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Motoring in Yosemite National Park

Handbook of Yosemite National Park (1921)
by Wallace B. Curtis

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Motoring in Yosemite National Park


By Wallace B. Curtis

Associate Manager, Curry Camping Company

Yosemite National Park was first opened to Motor travel late in the 1914 season. At that time the park as under the local government of the War Department, and for the first few months conditions were far from satisfactory. The next year, park control passed to the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service was established, and since then there has been a steady improvement of conditions, until now the motorist enjoys all the freedom that is practicable to allow.

There are three well-established roads into the valley, known as the Wawona Road, the Big Oak Flat Road, and the Coulterville Road; and, in addition, the famous Tioga Road cuts directly across the park from Mono Lake westward over the summit of the Sierras. Still another road is in course of construction, and upon its completion it will undoubtedly be the most popular of them all. Starting from Merced it will follow the State Highway to Mariposa, then across the mountains to the Merced River Canyon, and thence to El Portal. From there into Yosemite Valley a splendid highway is already constructed. On entire road there will be no elevation greater than three thousand feet until one enters the park, so all year round travel will be an easy possibility.

Rules and road maps can be obtained from either the National Park Service Headquarters in Yosemite or at any of the hotels, camps, or lodges, and inasmuch as there are minor changes in these from time to time they will not be taken up here.

Driving over mountain roads is not so dangerous, as many people would have one believe, provided that one or two simple rules are always followed. The first, of these is, “Always keep your car under full control.” Many drivers have the habit of coasting with their gears out of mesh; the risk of such a practice is apparent, so whenever a car is on a down-grade, the gears should be thrown into second or low and compression used as a brake.

The second rule is, “Don’t be afraid to shift gears.” You may hear a driver boast that he made such and such a grade on “high,” but that is merely an admission of poor judgment, for such practice puts an undue strain upon the motor and transmission. Before you start up a grade, decide what gear you are going to use, get up good engine speed, and shift into gear. Shifting gears on any grade is dangerous practice and especially so in mountain driving.

The driver of the car has one thing to keep in mind and that is, that he must keep his eyes on the road and let the rest of the passengers look at the scenery. His car should be equipped with a good loud horn and it should be used frequently.

The principal requisite for good mountain driving is good common sense, and if this is coupled with the following suggestions, no one need have any hesitancy about attempting the trip.

Carburetor Adjustment. While it is true that with higher altitudes the air mixture changes because of the increasing thinness of the air, still it is advisable for the average motorist to leave his carburetor untouched throughout the trip to the Valley. Carburetor adjustment to meet constantly changing air conditions is a matter of expert judgment, and the layman is expected to know nothing about such adjustments. The only place where a carburetor adjustment might prove really necessary is at the summit of the Tioga Road, while motoring to or from the low country. In case of trouble on this road, which seems to be caused by an improper carburetor adjustment, simply give a little more air to the mixture.

Use of Brakes. Come down hill as much as possible on compression, in order to save brakes. Never let your car gather more momentum than can be overcome with the known strength of the brakes. Alternate the use of the brakes, first using the foot brake and then the hand brake, so that one set will not become overheated and wear out.

Use of Gears. Always decide when approaching a hill what gear will carry the car over the grade and then shift into that gear before starting up the hill. In mountain country it is often dangerous to shift gears On a steep hill, and it is always an unnecessary strain on the car.

Always keep the gears in mesh—it insures control of the car. It is now a State and National Park law to keep gears always in mesh on Sierra roads. Never run on high over a steep grade just to test out the power of the motor—it is the worst and most useless strain on the machine on mountain roads.

Tires. Always keep tires up to guaranteed pressure on a Yosemite trip. Poor brake use, such as sliding the wheels, or slowing up very suddenly just before a rut, will wear out tires prematurely.

The State and National Park law requires that at least one spare tire be carried on the roads of Yosemite National Park.

Radiators. Never try to make a record for snall consumption of water on a trip over any of the roads into Yosemite. Such a practice unnecessarily heats up the engine, and thus increases the consumption of gas and oil. Keep the radiator full of water at all times. The water of mountain creeks is usable, but it should be strained through a cloth before using.

Supplies to Carry. Carry an extra supply of oil: it is more essential than gasoline.

Carry a supply of extra bolts and nuts for specific make of car.

Carry a spare fan belt.

Carry a can of grease and use it freely.

Seeing the Country. Take down the top when you get into the mountains if you want to see some of the most beautiful scenery along the route.

Road Rules to Remember. Always stay on the right side of the road.

Up-hill traffic has the right-of-way,—according to State and National Park law.

Next: Photography in YosemiteContentsPrevious: Camping and Mountaineering in Yosemite

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