 to 8 feet tall and has a smooth brown bark with a yellow underside on the leaves; Related to the now almost extinct American chestnut, it bears burr-like fruit which may sometimes be seen. Chinquapin, the place, has been an important road and trail junction since the 1850’s. Across the highway from the service station is the District Ranger’s headquarters.

(2.5 miles)

W-7 HENNESS RIDGE. A fire lookout operates on a point on this ridge during the fire danger period. Visitors are welcome.

LOGGING RAILROAD — About a half-mile along the Henness Ridge road are the remains of an old railroad bed constructed and used by the Yosemite Lumber Company between 1912 and 1924 before private lands within the park were acquired. Running from El Portal up to an area called Empire Meadows, the winding road bed spanned a distance of some 25 miles. It is now fairly well covered with undergrowth, but most of it can be traveled on foot.

(2.0 miles)

W-8 VIEW OF SOUTH FORK CANYON. The canyon below is that of the South Fork of the Merced River which joins the Main Merced River about 12 miles down stream. This highway crosses the South Fork. at Wawona. Signal Peak is the point to the right at which the level ridge of the mountain across the canyon drops off.

(7.1 miles)

W-9 WAWONA CAMPGROUND. Originally known as Camp A. E. Wood, after the first superintendent of Yosemite National Park, this campground has been extended downstream some distance and is now one of the most modern campgrounds in the park. It is distinguished by individual campsites screened from one another by natural forest growth. (Read details in W-11, page 82.)

(1.0 mile)

W-10 THE WAWONA ROAD. Up stream is the only covered bridge in the entire National Park System and is now preserved as an historical structure. Across it ran the original Wawona Road into Yosemite Valley. Interest in building this first road into the valley from the south became active in Mariposa in 1874. The road crossed the Chowchilla Mountain to the west and followed the road which is seen emerging from the forest on the far side of the golf course. The original Wawona Road came in from the south as far as Alder Creek. In the early 1870’s a desire to have a road into Yosemite Valley was expressed by the Guardian of the Yosemite Grant. A contract was given to a company of Chinese to complete a road from Alder

Covered bridge over South Fork of Merced River of Wawona
[click to enlarge]
Covered bridge over South Fork of Merced River at Wawona

General view of Wawona and Wawona Hotel
[click to enlarge]
General view of Wawona and Wawona Hotel
Creek to Yosemite Valley for a sum of $10,000. The work was started December 4, 1874, with 50 men and at times the crew numbered 300. By April 18, 1857 a road had been completed to near the present Camp Curry. (Read also V-37, page 78.)

W-11 WAWONA. Wawona, which in the Indian tongue meant “big tree,” was first a camp on the Mann Brothers trail through the high Sierra. Later Galen Clark, Yosemite Grant’s first guardian, acquired the Wawona area, built a cabin and it became known as Clark’s Ranch. Clark enlarged the building to accommodate travelers and it became an important stopping place for early Yosemite visitors. In 1890 a law was enacted setting aside a part of the Wawona area as reserved forest lands. Capt. A. E. Wood became the first superintendent of the area in 1891. ‘With detachments from the Fourth Cavalry he made a determined effort for many years to keep sheep and cattle grazers and poachers out of the park.

In 1875 the Washburn Brothers purchased the Clark ranch and over a period of years built most of the buildings known as the Wawona Hotel. Following purchase by the U. S. Government in 1932, the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. assumed, under contract, management of the hotel at Wawona.

(4.7 miles)

W-12 SOUTH ENTRANCE. Here at the southern gateway to the park, formerly known as “Four Mile,” is one of the four entrance stations where control of travel in and out of Yosemite is maintained by National Park Service rangers. A short distance from this station is the south boundary of Yosemite National Park which adjoins Sierra National Forest. National forests and national parks differ in that national forests, under the U. S. Department of Agriculture, manage forests for such economic and recreational uses as lumbering, grazing, hunting and resorts, while national parks, under the U. S. Department of the Interior, are responsible for preserving their lands as primitive wilderness areas and game sanctuaries for the enjoyment of all people for all time. (For a guide to points of interest along the road between Yosemite National Park and Fresno, see page 108.)



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