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4. Resources (The Yosemite FAQ)

Part 4: Resources


For general park information:
Yosemite Public Information, PO Box Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389


The National Park Service Interpretation Division also has a useful Yosemite FAQ.

Phone numbers:
209-372-0200 (recording for all sorts of information, can also connect to a live person Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)
209-372-0740 (wilderness permit reservations)
209-372-1000 ( DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite: lodging and ski information)

Support organizations

Yosemite Association, PO Box 545, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

209-372-2646 http://www.yosemite.org/

YA is the local cooperating association for Yosemite National Park. As a non-profit organization, it donates most of its profits to park service education, interpretive, and research activities in Yosemite. YA operates the Yosemite Bookstores in the Yosemite visitor centers, the Ostrander Ski Hut, Wilderness Permit reservations, and Yosemite Field Seminars, among other things. Formerly the Yosemite Natural History Association. For membership and other information, call or write.

Yosemite Fund, PO Box 637, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

415-434-1782 http://www.yosemitefund.org/

Established by the Yosemite Association, YF, now a separate organization, funds many projects in Yosemite, including meadow restoration projects and the placing of bear boxes in Yosemite campgrounds.

Yosemite Institute, PO Box 487, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

209-379-9511 http://www.yni.org/yi/

The Yosemite Institute, YI, provides various environmental educational programs, mostly for junior high and high school children.


For hotel-style accomodations in Yosemite: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, 5410 East Home Avenue, Fresno, CA 93727, 559-253-5635, http://www.yosemitepark.com/ (Formerly the Yosemite Park and Curry Company.)

For hotel-style accomodations outside of Yosemite, please see http://www.yosemite.ca.us/lodging.html

For campground reservations in Yosemite:

National Park Reservation System [Biospherics] PO Box 1600, Cumberland, MD 21502

For information on campgrounds outside Yosemite:

Chambers of Commerce

There are numerous private campgrounds outside Yosemite National Park. For information about these campgrounds and other accomodations outside Yosemite, contact the appropriate Chamber of Commerce:


This list of works is not a complete list, but a compilation of the most useful books I have found. These and more books on Yosemite are at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/bookstore/ The complete text for some historical books is available online. See http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/

All these books are available from the Yosemite Association, from the publisher, from local bookstores, and from http://www.yosemite.ca.us/bookstore/

Update: The authors of the Farley comic strip have a new book out. New books by Shirley Sargent, Al Runte, Sellars, others....





The complete text for selected historical Yosemite books are available online. See http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/




Various maps of Yosemite are published by Wilderness Press, US Geological Survey (USGS), and Trails Illustrated. These maps are available in Yosemite, at your local map store, from the publishers, and at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/bookstore/

Historical maps of Yosemite are available online at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/maps/.


The following selected Yosemite books are available online at http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/


This portion of the FAQ actually answers the "real" Frequently-asked questions!

The Firefall

The Firefall, a tradition for many years, occurred each summer night, when glowing embers were pushed off of Glacier Point-- a glowing waterfall.

The Firefall began in July 1872 when James McCauley pushed off the remains of a barbeque fire. He had planned a barbeque at his hotel at Glacier Point, the Mountain House, but no one showed up, so he shoved the coals off the cliff in disgust. People in Yosemite Valley marveled at the spectacle, and urged him to do it again, so he did for several years. (An alternative version is that McCauley planned the Firefall for July 4th, to outdo others' plans for fireworks.)

In 1899, the Curry Family left Yellowstone NP, where they had a small business, for Yosemite Valley and established a small tent-cabin camp, appropriately named Camp Curry (now Curry Village). Curry, an astute businessman, needed an attraction to draw people to his new camp, and since Camp Curry was perfectly located to view the Firefall, he revived it. In 1913, the Department of the Interior (the National Park Service was not created until 1916) banned the Firefall, ostensibly for safety reasons, but more likely as a punishment for Curry's persistent and irritating requests for more privileges. (Competition between the various concessions was very intense; difficulties arising from competition lead the NPS, in 1925, to force Curry Company to merge with the other large concession, Yosemite Park Company, to form Yosemite Park and Curry Company, which remained the park's chief concessioner until 1993, when it was replaced by DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite). However, the National Park Service reinstated the Firefall in 1917.

Finally, in 1968, the Firefall was abolished for several reasons. First of all, Yosemite National Park is protected mostly for its natural features, and the Firefall, an artificial attraction that drew additional visitors at a time when visitation was increasing dramatically anyway, was out of place. Additionally, excessive environmental damage, especially to eastern Yosemite Valley's meadows, was occurring due to the the large crowds that gathered in the meadows to watch the Firefall. In addition, major traffic jams occurred while everyone stopped to watch.

For a 1936 sketch of the firefall see “Yosemite Fire Fall” in Yosemite Indians and Other Sketches (1936) by Mrs. H. J. Taylor. For a popular version, see “How the Firefall Began” in Yosemite Yarns (1962) by Laurence Degnan and Douglass Hubbard.

The Firefall is not to be confused with Horsetail Fall (aka El Capitain Fall). Horsetail Fall can be seen in the evening late in February, if the conditions are right (clear sky and flowing water). The sun shining through the fall makes it appear yellow or orange, as if it's a fall of fire or lava, although it's just water.

