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Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent


CHILNUALNA FALLS

Yosemite visitors admire Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil, Ribbon, Vernal and Nevada Falls. Even if they do not hike up to see the latter two, they can view them from Glacier Point or on a “living color” postcard.

Lovely, little-known Chilnualna Falls (pronounced Chilnoo-al-na) cannot be seen from an automobile nor is it pictured on a card, but those willing and able to take the 4.1 mile trail will be awed by the boisterous foaming series of cascades and cataracts that form the falls during the spring of the year.

Chilnualna Falls by Thomas Hill
Chilnualna Falls by Thomas Hill
The upper trail, built by John Conway for Washburns in 1895, 69 starts from the Chilnualna Park road, 1.6 miles east of the main road (see map.)

Another short foot trail to the base of the lower falls takes off from the parking place 1.9 miles east of Wawona Road. This was built in 1870 by Albert Bruce, John Washburn and two Chinese on land that is still private today 60 The view, while well-worth seeing, is ordinary compared to the spectacular one afforded from the longer, steeper trail to the upper falls.

According to one source Chilnualna means “leaping waters” and was so-named by the Piute Indians. 69 Another Wawona native insists that on Indian told him that Chilnualna means “many rocks” because the falls are in a very rocky canyon. 66 [Editor’s note: the origin of the word Chilnualna is unknown.—dea]

Thomas Hill did a pen and ink drawing of the falls in 1886 to illustrate James Hutchings’ book In the Heart of the Sierras, and later painted them.

John Washburn had a preemption claim on the lower falls prior to 1885. There he had tables, benches and a picnic ground, built a foot bridge out onto a large rock, and made the area a regular stage stop for visitors. Thousands knew the lower fall and other thousands received postcards of it, then sold at the Wawona Hotel.

After Albert Bruce homesteaded the area which included the lower Falls in 1885, they were no longer a stopping place. People have so desecrated ferns and woodwardia there that the Bruces have posted no tresspassing signs and wrathily stop unwelcome, would-be visitors. 69

The longer, upper fall trail is on Park property and the falls and cascades splash unconcernedly down, appreciated only by the exploring hiker or photographer, but remembered by all who have observed their singular, neglected beauties.


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