Yosemite, a valley in Mariposa co., California, through which winds the Merced river, about 155 m. E. by S. of San Francisco, unequalled for the grandeur of its scenery and the magnificence of its waterfalls. It is nearly in the centre of the state N. and S., and just midway between the E. and W. bases of the Sierra Nevada, here a little more than 70 m. wide. It is nearly level, about 6 m. long by ½- m. to 1 m. wide, and nearly a mile in perpendicular depth below the general level of the adjacent region. Its general direction is N. E. by E. and S. W. by W., nearly at right angles with the general trend of the mountains; its elevation above the sea is 3,950 ft. Its granite walls are nearly vertical; their color is a light gray, reflecting brilliantly white in the sunlight, occasionally varied with veins of a brighter or deeper hue. In places stripes of a darker color, gray, brown, and black, are produced by the flowing down of water carrying organic matter. Various species of trees and plants occur in the valley. In winter it is inaccessible, except on snow shoes; in summer the nights are cool, but the thermometer almost always rises above 80° in the middle of the day in June and July. There are several hotels for the accommodation of tourists.
The valley is reached by stage or stage and horseback (about 90 m.) from Merced, Milton, and Oakdale, on branches of the Central Pacific railroad. The principal objects of interest will be described proceeding up the valley. The first on the right is the Bridal Veil fall, formed by a creek of the same name, which is precipitated over the cliffs in one leap of 630 ft. perpendicular upon a slope, down which it rushes in a series of cascades for a perpendicular distance of nearly 300 ft. The effect from the valley is as of a vertical fall of 900 ft., the base being concealed by trees. The column of water sways to and fro in the wind, seeming in the distance to flutter like a white veil. A little higher up is Cathedral rock, a prominent and massively sculptured pile of granite, the summit of which is 2,660 ft. above the valley. Above this are the "Spires," isolated columns of granite at least 500 ft. high, standing out from, but connected at the base with, the walls of the valley. Still further up a point of rocks projects into the valley, terminating in a slender mass of granite somewhat resembling an obelisk. This is known as Sentinel rock.
Its entire height is 3,043 ft.; the obelisk form continues down for 1,000 ft. or more from the summit, below which the rock is united with the wall of the valley. A short distance above is Glacier point, from which one of the finest views in the valley may be obtained. Back of Sentinel rock is Sentinel dome, 4,150 ft. above the valley, which commands a fine view of the Yosemite fall. On the left side of the valley, opposite the Bridal Veil fall, is the Virgin's Tears fall, where the creek of that name leaps over the wall more than 1,000 ft. Just above is El Capitan, an immense block of granite projecting into the valley and presenting an almost vertical edge 3,300 ft. high. Further up, and nearly opposite Sentinel rock, are the Three Brothers, a group of rocks rising one behind another, the highest being 3,830 ft., and from its summit affording a splendid view of the valley and surroundings. Above the Three Brothers is the principal fall, the Yosemite, formed by a creek of the same name. The vertical height of the lip of the fall is about 2,600 ft. There is first a vertical descent of 1,500 ft., when the water strikes a shelf or recess, whence it makes in a series of cascades a fall equal to 626 ft. perpendicular, and then gives a final plunge of about 400 ft.
The different parts of the fall being nearly in one vertical plane, the effect is described as being almost as grand as, and perhaps more picturesque than, if the water made but a single leap from the top of the cliff to the level of the valley. A striking feature of the Yosemite fall, believed to be peculiar to it and the Bridal Veil fall, is the vibratory motion of the upper portion under the varying pressure of the wind. The stream at the summit, at a medium stage of water, is estimated to be 20 ft. wide and 2 ft. in average depth. The Yosemite fall is believed to surpass in vertical height all others having nearly the same body of water. A little E. of it the cliff rises in a bold peak 3,030 ft. above the valley. About 2 m. above the fall the valley branches into three cafions, formed by the Merced river in the centre, the Tenaya fork on the left or N. W., and the Illilouette or South fork on the right or S. W. (not to be confounded with the main South fork of the Merced, which is below the Yosemite valley). N. of the Tenaya fork, near where it enters the main stream, are an immense arched cavity called the Royal Arches, and a rounded columnar mass of rock called the "Washington column, and back of these the North dome, a domeshaped mass of granite attaining an elevation of 3,568 ft. above the valley.
Between the Tenaya and the Merced is the Half Dome, an apparently inaccessible crest of granite rising 4,737 ft. above the valley, in which it is one of the most imposing objects. Mirror lake, an expansion of the Tenaya fork, is a beautiful sheet of water. In the canon of the Merced are two falls, the lower, called the Vernal fall, with a perpendicular descent of about 400 ft., and the upper, called the Nevada fall, not quite perpendicular, with a height of about 600 ft.. N. of the river near the Nevada fall is an immense mass of rock, isolated and nearly perpendicular on all sides, called the Cap of Liberty, which rises some 2,000 ft. above its base. In the Illilouette there is a fall estimated to be 600 ft. high. Only two of the principal falls, the Vernal and Nevada, continue in existence throughout the season; the Yosemite and Bridal Veil almost disappear by August or September. The most favorable months for visiting the valley are May, June, and July, before the creeks are dried up. On the Merced above the Nevada fall is the Little Yosemite valley, about 4 m. long and from ½ m. to 1 m. wide, 2,130 ft. above the Yosemite valley proper, of which it may be regarded as a continuation. The high Sierra adjacent to the valley abounds in points of interest. About 16 m.
S. is the Mariposa grove of big trees, and about 18 m. N. by W. the Hetch-Hetchy valley on the Tuolumne river, smaller than the Yosemite, but similar to it in character. - The Yosemite valley was first entered by white men in 1851, when an expedition was organized to drive out the Indians who made it their stronghold. It was first visited by tourists in 1855. The first house was built in 1856. In 1864 an act of congress was passed granting the valley to the state of California, upon condition that the premises should he held for public use, resort, and recreation, and should be inalienable for all time. The governor soon after appointed commissioners to have the management of the valley, and the state legislature at its next session accepted the grant. The name Yosemite is an Indian word signifying "grisly bear," but it is not the name now applied to the valley by the Indians, who call it Ahwahnee or Auwoni. - See " The Yosemite Guide Book," by J. D. Whitney, state geologist (new ed., 1874).