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Yosemite National Park is a national park located in the eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in east central California, United States. The park covers an area of 761,266 acres or 1,189 square miles (3,081 km²) and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. Yosemite is visited by over 3.5 million people each year, many of whom only spend time in the seven square miles (18 km²) of Yosemite Valley. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity.Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.Although not the first designated national park, Yosemite was a focal point in the development of the national park idea, largely owing to the work of people like John Muir and Galen Clark.

Yosemite is one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in the Sierra Nevada, and the park supports a diversity of plants and animals. The park has an elevation range from 2,000 to 13,114 feet (600 to 4,000 m) and contains five major vegetation zones: chaparral/oak woodland, lower montane, upper montane, subalpine, and alpine. Of California's 7,000 plant species, about 50% occur in the Sierra Nevada and more than 20% within Yosemite. There is suitable habitat or documentation for more than 160 rare plants in the park, with rare local geologic formations and unique soils characterizing the restricted ranges many of these plants occupy.

The geology of the Yosemite area is characterized by granitic rocks and remnants of older rock. About 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in formation of deep, narrow canyons. About 1 million years ago, snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. Ice thickness in Yosemite Valley may have reached 4,000 feet (1200 m) during the early glacial episode. The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the U-shaped valley that attracts so many visitors to its scenic vistas today.

Paiute and Sierra Miwok peoples lived in the area for ages before the first white explorations into the region. A band of Native Americans called the Ahwahneechee lived in Yosemite Valley when the first non-indigenous people entered it.

The California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century dramatically increased white travel in the area. United States Army Major Jim Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into the west end of Yosemite Valley in 1851 while in pursuit of around 200 Ahwahneechees led by Chief Tenaya as part of the Mariposa Wars. Accounts from this battalion were the first confirmed cases of Caucasians entering the valley. Attached to Savage's unit was Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, the company physician, who later wrote about his awestruck impressions of the valley in The Discovery of the Yosemite. Bunnell is credited with naming the valley from his interviews with Chief Tenaya. Bunnell wrote that Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Pai-Ute Colony of Ah-wah-nee. The Miwoks (and most white settlers) considered the Ahwahneechee to be especially violent due to their frequent territorial disputes, and the Miwok word "yohhe'meti" literally means "they are killers". Correspondence and articles written by members of the battalion helped to popularize the valley and surrounding area.

Tenaya and the rest of the Ahwahneechee were eventually captured and their village burned; they were removed to a reservation near Fresno, California. Some were later allowed to return to the valley, but got in trouble after attacking a group of eight gold miners in the spring of 1852. The band fled and took refuge with the nearby Mono tribe; but after stealing some horses from their hosts, the Ahwahneechees were tracked down and killed by the Monos. A reconstructed "Indian Village of Ahwahnee" is now located behind the Yosemite Museum, which is next to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

Concerned by the effects of commercial interests, prominent citizens including Galen Clark and Senator John Conness advocated for protection of the area. A park bill passed both houses of the U.S. Congress, and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, creating the Yosemite Grant. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were ceded to California as a state park, and a board of commissioners was proclaimed two years later.

Galen Clark was appointed by the commission as the Grant's first guardian, but neither Clark nor the commissioners had the authority to evict homesteaders (which included Hutchings). The issue was not settled until 1875 when the homesteader land holdings were invalidated. Clark and the reigning commissioners were ousted in 1880, and Hutchings became the new park guardian.

Access to the park by tourists improved in the early years of the park, and conditions in the Valley were made more hospitable. Tourism significantly increased after the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, but the long horseback ride to reach the area was a deterrent. Three stagecoach roads were built in the mid-1870s to provide better access for the growing number of visitors to the Valley.

Scottish-born naturalist John Muir wrote articles popularizing the area and increasing scientific interest in it. Muir was one of the first to theorize that the major landforms in Yosemite were created by large alpine glaciers, bucking established scientists such as Josiah Whitney, who regarded Muir as an amateur. Muir wrote scientific papers on the area's biology.

September 2008

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