Today's children will inherit the national parks that protect wilderness and provide places of beauty and recreation. A child whose interest in these parks has been sparked might some day find the deep satisfaction and refreshment they offer and might help carry the torch of conservation. Sharing some of the amazing features of Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains can provide that first spark of interest in the outdoors. Yosemite, named a national park in 1864, is known for its waterfalls, towering pinnacles and granite monoliths, its sequoias and its remarkable scenery.
Yosemite's waterfalls are its main attraction. Free-falling down each of its three tiers, Yosemite Falls at 2,425 feet -- nearly half a mile -- is the tallest waterfall in North America. When it peaks in May, Yosemite Falls shakes the ground. Slender Ribbon Falls at 1,612 feet is the tallest single-tier waterfall in the nation. Bridalveil Fall, while thundering in May, grows gentle later in the year, waving in the breeze like a veil. When sunlight hits at just the right angle, Horsetail Fall glows as if fire were plummeting 1,000 feet over El Capitan's eastern edge. Many other waterfalls in the park playfully cascade from pool to pool or plummet in free-falls.
El Capitan, the largest visible block of granite in the world, towers more than 350 stories, joining other monoliths that frame Yosemite Valley. The tallest peak, Mount Lyell, rises 13,114 feet. Some day Mount Lyell will be even taller. Mountains at Yosemite grow at the rate of 1 foot per 1,000 years. Other well-known rocky residents include 8,842-foot Half Dome, pictured in a famous photograph, “Moon and Half Dome,” created by Ansel Adams (1902-1984). As a shy youth, Adams found solace in nature, and in his teens discovered his passion for Yosemite, conservation and photography before he went on to become one of the nation’s most acclaimed landscape photographers.
Big Old Trees
Some of Yosemite's sequoia trees are among the largest trees on Earth. They are not as tall as California's coastal redwoods, and their bases are not the largest, but in sheer mass they rule. The Grizzly Giant in Yosemite's Marpiosa Grove has a branch that is 7 feet wide. The Clothespin has a natural tunnel you can walk though. Many of Yosemite's sequoias, including Grizzly are nearly 3,000 years old. These trees have an interesting relationship with fire. The fire-resistant bark protects the tree, and the heat causes the cones to open, but not before the ash from debris and competing plants, sinks into the soil. Before the benefits of lightning fires were known, forest fires were doused. Forests grew out of balance to the point that a lightning fire at Yosemite would wreak havoc on the forest. So today, park rangers conduct controlled burning.
The most visited of U.S. national parks, Yosemite receives 4 million visitors a year, and 90 percent of these visitors congregate in Yosemite Valley. At 7 miles long and 1 mile wide, the scenic valley with its village and summer crowds is but a small percent of the national park’s 1,200 square miles. About 800 miles of trails serve hikers, from beginners to the hardiest of backpackers. And 95 percent of Yosemite National Park is U.S. Congress-designated wilderness. Two designated Wild and Scenic rivers, the Merced and Tuolumne, begin in the park. More than 400 species of animals hunt, hide, sleep, feed, care for their young and play in Yosemite. In high-country meadows, backpackers spy the pika (pronounced pi kuh). This small animal resembles a cross between a rabbit and the Pokemon character Pikachu, except the tan-colored pika sleeps in a nest of grass it collects, instead of in a friendly boy's pocket.