History Behind the Rocks: Exploring Yosemite’s Pioneer Past


Wawona means “Big Tree.” It is also the gateway to Yosemite National Park from the south. In the late 1800s, Wawona was Yosemite’s largest stagecoach stop. Today, most people zip by on their way to see Half Dome and Yosemite Valley – but there’s plenty of history behind the rocks!

Yosemite's white-washed charmer. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Yosemite’s white-washed charmer. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Take a little break and wander down the hill from the historic, whitewashed Wawona Hotel, to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Similar to Calgary, Alberta’s Heritage Park, Yosemite’s historic park contains a series of structures originally found in different locations and moved to a central location in order to more effectively interpret a period in time. All of the buildings in Yosemite’s Pioneer Village were found throughout the park and moved to Wawona in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Photo: B. Kopp

A tribute to the pioneers of the National Park idea. (Photo: B. Kopp)

The visit starts with a walk through the covered bridge built in 1857. Every visitor to Yosemite crossed this same bridge on their way into the valley. Explore George Anderson’s winter cabin. He was a local miner and blacksmith turned guide – and the first person to climb Half Dome in 1875.

But don’t stop there.

Dregnan’s Bakery building was originally connected to their home near the chapel in Yosemite Valley. The Wells Fargo Office was by travellers to make reservations, send telegraphs, or make long-distance calls. Blacksmith shops dotted the park during the era of the stagecoach. Horse-drawn stages were discontinued in 1914 as the automobile rose in prominence. There’s a Calvary Office (the original guardians of the area) and a Ranger Patrol Cabin, used as automobile check stations from 1914 onwards.

Wells Fargo Coach rides. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Explore on foot or see the sights aboard a Wells Fargo Coach. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Take the short detour – and discover a little of wealth that is Yosemite’s past.

If You Go:
A stroll through the village tucked in among tall pines is the perfect place to grasp the past on your way into Yosemite Valley. For more information, visit the Yosemite Conservancy.

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