The Tunnel Trees

Three giant sequoias have had man-made tunnels cut through them in Yosemite. The Old Big Oak Flat Road ran right through the Tuolumne Tunnel Tree (cut in 1878) until it was closed in 1992. Tunnels were cut through the Wawona and California Trees in the Mariposa Grove in 1881 and 1895, respectively. A road ran through both. In the winter of 1968-1969, the Wawona Tunnel Tree toppled due to snow accumulation on its branches. The road that previously ran through the California Tunnel Tree was rerouted around it in 1932. So, no, it is not possible to drive through a tree in Yosemite, though you can walk through both the Tuolumne Tunnel Tree and the California Tunnel Tree.

Camping on Half Dome

No longer allowed. Campers were burning the remaining trees on top and leaving trash and human waste.

The disappearance of Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake has always been a favorite stopping place for Yosemite tourists, however since 1971 it has been shrinking. The lake was formed on Tenaya Creek by a rockfall dam that was later enlarged by humans, but sediment carried by Tenaya Creek has slowly filled the lake. For several decades (since 1914) the National Park Service (before 1916, the Dept. of Interior) dredged the lake to keep it from filling in and in order to use the sand on roads during the winter. However, in the 1970s, the NPS decided that natural processes should prevail in Yosemite and have since stopped dredging the lake. Eventually, sand and mud will fill in the lake completely... creating a new meadow. A similar process is occurring at Siesta Lake, along the Tioga Road.

The Happy Isles rockfall of June, 1996

At 6:52 PDT on 10 June 1996, a portion of the cliff near Glacier Point came crashing down into the Happy Isles area in Yosemite Valley. From below, the scar from where the rocks fell looks tiny, but a total of about 78,000 cubic yards (60,000 cubic meters) of granitic rock fell (that's about the same as a cube with sides of 43 yds (39 m)).

Rockfalls are a continuing natural process in Yosemite and have been occurring there for millions of years. In fact, Yosemite Valley looks the way it does in part because of rockfalls. What was unusual about this rockfall is that the rocks, rather than sliding, free-fell much of the way down. The result was an air blast (think of what happens when you drop a book on a table) that created hurricane-force winds. These winds are what caused all of the damage-- falling rocks caused none. The winds knocked over hundreds of trees, some of which fell into the snack stand, destroying it, into the nature center, damaging it, and over several footbridges, damaging or destroying some of them. One person was killed and another paralyzed.

The Flood of 1997

By January 1st, 1997, the Yosemite region was covered by a significant amount of snow. A series of warm storms dumped rain to elevations up to about 10,000 feet. The warm rain not only ran off into streams, but also melted snow (which also ran off into streams). As a result, Yosemite's streams quickly flooded. The 1997 flood was the largest recorded flood (though historic floods prior to 1915 may have been larger) in Yosemite's history. All of the largest floods have resulted from rain falling on snow. Other such floods occurred in 1937, 1955, 1960, and 1964; several of these were nearly as large as the 1997 flood (which has been classified as a 60-year flood, if I remember correctly). Damage from the 1997 flood included major damage to the El Portal Road (Hwy 140 inside the park) and other minor road damage; Yosemite Lodge cabins, and several valley campgrounds.

The Yosemite Valley Plan

Perhaps you have heard about the Yosemite Valley Plan. An early incarnation of the plan, called the Draft Valley Implementation Plan, was withdrawn by NPS in 1998 after after a judge, in a preliminary ruling, agreed with the Sierra Club that valley planning (which at the time including the VIP, Lodge DCP, and Valley Housing Plan) was fragmented. (Public opinion of the plan wasn't all that great, either.)

The National Park Service, in response to public comments, decided to combine all valley planning into one document, the Yosemite Valley Plan. The plan will be released sometime in 2000.

The goal of the Yosemite Valley Plan is NOT only to reduce traffic congestion. In fact, the driving force behind the YVP is improvement of the protection of Yosemite Valley's natural and cultural resources and improvement in the experience visitors have when visiting the valley.

Constraints on development of facilities (including lodging, campgrounds, and concessioner housing) include minimizing:

Visit http://www.nps.gov/yose/planning/ for more information.

What does Yosemite and Ahwahnee mean? [by Dan Anderson]

Yosemite means “those who kill.” The term was used originally by the surrounding Miwok tribes to refer to the Indians that occupied Yosemite Valley. The occupiers were a band of renegade Indians who were much feared by neighboring tribes. Yosemite Valley was named in 1851 by Mr. Bunnell. Mr. Bunnell was part of the Mariposa Battalion, which was sent in capture the Yosemite Indians. The Valley was named in honor of the soon-to-be-captives.

The Yosemite Indians referred to themselves as Ah-wah-ne-chee or “dwellers of Ahwahnee.” Ahwahnee (or Awooni or Owwo) was the original name for Yosemite Valley. It means (gaping) “mouth,” which referred to the deep opening of Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada.

For more details on the origin and meaning of Yosemite see http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/origin_of_word_yosemite.html


Thanks to the following for providing information to the following sections:

This FAQ was initially compiled by Jeffrey Trust, a geologist formerly at California State University Northridge and long-time park ranger at Yosemite National Park. His specialities are lithological geomorphology, Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley, and glacial geomorphology. His photograph of Half Dome at Sunset is at the official NPS Yosemite website.

The National Park Service Interpretation Division also has a useful Yosemite FAQ.

Last updated by Jeffrey Trust on 9 July 2000. First converted to HTML with by Dan Anderson, 1 August 2002.

Have a correction or addition for this FAQ? Then please fill out this Comment Form.


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