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June 18, 1863: Yosemite Valley

June 18, 2013

Yosemite 15

Merced River & Yosemite Falls; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr


Camp 114

I will give a general description of the valley, without following the order in which the points were visited. Yosemite (pronounced Yo-sem´-i-tee) Valley is not only the greatest natural curiosity in this state, but one of the most remarkable in the world. It is on the Merced River, about sixty miles from the plain. (It is on a branch and marked Yohamite on your maps.) The stream is so large that it cannot be forded here. I tried it two days ago, but although in the best place, my horse was carried off his feet. We had to swim, and got a good wetting, so you can see that there is plenty of water. Below, the river runs in a narrow canyon; here, it widens out and is the Yosemite Valley proper—six or seven miles long, and about a mile wide, and over four thousand feet above the sea. The trails to it lead over the mountains.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock & Cathedral Spires; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

We descend into the valley by a terribly steep hill—we have to descend nearly three thousand feet within four or five miles. We strike the level bottom, green and grassy, and pass up. The Bridal Veil Fall is in front (called also Pó-hono). It is a stream larger than Fall Creek at Ithaca, and falls clear at one leap over eight hundred feet! Some measurements make it 950 feet. The stream entirely dissolves in spray, which sways back and forth with the breeze, like a huge veil. It is vastly finer than any waterfall in Switzerland, in fact finer than any in Europe.

Now the valley begins to assume its characteristic and grand features. By the Pohono Fall rises the Cathedral Rock, a huge mass of granite nearly 4,000 feet high; while opposite is Tutucanula, a bluff of granite, rising from this plain perpendicularly 3,600 feet (we made it over 3,500 by our measurements). It rises from the green valley to this enormous height without any talus at the foot. You cannot conceive the true sublimity of such a cliff. It is equivalent to piling up nine such cliffs as the entire height of the walls of the ravine at Taughannock Falls.

Washington Column and Half Dome

Washington Column & Half Dome; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

We pass up the valley to our camp. South of us rises the Sentinel Rock, like a spire, 3,100 feet above us. There are the Three Brothers, the highest 3,443 feet above the valley, and in front the great Yosemite Fall, of which more anon.

As we pass up, the grandeur actually increases. The valley divides into three branches. We pass up the north, with the North Dome on one side, a huge dome 3,700 feet above the valley, and on the other the Half Dome, entirely inaccessible, like a huge dome split in two and only one-half remaining, its broken side rising in precipices 2,000 feet or more high, the whole rock being some 4,000 feet above the valley, or 8,000 feet above the sea. Here, in this valley, between these, is a lovely little lake, perhaps a quarter of a mile across.

Yosemite 07

North Dome; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

The Merced River, however, comes down the central canyon. Here, between precipices of at least two thousand feet, nearly perpendicular, are two falls—the Vernal Fall, or Piwyac, and the Nevada, or Yowiye—the former four hundred feet high, the latter over six hundred feet. The quantity of water is large, so you may well imagine that they are sublime. The lower fall, Piwyac, is easily reached by a trail, and by ladders which carry us up to the top. Not so the Nevada Fall—that is more difficult—but we went up to measure it, to see if the heights previously given were exaggerated. We had a rough climb, but were amply repaid by the fine views. But few visitors ever attempt it.

Mouse Tail Ivesia

Ivesia santolinoides; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Specimens collected: Erigeron breweri var. breweri; Agastache urticifolia; Carex vesicaria; Carex bolanderi var. bolanderi; Cornus sericea subsp. sericea; Ivesia santolinoides; Pellaea bridgesii; Aspidotis densa; Heuchera micrantha var. erubescens; Draperia systyla; Cheilanthes gracillima.

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