One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

Humans in Yosemite—The Early Tourists
  |  Gorp.com

Few Californians believed the first accounts of Yosemite Valley. When Dr. Bunnell wrote an article describing the height of the Valley walls as 1,500 feet (half their true height), a San Francisco newspaper correspondent suggested he cut his estimates in half. Enraged, Bunnell tore up his manuscript. Lieutenant Moore, mentioned earlier, thus produced the first published account, in January 1854. However, local Indian trouble instilled fear in potential tourists, so the first ones did not visit the Valley until the 1855 season. Among them were three men who would contribute to the Valley's history: James Hutchings, Thomas Ayrers, and Galen Clark.

Word of the beauty and grandeur of Yosemite Valley spread quickly, perhaps due to James Hutchings more than anyone else. In June 1855 he organized and led the first tourist party to Yosemite Valley, bringing along artist Thomas Ayrers to record their discoveries. No sooner than he had returned to Mariposa, Hutchings wrote up his adventures, which were published in the July 12 issue of the Mariposa Gazette. In 1855 California as a state was but five years old and, largely due to the clamor of the Gold Rush, it was an area of interest to many persons in the eastern states. Hutchings' article was copied in one form or another in a number of journals and newspapers, which, if nothing else, diverted readers' minds from the serious, burning issue of slavery.

Hutchings was not content to sit idle after his one article, and in July 1856 he began to publish a magazine, Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine, which was devoted to the scenery of California. The first issue contained a lead article on "The Yo-Ham-i-te Valley," illustrated by none other than Thomas Ayrers. Later, Hutchings elaborated on this article, producing "The Great Yo-Semite Valley" in a series of four installments, from October 1859 to March 1860. These installments then immediately appeared as part of his book, Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California, which stayed in print well into the 1870s.

During 1856, when Hutchings first began his magazine, Thomas Ayres returned to Yosemite Valley to produce more sketches. These were highly detailed, though not true to form; rather, they exaggerated the angularity of the Valley's walls and the size of the Valley's falls. Nevertheless, Ayres, who also began to write about Yosemite, underestimated the height of the falls, as had most of his predecessors.

Commercialism first came to Yosemite in 1856. In that year Milton and Houston Mann—2 of 42 tourists to see the Valley in 1855—completed a toll path up the South Fork Merced River and over to the Valley floor. They charged $2 per person-a large sum in those days-but they were later bought out by Mariposa County, and the path became free. Today you can more or less parallel this historic route by first walking up the South Fork Merced River trail, then ascend the Alder Creek trail (Hike 82), and hike from Wawona up to Bridalveil Creek (last half of Hike 83). Next, Hike 72, from Bridalveil Creek to Dewey Point, and Hike 71, from Dewey Point to Yosemite Valley, complete the course.

The Mann brothers needed a way station along their trail, so they convinced Galen Clark, who had just built a cabin in today's Wawona area, to tend to the needs of the tourists. He did this with kindness, and his spirit of devotion to Yosemite profoundly imbued travelers with a similar reverence for this mountain landscape. The impact Clark made on others was far greater than one would expect from a quiet mountain man. Meanwhile, a simple structure, later called the Lower Hotel, was being completed as the first tourists rode down the Mann's still-fresh trail into Yosemite Valley. Other trails and hotels quickly followed and tourism increased.


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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