One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

Humans in Yosemite—Dawn of the Automobile Era

While the intrusion of dammed water into Hetch Hetchy raged as an issue from 1901 to 1913, another intrusion faced the Park administrators. In 1900 the first automobile entered Yosemite Valley, stirring up dust and controversy, and soon proponents squared off on both sides of the automobile question. The final decision came in 1913: Automobiles would be allowed in the Valley. Thus when the fledgling National Park Service took over administration in 1916, they were faced with a rising tide of tourists. America had entered the era of the automobile, the airplane, the transcontinental telephone, and the Eastman (Kodak) camera.

Faced with a rapidly growing clientele, Park administrators turned most of their attention to upgrading services. New trails were built, and old ones were brought up to modern standards. In 1916 Tuolumne Meadows Lodge was built, as were camps at Tenaya and Merced lakes, followed in 1924 by precursors of the rest of today's High Sierra Camps. Also in 1916 the Tioga Road was opened to the public, and that summer 600 automobiles entered the Park from its east side. Existing roads were paved, widened, and realigned while others were built. The All-Year Highway (Highway 140) opened in 1926 and ensured that food and supplies could by transported to Yosemite Valley year-round—when major floods and rockfalls didn't temporarily close it! Herds of dairy cows had left the Valley's meadows in 1924, only to be replaced with hordes of automobiles. This flood spelled an end to the Yosemite Valley Railroad, which had started service in 1907. Many drivers drove their autos into the meadows, so in 1929 the Park Service cut roadside ditches—barriers that stopped the practice. Campgrounds were now in forest groves, away from the meadows that had been so important to the previous generations of horseback tourists.

The Yosemite Museum opened in the same year as the All-Year Highway, just four years after the creation of Yosemite's first Park Naturalist position. The early naturalists relied heavily on work done under Joseph Grinnell and Tracy Storer of Cal Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Their 1914-20 field work resulted in the 1924 752-page Animal Life in the Yosemite. In 1930, Frangois Matthes' monograph on the evolution of the Yosemite landscape was published. Both were declared classics, and the former, based on extensive field evidence, certainly was. The latter, based of faulty theory at the expense of field evidence, was not, and finally in the 1990s was exposed for what it actually was: a highly believable, but very erroneous, artificial construct.

When the Yosemite Museum was opened in 1926, the "urban" center of Yosemite Valley was still in the "Old Village," between today's Sentinel Bridge and the Yosemite Chapel. Gradually the Park's headquarters and Valley's stores were moved to the area around the museum, for this site was sunnier, considerably warmer in winter, and less subject to flooding. Also in 1926, work was begun on the Ahwahnee Hotel, which opened with festivities on Bastille Day, July 14, 1927. Steven T. Mather, the National Park Service's first Director, presided over the ceremonies.

Of greater importance was the end to Park logging. More than 11/42 billion board feet of timber—mostly sugar pines—had been logged from World War I until 1930, when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the Federal Government split the cost of buying out the Yosemite Lumber Company (some of the logged land can be seen along part of Hike 83).

During the Depression years, numerous persons were employed in CCC, CWA, and PWA projects that added refinements to the human imprint on the Yosemite landscape. World War II temporarily put an end to future projects and during it the Park served as an R & R site for almost 90,000 battle-weary troops.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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