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Lights and Shadows of Yosemite (1926) by Katherine Ames Taylor


Yosemite’s High Country

Yosemite National Park covers an area of 1124 square miles, almost the size of the State of Rhode Island. Counting in the acres on the perpendicular surfaces of its cliffs, Yosemite is probably larger than Rhode Island.

Of this vast area Yosemite Valley comprises but eight square miles, or about three fourths of one per cent of Yosemite National Park. Yet the visitors who know Yosemite’s back country are few in number compared to those who picture Yosemite merely as the Valley only.

Occasionally one hears the remark that Yosemite is becoming overcrowded with visitors. Those who make that complaint do not know the magnificent miles of Yosemite’s majestic back country, above the 6000-foot level, where mountain crests, canyons, meadows, lakes, streams, glaciers, minarets, and forests are piled side by side in reckless extravagance. As some one has aptly said, “Time and Nature sculptured with a lavish hand when Yosemite’s high country was carved.”

Tuolumne Meadows lies but an easy day’s trip, by automobile, by horseback, or on foot, from the floor of Yosemite Valley, and is the most central base for the many High Sierra trips. Once a glacial lake, the Meadows lie at the junction of Dana and Lyell Forks of the Tuolumne River, at an elevation of from 8500 to 9000 feet above sea level. They are approximately ten miles long and two miles wide, and are surrounded by the highest of the Sierra peaks in this part of the range, most of them perpetually snow-crowned. Conness, Dana, Mammoth, Lyell, and McClure peaks rise on the north and the east, the Cathedral Range on the south, while Fairview Dome stands sentinel at the lower end of the Meadows. Mount Hoffman, a particular favorite, remains aloof from its brother peaks, and lies to the west, not far from Tenaya Lake. On the east from Tuolumne Meadows, about an equal distance from Hetch Hetchy on the west, lies Mono Lake, of volcanic origin. To the north of Tuolumne lie Matterhorn Canyon and Benson Pass to lure those seeking greater

Along the trail as it winds past peaks, forests, meadows, lakes, streams and rocky cliffs, to Merced Lake. PHOTO BY F. J. TAYLOR
PHOTO BY F. J. TAYLOR
[click to enlarge]
Along the trail as it winds past peaks, forests, meadows, lakes, streams and rocky cliffs, to Merced Lake
seclusion. Here is an enormous area of lakes and valleys and woods which is seldom visited except by rangers. It is an unspoiled wilderness which will delight all those who hold that the mountains are too overrun by human kind to be enjoyable any longer. Here one can be as exclusive and as uncivilized as even the most primitive man could desire!

From the summit of Mount Dana one gets the finest summary of the scenery of the high country. From here one has a complete circle or “360 degrees of pure scenery,” as J. Smeaton Chase has it. Remnants of living glaciers can be seen, countless mountain lakes, or tarns, stretches of green forests, and shining granite domes. From here one can sample at one’s leisure the diverse types of scenery at hand, and marvel, as in Yosemite Valley, at the blending of the austere but magnificent with the beautiful and the picturesque.

Then contrast this extensive view with that more intimate, but no less amazing, scenery of the Tuolumne Canyon. Narrow, and with walls a mile high, it is one of the deepest and widest glacial-carved canyons in the world. Along its rocky floor the Tuolumne River swirls and cascades, at times striking a shelf formation of rock, which hurls its water twenty feet in the air, a solid arch of water, spanning fifty feet or more, forming the famous Waterwheel Falls of the Tuolumne. These will, in time, be as world-known and as eagerly seen as the Yosemite Valley itself. Throughout this country are maintained the High Sierra camps, at easy hiking or horseback-riding distances, furnishing food and shelter at cost, and relieving the mountain vacationist of the necessity of carrying his pack.

If, as John Muir says, you are so unfortunate as to be “time-poor,” and unable to take these back-country trips, there still remains one of the rarest consolations of all, an overnight trip to Glacier Point. This may be reached either on foot, by pack animal, or by automobile, and should be the climax to every first corner’s visit to Yosemite. It is a panorama never to be forgotten; a panorama of domes, pinnacles, waterfalls, and peak upon peak of the scalloped crest of the Sierras.

Directly below you, almost a mile, lies the Valley from which you have come, an animated, toylike settlement. Automobiles

Banner Peak, 12,957 feet high, with Thousand Island Lake nestling at its base. PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
[click to enlarge]
Banner Peak, 12,957 feet high, with Thousand Island Lake nestling at its base
dart about like tiny insects, the Merced River is but a silver trickle from an overturned goblet. But the sheer and impressive cliffs! They rise straight up from the floor of that Valley to the very soles of your shoes, some 3254 feet above it! Opposite you, across the Merced Canyon, Half Dome looms, mightier than ever at this close range, rosy and mystic in the sunset glow.

Everywhere is there a sense of space, and strength, and power, in the face of which all that is cramped and human seems quietly to relax and expand. Instinctively you draw a deep breath as you recall these lines:

“I inhale great draughts of space,
And the East and the West are mine,
And the North and the South are mine.”
The rim of Half Dome, from which one can look down 4,892 feet to the floor of Yosemite Valley. PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
[click to enlarge]
The rim of Half Dome, from which one can look down 4,892 feet to the floor of Yosemite Valley


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