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California for Waterfalls!

Second tourist party to Yosemite Valley

James Mason Hutchings led the second (not first) tourist party to Yosemite Valley in June 1855 ( the first tourist party, in 1854, was lead by Robert C. Lamon, but no account of the trip is known to be written). As publisher of Hutchings’ California Magazine James Hutchings also sought new material for his magazine and brought along artist Thomas Ayres, who made illustrations of Yosemite Valley.

The following account was printed in the San Francisco Daily California Chronicle for August 18, 1855. It is a slightly-abridged version of the original article printed nine days earlier in Mariposa Gazette August 9, 1855. The Chronicle article, however, received much wider circulation than the Gazette article. See also an account Hutchings wrote decades later in “First Tourist Visitors to Yo Semite,” in chapter 7 of his book In the Heart of the Sierras (1886). The book, by the way, has mistakes in some dates (which don’t match his diary).

—Dan Anderson

California for Waterfalls!

[San Francisco Daily California Chronicle, August 18, 1855.]

J. M. Hutchings writes to the Mariposa Gazette a description of the Yo-Semity Valley and its waterfalls. Mr. Hutchings, Mr. Ayres and Mr. Millard, both of San Francisco, and Mr. Stair, of Coulterville, formed a party to visit the place named. They appear to have started from an Indian village on the Fresno, where they procured two Indian guides. Mr. Hutchings says:

From Mr. Hunt’s store, we kept an east-of-north course, up the divide between the Fresno and Chowchillah valleys; thence descending towards the South Fork of the Merced river, and winding around a very rocky point, we climbed nearly to the ridge of the Middle or main fork of the Merced, and descending towards the Yo-Semity valley, we came upon a high point, clear of trees, from whence we had our first view of this singular and romantic valley; and, as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration at its wild and sublime grandeur. “What!” exclaimed one at length, “have we come to the end of all things?” “Can this be the opening of the Seventh Seal?” cries another. “This far, very far, exceeds Niagara,” says a third.

We had been out from Mariposa about four days, and the fatigue of the journey had made us weary and a little peevish, but when our eyes looked upon the almost terrific grandeur of this scene, all, all was forgotten. “I never expected to behold so beautiful a sight!” “This scene alone amply repays me for the travel!” I should have lost the most magnificent sight that I ever saw had I not witnessed this!” were exclamations of pleasureable surprise that fell from the lips of all, as we sat down to drink in the varied beauties of this intoxicating and enchanting scene.

On the north side stands one bold, perpendicular mountain of granite, shaped like an immense tower. Its lofty top is covered with great pines, that by distance become mere shrubs. Our Indian guides called this the “Capitan.” It measures from the valley to its summit about two thousand eight hundred feet.

Just opposite this, on the south side of the valley, our attention was first attracted by a magnificent waterfall, about seven hundred feet in height. It looked like a broad, long feather of silver, that hung depending over a precipice; and as this feathery tail of leaping spray thus hung, a slight breeze moved it from side to side, and as the last rays of the setting sun were gilding it with rainbow hues, the red would mix with the purple, and the purple with the yellow, and the yellow with the green, and the green with the silvery sheen of its whitened foam, as it danced in space.

On rushed the water over its rocky bed, and as it reached the valley, it threw up a cloud of mist that made green and flourishing the grass and flowers, and shrubs, that slumbered at the mountain’s base—while towering three thousand feet above the valley, stood the rugged and pine covered cliffs that, in broken and spiral peaks, girdle in the whole.

Passing further up the valley, one is struck with the awful grandeur of the immense mountains on either side—some perpendicular, some a little sloping. One looks like a light-house, another like a giant capital of immense dimensions—all are singular, and surmounted by pines.

Now we crossed the river, and still advancing up the valley, turned a point, and before us was an indescribable sight—a waterfall two thousand two hundred feet in height—the highest in the world. It rushes over the cliffs, and with one bold leap falls one thousand two hundred feet, then a second of five hundred feet more, then a third of over five hundred feet more—the three leaps making two thousand two hundred feet.

Standing upon the opposite side of the valley, and looking at the tall pines below, the great height of these falls can at a glance be comprehended.

About ten miles from the lower end of the valley, there is another fall of not less than fifteen hundred feet. This, with lesser falls and a lake, make the head of the Yo-Semity Valley, so that this valley is about ten miles in length, and from a half to one mile in width; and although there is good land enough for several farms, it cannot be considered upon the whole as a good farming valley. Speckled trout, grouse and pigeons are quite numerous.

Digitized by Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us, 2004.

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