On this day, October 1, in 1890,

An Act Of Congress Made
Yosemite A National Park

Known for gigantic rock formations – challenges for rock climbers – as well as forests of towering sequoia trees, and one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, Yosemite National Park plays host to some three million visitors every year.

Two years ago, my wife and I went to Yosemite and camped inside the park, in a tent. Everywhere we went we saw reminders and advisories about how to stay alive and not get eaten by a bear. We also saw distant forest fires still burning, and parts inside the park still smoky from recent forest fires that had caused the park to close just a couple months earlier.

The best way to get around inside the park is its free bus service. There are defined routes and frequent service. The drivers add commentary as they drive. And they often include bear stories.

We used our little car to get to places the bus doesn’t go to. One such place was a kind of park by the river. Other people were playing in the water and having picnics. Suddenly someone yelled “Bear!” and parents scrambled to get their kids out of the water.

The bear – the one black bear we got to see – wandered near the park. It did not get close enough to anybody to pose much of a threat. A few men grabbed pots and pans and banged on them and yelled until the bear went away. They became heroes of the hour, apparently. But not for a few of us who wanted to see a bear, and did not think this one deserved to be demonized in such a way without so much as a fair trial.

How This Park Got Started

The mid-1800’s saw the California gold rush and the early days of the wild wild west. Travelers and writers brought Americans into forests of giant trees, vast and colorful canyons, and natural wonders such as no one could even imagine.

From stories and photos and sketches, Americans developed a sense of national pride in wilderness areas most had never actually seen. Led by naturalists such as John Muir, prominent United States citizens voiced their protest against damage to wilderness areas. They sought protection of nature from commercial development.


In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant Act to protect the Yosemite Valley from private commercial interests, and set the land aside to preserve nature and for the public to enjoy. This set in motion a chain of decisions by future administrations that would eventually lead to the establishment of national parks and the National Park Service.

Yellowstone, the first national park in the world, was established in 1872. In 1890, Yosemite became America’s third national park. For the last 130 years Yosemite National Park has remained one of the most popular places in the world for travelers and nature lovers.

2020 – A Difficult Year

We are nowhere near California at this point. Having heard of the wide spread of devastating fires recently, I can only imagine that there have been closures of sections of the park at different times throughout the summer. Add to that the advent of the worldwide pandemic. Again I can only imagine that sections of the park have been closed and await phased openings.

I also wonder if the pandemic, and maybe the fires, have been good in any way for Yosemite. I wonder if 3 million annual visitors put nature at more stress than the surrounding forest fires. Or if the absence of visitors gives the park a chance to return to what it was – even for a brief day or two – before tourists discovered the wonders of Yosemite National Park.

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