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Yosemite Tales and Trails (1934) by Katherine Ames Taylor


TOURIST TRAVEL

The year 1854 is interesting in Yosemite history for being the only year since its discovery in which no white man visited it. Frightened by the murder of the miners, and absorbed in their own affairs, Californians forgot it for that brief interval of time.

It was not until 1855 that the first pleasure party entered the Valley. Vague and almost incredible reports of this region had been circulated by the Mariposa Battalion and members of the punitive expedition. Some of these stories had reached the ears of James M. Hutchings, publisher of the California Magazine. Scenting good material here for his periodical he hired a well-known San Francisco artist, Thomas Ayers, to go with him and several friends on that first tourist party into Yosemite.

He engaged two Yosemite Indians to guide him to the very place their old chief had tried to keep hidden. Trails, of course, were indistinct and difficult to follow, and it took three days of hard riding to reach Yosemite from Stockton, a trip which can be made in little over three hours today. Yet the party felt well rewarded. For in Yosemite Hutchings found a scoop whose possibilities he was quick to realize. After five days of “scenic banqueting” the men returned, bursting to broadcast the wonders of that valley. The lyric descriptions of Mr. Hutchings and the amazing pictures of Thomas Ayers inaugurated Yosemite’s first publicity campaign. They did much to arouse widespread interest in the region. Ten of the originals of those first sketches of Yosemite are now on display in the Yosemite Museum, the first efforts of any man to convey a picture of those walls and waterfalls to a skeptical world.

But even this new evidence of an “eighth wonder” in their own state failed to fire the imagination of the people, and for years only a few stragglers led that long, long procession of tourists who have been trekking to Yosemite ever since. Californians were too busy creating miracles to view them. They had neither the time nor the money for pleasure jaunts. Gold and the Civil War were the concerns of the day. There was, too, the instinctive fear of being “sold.” Too many amazing tales had been told. Any story which smacked of exaggeration was received with great skepticism, and cliffs a mile high and waterfalls of a thousand feet were certainly classed as exaggerations, if not outright “whoppers.” Consequently, nine-tenths of those earlier visitors to Yosemite were recruited either from Europe or from the Atlantic seaboard. Men would cross an ocean and a continent to visit such a place, and return home to spread the gospel of Yosemite. Horace Greeley was one of these. He visited Yosemite in 1857, suffering terrific discomfort, but returned East one of its most ardent boosters.

SADDLE DAYS

Dr. Carl Russell has estimated that the first 12,000 visitors to Yosemite went either on horseback or afoot. It was almost a quarter of a century after its discovery before a wagon road was completed into the Valley, and a trip to Yosemite in those days was something of an Odyssey. Only the hardiest undertook it, and the annual average for the first ten years was thirty or forty visitors. Three long days in the saddle over ungraded trails was hard going, and one can sympathize with the muscle-bound pilgrim who sighed wearily at the end of her trip, too stiff to dismount, “Can’t you just hold me up, perhaps, and sort of shove the horse out from under?”

About the time the Civil War was ending, in 1864, Congress made Yosemite a State Park and attracted some attention to it. In that year the number of visitors increased to 147. And from then on until 1875, when the first wagon road was built, the number grew by fifty or a hundred each year. In 1875, three thousand visitors registered in the Park. Yosemite had arrived!



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