Getting to the park – the early days

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

I have a personal fascination with the roads that lead to Yosemite. Not the modern 4 laners of today, but the very early ones built in the score years after the “discovery” of the park. Initially, explorers arrived on old Indian trails following the soutern route of the Mariposa Battalion. After  the Gold Rush swelled San Francisco and Sacramento into the population centers, the bulk of the early tourists came from the due west. In the mid-1850s the “Big Oak Flat Trail”  was a 33-mile improved Indian path that went from the then thriving gold center of Big Oak Flat (now on Highway 120) to today’s Tamarack Flat area (on the Tioga Road).   The first formal road into the park was called the Coulterville Road. It began at the still-present town of Coulterville. Early maps clearly show it winding its way into Yosemite. I’ve tried to reconstruct that route but an ancient  landslide on the rough road makes it challenging. I don’t have a 4-wheel drive and it seems that is required to even approximate just where it went.  At Bower’s Cave (see earlier blog) a large sign reminds us that the Coulterville Road passed directly by. My GPS lit up an arterial road entering highway 140 north of El Portal as “Coulterville Road.” All I saw was a jumble of rocks with no indication of an ancient road. In 1868, the “Chinese Camp and Yo Semite Turnpike Company” was formed to construct a road from Chinese Camp to Yosemite Valley. In 3 years they made it to Gentry’s Station, just west of the valley. Building the road from there was a nightmare due to the 2,500-foot descent to the valley. A 3-mile stretch was known as the Zigzags, due to a number of sharp switchbacks and its horrendous 16 percent grade. The road finally opened in 1874.


Unrelated thought worth quoting: “It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day. I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay. And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat and Mama hollered out the back door ‘y’all remember to wipe your feet. “‘And then she said ‘I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge; Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge'” – Bobby Gentry – Ode to Billy Joe
*Mr. Half Dome – Rick Deutsch –


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